The Corner

The Confidence Trap in Education

This may be a familiar insight, I suppose, but it bears repeating, particularly given new evidence: American schools have done their students great harm by emphasizing the pursuit of self-esteem over the pursuit of excellence.

In a new report from the center-left Brookings Institution, there is a striking inverse correlation between perception and reality among pupils in developed countries. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. 8th-graders said they were confident in their math skills. Only 6 percent of South Korean kids expressed the same sentiment. But the latter significantly outperform the former on credible international math tests. Similarly, while 66 percent of U.S. teachers said they tried to connect their math lessons to students’ daily lives, only 14 percent of Japanese teacher expressed the same aspiration. But it will be the Japanese students whose math lessons connect to their daily lives as adults — because they will have actually learned math.


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