The Me Diploma

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

When international test scores came out showing that American students scored lower on standardized math tests than Koreans but felt better about themselves, statisticians scratched their heads. It turns out that the Yanks may actually have been living up to what they were trained for.

“In a recent study, 39% of American eighth-graders were confident of their math skills, compared to only 6% of Korean eighth-graders,” Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell report in The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. “The Koreans, however, far exceeded the U. S. students’ actual performance on tests.”

“We’re not number one, but we’re number one in thinking we are number one.” It doesn’t get much better as the kids age.

“Total self-esteem has not increased among high school seniors, but 3 out of 4 report they are satisfied with themselves, up from 2 out of 3 in 1975,” the authors report. “One out of 3 now say they are ‘completely satisfied,’ versus 1 out of 4 in 1975.” But is this enhanced self-imaging based on much more than the Wizard of Oz can give?

Moreover, is it any more genuine than that beloved fictional character? “U. S. high school kids have not improved in academic performance over the last 30 years, a time when self-esteem has been actively encouraged and boosted among American children,” the authors observe. “According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 17-year-olds’ math scores have risen slightly, from 304 to 307, but reading scores have stayed completely flat at 285.”

“So, at best, there has been less than a 1% improvement in academic performance.” Nevertheless, in giving out grades, educators apparently opt for hope and change.

“At the same time, high school students’ grades have inflated enormously,” Twenge and Campbell note. “While only 18% of students said they earned an A or A- average in 1976, 33% said they were A students in 2006—a whopping 83% increase in self-reported A students.”

“So, we have had less than a 1% improvement in actual learning over 30 years but an 83% increase in A grades.” This might help explain the 50% remediation rate in colleges of students who take remedial courses to learn what they did not absorb during their first 12 years of school.

It might also explain the often unrealistic goals of high school graduates. “In 2000, 50% of high school students expected to attend law, medical, dental, or graduate school, double the expectations of students in the 1970s,” Twenge and Campbell relate. “However, the number of people who actually attain these degrees (that is, a measure of reality) has not changed.”

“In addition, more than two-thirds of high school students now say that they expect to be in the top 20% of performance in their jobs.” Maybe perception might come closer to reality if teachers prepared students for the latter rather than the former.

“From 1992 to 1997, for example, there were almost 2,500 education publications on self-esteem but only 30 on narcissism,” the authors report. “Educators are clearly focused on the brighter sides of self-admiration, and almost completely ignore narcissism.”

“This one-sided view of self-admiration might explain the continuing popularity of self-esteem-boosting programs and curricula in schools.” Indeed it may.

As Twenge and Campbell show, the growing number of narcissists who assume success and fail may be tragic, but those who succeed for a while can really be dangerous. “Business professors Arijit Chatterjee and Donald Hambrick studied CEO narcissism and company outcomes,” the authors point out. “In more than 100 technology companies, they found that the more narcissistic the CEO of a company was, the more volatile the company’s performance.”

Gee, have we seen any of that lately? Twenge is the author of Generation Me and Campbell wrote When You Love a Man Who Loves Himself.

Those who attempt to spin their data for political purposes beware. Although it might be tempting to compare the humility of the Bush family to the, uh, lack of inhibitions of the past two Democratic presidents, the GOP would then have to explain front-page adulterers Senator John Ensign, R-Nevada, and Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.

Actually author and columnist Michelle Malkin did a pretty good job of assessing the silver hair Silver State solon when she wrote, “Never trust a man in politics whose hair is prettier than his wife’s.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.

 

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