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FEEL GOOD ABOUT FAILURE
Date: 12-03-1998; Publication: ABC 20/20; Author: JOHN STOSSEL, DIANE SAWYER, SAM DONALDSON

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ABC 20/20 THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: 20/20 Wednesday continues. Now, Sam Donaldson.

SAM DONALDSON: Do you live in a world where competition is frowned upon, all people are treated equally and no one is allowed to fail? Well, neither do we. But there's a good chance our children do. It's part of a nationwide effort to make all children feel special, feel good about themselves, above all else. And you see it everywhere, from the classroom to the ball field. So what's wrong with that, you may ask? According to John Stossel, a lot.

CHILDREN: (singing) Who I am makes a difference, and all good things can come true.

JOHN STOSSEL, ABC News: (voice-over) Things are different in classrooms these days. Now, when kids sing about heroes...

CHILDREN: (singing) We're all heroes.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) ...they're not thinking about Abe Lincoln, they're singing about themselves.

FEMALE TEACHER: Can you tell us what a warm fuzzy is? JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Time once spent on reading and writing now goes to things like giving warm fuzzies, also known as compliments.

BOY: I like your hair.

GIRL: Thank you.

CHILDREN: Me poem.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Just one of many activities designed to make kids feel special.

CHILDREN: I'm one of a kind.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) If not conceited.

GIRL IN RED DRESS: Today, I'm selling a super duper, fabulous, fantastic thing -- me! JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) It's called the self-esteem movement. BOY IN BLUE SHIRT: I have a lot of talent. JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) It's based on the premise that since successful people seem to have high self-esteem, that if we teach self-esteem, we'll get successful people. That would be reasonable...

GIRL IN PINK SWEATER: Happy to be me. JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) ...if it worked. But even after doing this for more than 20 years...

CHILDREN: We are happy you are you.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) ...no one has been able to prove that it does work. And they've tried. California spent three years and $750,000 on the task force to promote self- esteem. But the study they initiated failed to show that self-esteem courses led to achievement. Some parents are getting worried.

1st MOTHER: They were telling me as a teacher to a parent that it didn't really matter whether a child could spell, just so long as they felt good.

JOHN STOSSEL: (on camera) So some kids are feeling good about themselves, but they're not learning? 2nd MOTHER: That's right. 1st MOTHER: That's right. 2nd MOTHER: Exactly. JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Yet school systems keep paying big money to pump up everyone's self-esteem.

BOB MOAWAD (ph), Consultant: What if everybody in this school basically had the thought you know, "I love myself unconditionally?" JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Consultants like Bob Moawad make as much as $10,000 a day preaching the merits of loving yourself.

BOB MOAWAD: And even though you may fail on a test or lose a job, you're not a failure. You're not a loser, because you're not what you do.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) We taped Moawad in rural Missouri, where he was teaching teachers and students not to be too concerned with talent or achievement.

BOB MOAWAD: If you think you need to prove worth through your achievements, you're walking on real thin ice. And talent? Talent -- talent's so overrated.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Kids like the message. I talked to this group in New York.

(on camera) And you come out of these courses, and you feel good? GIRL IN NEW YORK: Yeah. JOHN STOSSEL: Happy? GIRL IN NEW YORK: Yeah. JOHN STOSSEL: Good about yourself? GIRL IN NEW YORK: Yeah. JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) These three attend self-esteem classes 20 minutes every day.

(on camera) And you learned a song or something? Can you do it for me?

THREE CHILDREN: (singing) Hey, look me over. I'm proud to be me. My perception of myself is strong as it can be.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Fourth-grader Melissa Nappi (ph) says the course makes her proud of herself.

MELISSA NAPPI: At the beginning of every assembly, we look at our hands, and go, "Nobody else has these hands. These are your hands. Even your right and left are different." JOHN STOSSEL: (on camera) And why does that make you proud? MELISSA NAPPI: It shows that you' re special in a way.

JOHN STOSSEL: Gee, I'd think you were special if your right and left hands were the same. But making kids feel special has become so important that many schools now avoid anything that might make anybody feel bad.

Competition is often a dirty word. Many schools have eliminated honor rolls because the other kids might feel bad. Some schools won't give out Ds or Fs and getting good grades is easier. Twenty years ago, only a fourth of students heading for college had an A or B average. Today, SAT scores are lower, but three-fourths of the kids have A or B averages.

(voice-over) This coddling goes on outside classrooms, too. In kids' soccer leagues, trophies are not just for winners, everybody gets one.

(on camera) Is it better if everybody gets an award? MELISSA NAPPI: Hey, it's better than getting no award, right? COACH: Melissa.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Well, I'm not sure. Because the kids getting trophies don't seem as excited about it. WOMAN GIVING TROPHIES OUT: Everybody gets this. 1st BOY ON SOCCER TEAM: Everybody gets blue? MAN GIVING TROPHIES OUT: No champion. Everybody's a winner? JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Many kids told us they like it this way. ERIC GRANDMAISON (ph): You feel good no matter what. If you came in last, you get a trophy, you feel good. JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Nine-year-old Eric Grandmaison took a self-esteem course and told us he learned from it. ERIC GRANDMAISON: There was a little poster up on the wall and it said, "Mistakes are beautiful opportunities to learn." If you make a mistake, who cares? JOHN STOSSEL: (voice- over) But does he mean it? When we watched him playing goalie and being scored on, it sure looked like he cared. Eric plays here in the Massachusetts Youth Soccer League, which has decreed not just that everyone must get a trophy, but in tournaments, among kids under 10, no score will be kept. No winners.

COACH: Melissa, Melissa! JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) But someone is in denial here because it's clear that the parents think there are winners. PARENTS: Go, go! JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) And the kids think there are winners. Some coaches say the policy is silly. SOCCER COACH: That's not really what life's all about. Life's not about everybody being equal. Telling them that they can't keep score is silly. Take that away, you're taking the meat and potatoes away from life.

JOHN STOSSEL: (on camera) Of course, giving up some meat and potatoes would be worth it, if it helped kids learn or do better in life. But now we know that not only is there no proof that minimizing competition helps the kids, there's now evidence that telling everybody they're great may actually hurt them.

Prof. CAROLE DWECK (ph), Columbia University: When you praise children lavishly for easy things, why should that make them want to do hard things?

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Psychology professor Carole Dweck of Columbia University recently published findings that show that the kind of praise found in self-esteem courses may actually hurt children's performance. She repeated her experiment for us. Fifth graders are given an easy puzzle to solve, then told how smart they are. RESEARCHER: That's a really good score. You must be smart at these problems. You must be really smart at these problems.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Another group isn't told they're smart, only that they tried hard.

RESEARCHER: That's really high scores. You must have worked hard at these problems. So you must have worked hard on those problems.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Then both groups are given a much harder test. Everybody does poorly on that. RESEARCHER: You only got one of those right, which isn't as good as last time.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) What happens next is surprising. The kids are asked to take more tests. Kids who were praised for trying, like Cody, are eager to try more. Some actually ask to take work home. But those who were told they were smart were reluctant to face further challenges. CAROLE DWECK: They could not handle setbacks. That's why not to tell Johnny he's brilliant. It gets him caught up in being brilliant rather than learning.

FEMALE TEACHER: You are truly magnificent, Shannon. JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Praise like this can lead to embarrassments like this. An international study of 13- year-olds found American kids ranked last in math but rated their performance as above average. Korean kids were much less satisfied with themselves, but they ranked first. Kids need honest feedback, say Dweck and others.

MALE TEACHER: Can you count by 9s? STUDENTS: Yeah!

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) And they need to learn that excellence comes from effort. If you're never told what your weaknesses are, how will you improve them? Protecting kids from failure, they say, is the worst sort of false kindness. BOB MOAWAD: We need to build their self-image. JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) But such arguments haven't made a dent in the self-esteem movement. BOB MOAWAD: We need to help nonreaders read by affirming that they enjoy reading, nonspellers...

JOHN STOSSEL: (on camera) You tell the nonreader that he enjoys reading? BOB MOAWAD: Yep. JOHN STOSSEL: But he doesn't read. BOB MOAWAD: He doesn't read. JOHN STOSSEL: You're lying to him. BOB MOAWAD: He's a poor reading -- is that lying? I mean, as an educator, as a parent, I can either affirm where you are or I can affirm what you' re capable of becoming. JOHN STOSSEL: Just by telling the nonreader that she's a good reader...

BOB MOAWAD: You're a good reader.

JOHN STOSSEL: And then she'll...

BOB MOAWAD: You'll enjoy reading. She hears it.

JOHN STOSSEL: And says this guy's nuts. BOB MOAWAD: She thinks I' m nuts. In fact, this is -- this is educate, to pull from within. See, educate is not transmit information. Don't buy into Webster' s dictionary definition of educate. What does it mean? To pull from within.

JOHN STOSSEL: Shouldn't self-esteem come because you have achieved? BOB MOAWAD: No, I do not think that you need to have your esteem based on achievement. JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Perhaps the most unexpected bad news about the self-esteem movement is that some experts say it may actually be dangerous. For years, we've been told that kids in trouble suffer from low self-esteem. It's a concept used to try to make sense of the horrible school shooting sprees of the past year.

But new research suggests that self-esteem advocates have it backwards. Violence may be the result of artificially high self-esteem.

Prof. BRAD BUSHMAN (ph), Psychologist: People who have this inflated grandiose view of themselves, when other people criticize them, they are likely to lash out and become angry and aggressive.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Psychology professors Brad Bushman and Roy Baumeister did research on over 1,000 undergraduates and found that people who thought they were superior or who had inflated views of themselves were more aggressive. We asked them to show us the study.

Bushman and Baumeister gave students a standardized questionnaire that asks true or false questions like "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place." This man scored in the 98th percentile. He has a very high opinion of himself. Then each students were asked to write a short essay and told an unidentified partner would judge it.

BRAD BUSHMAN: Here's -- this envelope contains your essay. JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) In truth, there were no partners. But students like him were told, "This is the worst essay I've ever seen." Next they were given a chance to torture the phantom partner who had criticized them. They were told if they could press a button faster than their opponent, they could blast them with noise. It turned out that the students like this man, the students with inflated self-esteem, were three times more aggressive, much more likely to try to blast the other guy's eardrum.

Prof. ROY BAUMEISTER, Psychologist: Conceited people get nasty when you burst their bubble of self-love.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Consider violent prisoners. Conventional wisdom says convicts have low self-esteem. And maybe they're violent because they don't like themselves. But we went to this prison and gave 65 criminals the self- esteem test. It turned out that, as a group, these guys feel much better about themselves than college students who took the same test.

CHILDREN: Self-esteem is the way you think and feel about yourself.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Now, we're not saying that self- esteem classes lead to violence, but the claim that the classes reduce violence is dubious. Yet the schools don't seem to hear that, even though lately more critics are speaking out.

The head of the American Psychological Association now says promoting baseless self esteem is dangerous.

(on camera) The tide seems to be turning on the self esteem movement. A lot of people are saying wait a second, maybe we screwed up believing people like you.

BOB MOAWAD: I don't know what tide you're -- I'm in the middle of the tide. I would say the wave is getting bigger and that the tide is still coming in.

JOHN STOSSEL: (voice-over) Maybe it's because you parents don't know how poorly your kids are doing because the schools, so happy and filled with self esteem, don't tell you the truth about what's going on. When last surveyed, more than 90 percent of American school districts claimed to be performing above average. Wow. Test scores are falling, but 90 percent of the schools are above average.

SAM DONALDSON: The proponents of the self-esteem movement say these classes are working to produce better grades and a reduction in violence. And even opponents say there's nothing wrong with praise. But acknowledge the effort, they say, not a child's traits. It's better to say, " You worked really hard," than to tell a child, "You're so smart." In a moment -- what you had to say about our interview with Kenneth Starr.

(Commercial Break) ANNOUNCER: 20/20, winner of the Emmy award for excellence in journalism.

(Commercial Break) DIANE SAWYER: We talked about who he is -- from his personal faith to his purpose, which he told us was the pursuit of truth.

KENNETH STARR, Independent Counsel: There is truth, and the truth demands respect. And maybe in the fullness of time after the heat of battle has subsided, that will be the abiding lesson of this episode, that the truth was important and don't compromise the truth.

DIANE SAWYER: And you weren't shy in telling us what you thought about him, about our questions and which side you're on in these polarized times.

For instance, the woman in Oregon who wrote us to say she'd changed her mind. "I thought Starr was a dirty rat. Thank you for showing me that he is really a rather nice guy.

But there was this from Pennsylvania. "He conducted or relentlessly pursued the biggest witch hunt in political history. Even Nixon was not subjected to that treatment." And someone in Washington state thinks the media has gone too far. "Every species on earth has a predator to fear. The human species must worry about attorneys followed around by television reporters.

And there was this letter we received just today about our questions, saying I was arrogant, self-righteous, judgmental and Judge Starr' s patience was a testimony to his high character and moral fiber.

And finally, there were several letters just like this one. "Some day I hope you interview Bill Clinton and interrogate him the way you did Ken Starr." Well, we hope so, too, and we would do just that. We'll be right back.

(Commercial Break) SAM DONALDSON: Coming up Friday, a 20/20 exclusive -- Barbara Walters with actor Michael J. Fox.

(voice-over) His first television interview since he told the world that he has Parkinson's disease, something he's known for seven years.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC News: (on camera) What did you think? You're 30 years old, and the doctor says you have Parkinson's.

MICHAEL J. FOX, Actor: I was shocked.

BARBARA WALTERS: And what did you say to yourself? MICHAEL J. FOX: I said this is going to be an interesting journey. This is not going to be boring.

SAM DONALDSON: (voice-over) He's warm and wise and very definitely upbeat.

(on camera) Barbara Walters with Michael J. Fox -- 20/20 Friday at 10:00, 9:00 Central.

DIANE SAWYER: And Sunday on 20/20 -- an epic battle for the heart of a young girl.

(voice-over) A child prodigy whose amazing talents have cast a spell over the dance world. She wants to be a star. But her dance teachers say someone is standing in her way -- her own mother. Should a parent be able to control her child's dreams?

(on camera) A story you won't want to miss, Sunday on 20/20 at 9:00, 8:00 Central.

And that closes it out for us this Wednesday. I'm Diane Sawyer, wishing all of you a good night. And I'll see you in a week, Sam.

SAM DONALDSON: See you, Diane. I'm Sam Donaldson. Don't forget to watch Nightline after your local news. And be sure to join us again next week for another edition of 20/20 Wednesday.

Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact ABC's Office of the General Counsel.

JOHN STOSSEL, DIANE SAWYER, SAM DONALDSON, FEEL GOOD ABOUT FAILURE. , ABC 20/20, 12-03-1998.

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