Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Math Scores vs. Self-Esteem


At 12/09/2008 5:39 PM, Blogger mwf247 said...

Ok....I follow...except how the self-esteem is measured. Kind of a twist on ignorance is bliss?

At 12/09/2008 5:47 PM, Anonymous jrich said...

I'm inclined to say that said self esteem is illusory. Kids think they can't fail because we pass them through school even when they don't make the grade; we give out trophies for participation instead of achievement. We don't want to hurt poor Johnny's feelings while he's a kid only to his detriment because he's going to be disappointed and come up short when it comes to the real world.

Ok...stepping off my soapbox.

At 12/09/2008 7:18 PM, Blogger bob wright said...

don't apologize. the soapbox you're on is mighty crowded. In fact, I'm surprised you found room to get up on it in the first place.

At 12/09/2008 7:18 PM, Blogger PrestoPundit said...

Math. Economists. Self-esteem.

Two graphs easily easily display economic understanding and self-esteem among the idiot savants who dominate the economics profession.

On one graph self-esteem rises directly with skill at math game playing.

On the other graph understanding of economic phenomena declines directly in relation with time spent playing math games.

Call it bewitchment via mathematics.

And it pretty much covers the history of the decline of economic understanding over the last 70 among the economists, and the rise of the self-conception among the economists as the "rocket scientists" of the humanities and social science departments.

At 12/09/2008 8:11 PM, Blogger wcw said...

Keynes General Theory doesn't contain a single equation.

You must be a big fan.

At 12/09/2008 8:42 PM, Blogger QT said...

The graph assumes a relationship of cause and effect between the decline in basic math skills and self esteem without actually providing any evidence to support such a supposition.

Aren't there other factors that are also part of the rise of the self-esteem ie. a doting, indulgent parent, or the emphasis on validation cited by jrich?

At 12/09/2008 11:00 PM, Anonymous AJ said...

@ QT, jrich

Things like doting parents and participation trophies don't build self esteem. The only thing that builds self esteem is accomplishment.

The participation trophies, I presume, are supposed indicate accomplishment, but the kid knows it's not any accomplishment that procured him that trophy.

QT, I think the biggest problem is not the rise of self-esteem, but the complete disintegration of it. This is the reason people idolize faux celebrities: you too can be famous for having no talent, and get paid just to show up! Those who've actually accomplished something see how pathetic those people really are.

In the same vein, the machismo, braggadocio, tough-guy, look-at-me, i'm the center of the world, attitude that seems to be so revered today also stems from severe feelings of inadequacy, or lack of self esteem.

At 12/10/2008 12:12 AM, Blogger QT said...


Agree with self-esteem does come from accomplishments as well as overcoming adversity. The process happens over a lifetime not just the few short years of classroom learning.

One factor that has not been considered is the rise in economic opportunity over this period of time. Increased career and educational opportunities would seem to create enhanced potential for achievement and thus, enhance self-esteem.

Still don't see the connection between fuzzy math & self-esteem.

At 12/10/2008 1:04 AM, Anonymous jrich said...

From AJ: Things like doting parents and participation trophies don't build self esteem. The only thing that builds self esteem is accomplishment.

Hence said self esteem illusory. Exactly my point.

Anyway, as for accomplishment and the trophies...it's like we give a kid a trophy for not quitting the team, to use a sports analogy, regardless of whether the kid did anything at all. If you're in upper level education, a better analogy might be a student expecting an A or B just because he or she showed up and actually tried and not based on achieving stated goals for the course as assessed through such means as testing and writing. Sometimes even good students make C's.

From QT: One factor that has not been considered is the rise in economic opportunity over this period of time. Increased career and educational opportunities would seem to create enhanced potential for achievement and thus, enhance self-esteem.

QT, I have a question that may or may not pertain to your statement but it did cross my mind and seems to be pertinent to the overall conversation. What other bases can be used to determine self-esteem besides economic (i.e. career) "achievement"? I find it hard to justify putting all of the self esteem eggs in the economic basket. Where does a sense of personal accomplishment come into the picture and is that something that can be taught?

As a personal anecdote regarding "Basic Arithmetic," I was at a fast food, burger doodle place a while back. I gave the guy a ten, a one and change for an order that was $6 and change...obviously I wanted a five back. It's been a while and I forget the exact amounts, but the guy tries to give me incorrect change twice. I gave up and just took what he gave me and went to the next window. By the way, the guy was the shift manager...the one wearing the tie and all. (For the record, no it wasn't busy when I drove through either.)

At 12/10/2008 4:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could be wrong, but I believe the cartoon is referring to the new approach to mathematics that is being taught in some elementary schools that are not based on algorithms, but more on creative reasoning approaches (I don't know very much about it, so that's how I can best describe it)

You can see this new approach in action here:

This newer approach lengthens the time students master basic math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)in comparison to standard math, and as such, puts students at a disadvantage later down the road.

The self-esteem connection, I suppose, stems from the fact that this type of math is preferred by some because some students find algorithms difficult and boring. And this is supposed to help more creatively minded students do better...except it's taught to all students instead of the ones who have trouble with algorithmic based math.

At 12/10/2008 10:50 AM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

1) As it happens, for different reasons, I recently posted at the buggy web site on this topic. Seeing as how it cites a couple of well-known psychological studies on "self-esteem" as pushed in our schools, you might find the references and commentaries useful.


2) . . . .Why people on the Web say factually stupid things --- prof bug means blatantly at odds with reality, like the statement above --- remains something of a mystery, especially since it would only take a minute or two to google a topic and get accurate information. Apparently, three decades of largely nonsensical stuff about self-esteem that our schools have pushed energetically --- largely for politically correct reasons, little else --- have produced a couple of generations of students and graduates who are convinced that whatever they say publicly must be OK because, hey, dude: it's my view and if you don't like it, f-you, Jack!


3) What A Pedagogical Sham

As it happens, high self-esteem correlates in many psychological studies with callousness and even angry and bullying behavior towards others (on an average). According to the most exhaustive study that analyzed the data of 326,641 Americans and others of differ ethnicity/race and gender across the entire life span, tracked at various ages (8 different age-categories)):

"On average across all ages, males had higher self-esteem than females (Cohen's d  .22, p  .01), high-SES individuals had higher self-esteem than low-SES individuals (d  .17, p  .01), and U.S. participants had higher self-esteem than non-U.S. participants(d  .10, p  .01). Blacks had the highest self-esteem, followed by Latinos, Middle Easterners, Asians, and Whites. The magnitude of these effects is comparable to that reported in previous research on gender (Kling et al., 1999; Major et al., 1999; Robins, Hendin, et al., 2001) and ethnicity (Gray-Little & Hafdahl,2000; Twenge & Crocker, 2002)."

Source: http://www.rcgd.isr.umich.edu/seminars/Winter%202007/Crocker%20Park%20Costly_Pursuit_of_Self_Esteem%20(2).pdf


4) As for the causes of bullying in schools, there is a clear correlation between lack of self-control --- and for that matter ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) --- and the tendencies of school kids of all ages to become bullies. For one recent study, click here. On the problems and costs of emphasizing the pursuit of self-esteem --- as opposed to self-control, self-regulation, and self-discipline, plus the boosts to self-respect that follow from concrete achievements --- go here: http://jiv.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/18/2/129


Michael Gordon, AKA, the buggy professor

At 12/10/2008 11:05 PM, Anonymous AJ said...

@ buggy prof

I didn't have time to read the entire study you linked to in your 3rd stanza, but from the first two pages and a skim of the rest, I would describe what they're studying as ego, not self-esteem. They talk of the "pursuit of self-esteem." I've never heard it described in this way before. Self-esteem is a measurement. How do you pursue a measurement?

The paper's describes those with high self-esteem as believing they are intelligent, attractive, and popular. This sounds like a study in narcissism, not self-esteem.

This was essentially my previous point (that we, or the schools, have pushed a faux self-esteem [which equates to narcissism] on children, to their detriment). I think the paper buttresses this point, as it seems to validate all sorts of components our parents would not have considered to be components of self-esteem.

In trying to show that self-esteem is not great, but possibly bad, they seem to really be showing that this faux self-esteem our culture has been pushing for 20+ years is bad.

I guess it's not that surprising though. As usual, the well-intentioned can't see beyond their own nose and end up doing more harm than good.

At 12/11/2008 11:29 AM, Blogger NoWhining said...

"Call it bewitchment via mathematics."

Some might call it "a necessary and important element of the Scientific Method."

At 12/12/2008 1:06 PM, Anonymous Mika said...

Thank you "buggy professor" for actually interjecting some scientific data, rather than just opinion, into this discussion.

It would seem that we who think we know everything about economics also seem think we are equally knowledgeable about psychology.

The buggy professor reports that "high self-esteem correlates in many psychological studies with callousness and even angry and bullying behavior towards others". I find this interesting and ironic to see this revelation on this particular blog. Some of us who arrogantly assert the infallibility our economic opinions also seem genuinely angry when others challenge us and many appear to be very callous and insensitive about the less fortunate.

At 12/12/2008 1:12 PM, Anonymous Mika said...

By the way, I didn't see any documentation regarding Tom McMahon's graph. We are all reacting to it as of it were the legitimate result of actual scientific research, but apparently its just his personal biased opinion.


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