Come for the Politics, Stay for the Pathologies

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where Has All the Science Gone?

If there’s still anyone out there who doesn’t believe public education is reckless child endangerment, please read Kay Hymowitz’s review of NurtureShock in today’s WSJ.

Written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, NurtureShock takes you on a post-Dr. Spock tour of the educational theories du jour,  debunking most of them. When Nathaniel Brandon published  “The Psychology of Self-Esteem in 1969, the education world launched a campaign that continues to this day to boost children’s self esteem at every turn. And while the “we’re all winners” hype was a boon to trophy makers, it was a dismal failure in preparing kids to go into the real world.

Indeed, this is exactly what the authors discovered:

…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.


And the bad news just keeps on coming:

The benefits of teaching tolerance and promoting ­diversity look equally unimpressive in the current ­research. … a lot of well-meaning adult nostrums—"we're all friends," "we're all equal"—pass right over the heads of young children. Attempts to increase racial sensitivity in older students can even lead to unintended consequences. One ­researcher found that "more diversity translates into more divisions between students." Another warns that too much discussion of past discrimination can make minority children over-reactive to perceived future slights. 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.


Other tidbits of enlightenment: programs to stop drop outs don’t work. Anti-drug programs don’t work. “Giftedness” testing fails to predict, well, giftedness.

Ms. Hymowitz takes issue with the authors who, after debunking yesterday’s myths, seem all to willing to accept today’s newest orthodoxies; as if they are somehow better vetted than previous  miscalculations. Specifically cited are new scientific studies that explain why teenagers lie: not to avoid punishment, but to avoid upsetting their parents.  Hmmm?

We teach so little hard science and logic that people are easily cowed into accepting as truth anything that someone has done a “scientific” study to support.  Non-skeptical acceptance of such “scientific” facts has resulted in 40 years of bad public policies.  Education, while critical, is merely the tip of the iceberg. The same type of blind acceptance of  pseudo-scientific  data is about to inform our health care system.

By applying algorithms, statistics and actuary tables, “bio-ethicists” like Ezekiel Emanuel have come up with a handy reference scale of “useful life years.” If this sounds eerily reminiscent of eugenics, you’re on the right tract. Ezekiel and his ilk aren’t proposing that we euthanize  people just because they’re old. No. He proposes that in the interest of cost effectiveness that we simply withhold treatment at a point where they’ve achieved their “useful years” allotment.

Scientific studies may claim that teenagers lie to their parents so as not to upset them - not to avoid the consequences of their actions.  But common sense tells you that’s nonsense. And bio-ethics may claim that withholding medical treatment isn’t passive euthanasia. But common sense tells you that’s a lie.

Is it any wonder that home schooling is on the rise?