That article reads like it has a very large political axe to grind. While empathy may have decreased due to some large-scale social changes, blaming the "self-esteem movement" is confusing correlation with causation. I'd be curious to know, for instance, if people in urban communities score lower empathy than people in rural communities.

It seems reasonable that a lack of empathy and grandiosity would be associated with violent behavior, but I don't think it's meaningful to call this "self-esteem" or blame a movement that tries to make p... (read more)

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It is certainly more ideal for a person to have high self esteem and also the security to admit fallibility, but the two are not mutually exclusive. Self esteem is exactly what it sounds like - how highly a person values themselves regardless if their belief is justified in the right context, morally or not (What Vaniver says goes into this better). Self esteem that is incongruent with reality or the context is the issue here, which is why programs that simply seek to boost self esteem without also teaching proper skills that can justify high self esteem c... (read more)

4Vaniver9ySo, the once standard explanation of bullying was "they have low self-esteem, and do it to feel better about themselves." This is not an explanation that plays well with actual bullies. The better explanation is "their self-esteem is higher than it should be, and they need to use violence to make up the gap." If I think I'm level 6, but really I'm level 4, it makes sense to say my self esteem is high (too high), and whenever someone criticizes me I'll blow up because to me it looks like they're trying to reduce my status from level 6 to 4 (even if they just wanted to fix my spelling this one time and don't know who I am). People with low self esteem (you're level 4, but think you're level 2) aren't likely to be violent because they don't have anything to protect / uphold by that violence. If you criticize them, you're reinforcing their low-status view, not contradicting it.
2Strange79yMy understanding is that the 'self-esteem movement' tends to go for relentless, effectively information-free affirmations, based on an ideology that people need to be told they've done a good job whether or not they actually have. Handing out halos [] like nametags, in other words. It is not hard for me to imagine that such a thing could lead to unwillingness to accept criticism, in the same sense that obsessively sheltering children from any possible irritant leads to allergies.

Two More Things to Unlearn from School

by Eliezer Yudkowsky 2 min read12th Jul 2007155 comments


In Three Things to Unlearn from School, Ben Casnocha cites Bill Bullard's list of three bad habits of thought: Attaching importance to personal opinions, solving given problems, and earning the approval of others. Bullard's proposed alternatives don't look very good to me, but Bullard has surely identified some important problems.

I can think of other school-inculcated bad habits of thought, too many to list, but I'll name two of my least favorite.

I suspect the most dangerous habit of thought taught in schools is that even if you don't really understand something, you should parrot it back anyway. One of the most fundamental life skills is realizing when you are confused, and school actively destroys this ability - teaches students that they "understand" when they can successfully answer questions on an exam, which is very very very far from absorbing the knowledge and making it a part of you. Students learn the habit that eating consists of putting food into mouth; the exams can't test for chewing or swallowing, and so they starve.

Much of this problem may come from needing to take three 4-credit courses per quarter, with a textbook chapter plus homework to be done every week - the courses are timed for frantic memorization, it's not possible to deeply chew over and leisurely digest knowledge in the same period. College students aren't allowed to be confused; if they started saying, "Wait, do I really understand this? Maybe I'd better spend a few days looking up related papers, or consult another textbook," they'd fail all the courses they took that quarter. A month later they would understand the material far better and remember it much longer - but one month after finals is too late; it counts for nothing in the lunatic university utility function.

Many students who have gone through this process no longer even realize when something confuses them, or notice gaps in their understanding. They have been trained out of pausing to think.

I recall reading, though I can't remember where, that physicists in some country were more likely to become extreme religious fanatics. This confused me, until the author suggested that physics students are presented with a received truth that is actually correct, from which they learn the habit of trusting authority.

It may be dangerous to present people with a giant mass of authoritative knowledge, especially if it is actually true. It may damage their skepticism.

So what could you do? Teach students the history of physics, how each idea was replaced in turn by a new correct one? "Here's the old idea, here's the new idea, here's the experiment - the new idea wins!" Repeat this lesson ten times and what is the habit of thought learned? "New ideas always win; every new idea in physics turns out to be correct." You still haven't taught any critical thinking, because you only showed them history as seen with perfect hindsight. You've taught them the habit that distinguishing true ideas from false ones is perfectly clear-cut and straightforward, so if a shiny new idea has anything to recommend it, it's probably true.

Maybe it would be possible to teach the history of physics from a historically realistic point of view, without benefit of hindsight: show students the different alternatives that were considered historically plausible, re-enact the historical disagreements and debates.

Maybe you could avoid handing students knowledge on a silver platter: show students different versions of physics equations that looked plausible, and ask them to figure out which was the correct one, or invent experiments that would distinguish between alternatives. This wouldn't be as challenging as needing to notice anomalies without hints and invent alternatives from scratch, but it would be a vast improvement over memorizing a received authority.

Then, perhaps, you could teach the habit of thought: "The ideas of received authority are often imperfect but it takes a great effort to find a new idea that is better. Most possible changes are for the worse, even though every improvement is necessarily a change."