Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Self Esteem and Math

The Washington Post has dared to print an article about a Brookings Institution report that contradicts the "prevailing wisdom" about self esteem:

Washington Post, 18 October 2006 (p. A02)

A report from the Brookings Institution suggests that schools that focus on keeping kids happy and self-confident may not be producing the best math students.

The report, authored by Tom Loveless, found that countries such as the U.S. that embrace self-esteem and real-world relevance in mathematics don’t score as high on international assessments as countries that ignore those aspects of learning.

Several Asian and European countries do better than the U.S. in math scores even though their students report less confidence in their math skills. The conclusions show that U.S. schools should question whether happiness is what matters in the classroom, Loveless said.

“It is interesting that people grasp this notion in other areas of self-improvement – eating healthy foods, getting exercise, saving for retirement – but when it comes to education, for some reason, the limitations of happiness are forgotten,” he said.

However, officials in Japan and Singapore have recently begun to complain that their graduates do not think as creatively as American graduates, noted Gerald Bracey, an educational psychologist. Therefore, they have begun to copy the very aspects of U.S. education that Loveless says may be unproductive.

But Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, agreed with the report’s findings. “Schools should work on academics, not feelings,” he said.

The ed establishment has strayed so far from common sense and what people have known for generations, or millennia, really, about serious education, that now we actually have "serious" debates about things like this. Well, having a debate at all is a positive step, since for the last 40 years or so the debate has been rigorously squelched by the forces of uncommon nonsense.

Am I being too much of an optimist, when I pick out things like this as a sign that things are changing for the better?