A Nation of Above Average
By MYLINH SHATTAN Special to the Tampa Tribune
Published: August 6, 2005
The fragile French ego struggles with history.
Or at least the British think so. During a re-enactment this June, the English used blue and red ships rather than identify them as British or French. They were celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and their landmark victory over Napolean. They didn't want to make the French feel bad.
The Europeans don't have a monopoly in coddling self-esteem, however.
It starts early here. Dr. William Sears informs new parents that the best piece of baby furniture they will buy is a king-sized bed. This "family bed" allows co-sleeping arrangements that make baby feel better and lessen anxiety.
Meanwhile, hospital lactation consultants coach new moms on feeding techniques. They direct us to nurse on demand. Translated: whenever the baby cries. Baby knows best, after all, and mothers are reduced to a set of mammary glands.
This doctrine of self-esteem pervades our schools as well.
Shortly after my daughter started kindergarten in Hillsborough County, she was chosen Citizen of the Month. I was elated until I learned her name was drawn randomly from a pool of eligible children whose only qualification was that they hadn't been in trouble that month. Such egalitarianism. And I thought it was an award.
Her class also uses a treasure box to reinforce good behaviors - a common practice in grade schools. The plastic tiara in the chest really motivated her. But what of being good for goodness’ sake?
A recent high school graduate in Hillsborough earned a 7.64 GPA on a 4-point scale. My mother ranked among the top three students in her school in Vietnam, where the grading system worked quite differently. She might earn 17 out of 20 on an assignment - a score that would translate to 85 percent in America. An 18 was an exception, and getting 20 - well, that was unheard of.
Inflating students" GPAs might not be serving us well. In recent worldwide competitions of teenage students, the United States ranked 18th out of 21 nations in math and science on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study and in the bottom third of 41 countries in math on the Programme for International Student Assessment.
Yet when the Programme canvassed students" beliefs about their abilities, asking them whether "I get good marks in mathematics" or "I learn mathematics quickly," the United States came in first.
Interestingly, China, Korea and Japan scored among the worst in these self-concept questions while posting among the best scores on the test.
Test results and grade inflation are symptoms of a nationwide epidemic, also evident in absurdities like Harvard's graduating 91 percent of its students with honors.
America has become Lake Wobegon, where every child is above average.
Graduates from the school of high self-esteem enter the workplace and often are surprised by their reception. They aren't prepared to deal with objective criticism of their punctuality, accuracy and quality of work. A hiring manager's best tool to deal with these new hires: a box of tissues.
From cradle to work force, we're creating a generation of fragile egos lacking the resilience and tenacity needed to tackle an increasingly instable political world and a growing global economy. But at least we feel good about ourselves.
MyLinh Shattan lives with her husband and three children in Lutz.