Bring out the helium balloons, S.A.Y. [Someone Appreciates You] It! Cards, ego-boosting dinnerware, and continuous Celebration-Voice-Mailbox messages!!!
According to Jeffrey Zaslow in The Wall Street Journal, “the culture of praise is reaching deeply into the adult world. Bosses, professors and mates are feeling compelled to heap praise on the “uber-stroked twentysomethings” or risk watching them “wither under an unfamiliar compliment deficit.”
Regarding the university, Zaslow cites John Sloop, a professor of cultural studies at Vanderbilt University, who illustrates the impact of this “praise fixation” on academic life:
To win tenure, professors often need to receive positive evaluations from students. If professors want students to like them, “to a large extent, critical comments [of students] have to be couched in praise,” Prof. Sloop says. He has attended seminars designed to help professors learn techniques of supportive criticism. “We were told to throw away our red pens so we don’t intimidate students.”
At the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, marketing consultant Steve Smolinsky teaches students in their late 20s who’ve left the corporate world to get M.B.A. degrees. He and his colleagues feel handcuffed by the language of self-esteem, he says. “You have to tell students, ‘It’s not as good as you can do. You’re really smart, and can do better.’”
Mr. Smolinsky enjoys giving praise when it’s warranted, he says, “but there needs to be a flip side. When people are lousy, they need to be told that.” He notices that his students often disregard his harsher comments. “They’ll say, ‘Yeah, well…’ I don’t believe they really hear it.”
Sounds like a dose of realism and rigor is long overdue, and the place to begin is of course our teacher education schools and K-16 classrooms.