As anyone with an Internet connection knows, Science and Research spend a lot of time and money proving things that those of us with common sense already know. For instance, I just punched “scientific study” into Google News and pulled up this doozy: “Study of Hurricane Katrina’s dead show most were old, lived near levee breaches.” Baffling, I’m sure. Occasionally this sort of inquiry serves a valuable purpose, by putting beyond a doubt something that everyone suspects but many refuse to acknowledge. Consider this delightful review by City Journal’s Kay Hymowitz:
Now, in NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman survey the newest new findings about child development. Little in the book is all that shocking, but given our enthusiasm for turning tentative child research into settled policy, the studies that the authors discuss are of more than passing interest.
A striking example is the latest research on self-esteem. As Mr. Bronson and Ms. Merryman remind us, the psychologist Nathaniel Brandon published a path-breaking paper in 1969 called “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” in which he argued that feelings of self-worth were a key to success in life. The theory became a big hit in the nation’s schools; in the mid-1980s, the California Legislature even established a self-esteem task force. By now, there are 15,000 scholarly articles on the subject.
And what do they show? That high self-esteem doesn’t improve grades, reduce anti-social behavior, deter alcohol drinking or do much of anything good for kids. In fact, telling kids how smart they are can be counterproductive. Many children who are convinced that they are little geniuses tend not to put much effort into their work. Others are troubled by the latent anxiety of adults who feel it necessary to praise them constantly.
What other concepts in child development have fallen from grace? “Emotional” intelligence, it turns out, isn’t doing kids much good: “As for trying to increase emotional intelligence, the education fad of the 1990s, it doesn’t seem to promote ‘pro-social values’ either. It turns out that bullies use their considerable EQ, as it is called, to control their peers.” D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) has no long-term value. Diversity training only serves to encourage division and resentment. And so on.Alas, I wouldn’t count on today’s education establishment to do much with this information.