Recently, I’ve been spending more time among college professors, that is, in addition to my wife, and their observations on students have confirmed certain trends among younger Americans, trends that I, perhaps curmudgeonly, find disturbing, including a certainly behavior that can only be described as addictive.
To what am I referring? The almost insatiable desire for endless praise. The craving by students to be told over and over how wonderful they are. The desire to be praised, if only for effort, even when their achievements merit neither praise nor acknowledgement.
Now… we all desire praise. I know I certainly do, but praise based on inadequate accomplishment is like junk food – without much spiritual nutrition –and that leaves those who receive such empty praise hungry for more. Yet our educational system is so concerned with not hurting young people [and not upsetting their parents] and motivating them solely through “positive” means that the message that comes through is that everything that they do – or even try – is “wonderful.” Subconsciously, I suspect, in many, many cases, these young people know that their acts and accomplishments are not that stupendous, but it’s hard to protest being praised. Unfortunately, this societal behavior has several ramifications that are anything but good.
The first is a form of “praise inflation.” Such evaluations as “a solid job,” “competently done,” or “good job” – or a grade of “C” or even “B,” are regarded as failure. The second is that most young people fail to understand that in most of the world, solid accomplishment is not a cause for praise – it’s what is expected. The third is that they become ever more hungry for praise, like addicts for their next fix.
They become “praise junkies.”
And, as praise junkies, they resent accurate assessment of their performance and manifest anger, or at least resentment, at those who won’t provide their next fix. Teachers and professors who attempt to provide accurate and constructive assessment are regarded either as teachers who “hate”“ them or as bad” teachers who cannot teach or who are trying to keep them from becoming successful, when, in fact, in most cases, those teachers are trying to prepare them for the real world, or at least for the reality of occupational competition that exists outside of the growing empty praise culture of the United States.
The symptoms of this excessive praise culture are everywhere, from little leagues where everyone gets a trophy or a ribbon, in schools where effort is considered as equivalent to actual achievement and rewarded as such and where every student gets As and Bs, and even by legislation such as No Child Left Behind, which fails to recognize that the only way no child can be left behind is when there are no real standards of actual achievement… because there are always those who cannot and/or will not meet real standards of academic achievement, and it’s a societal delusion to think otherwise.
But… after all, if you praise children, that’s all it takes to get real achievement.