6/16/07

Lake Wobegon Effect

For those of you outside the United States or those not enlightened enough to listen to The Prairie Home Companion, Lake Wobegon is a fictional town in Minnesota where humorist and social commentator Garrison Keillor supposedly was born. The famous tagline at the start of each vignette is, Lake Wobegon where "the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average," hence the identification of the lake Wobegon Effect. That is precisely where we are today, everyone in not above average. Some people are good at certain skills and tasks and not good at others. Some the mistaken notion has arisen that if we praise mediocre efforts that they will magically become superior efforts. A mediocre effort is a mediocre effort no matter what words you use to describe it. We have raised a whole generation, in fact several generations with an inflated sense of self worth, because the adults have this mistaken notion that we can’t allow kids to fail or be average. How realistic is this? In the search for perfection we have created a dream world where there is no failure. Sports used to the ultimate test, now we give a trophy to everyone, how ridiculous. I was not always the first chosen; in fact many times I was the last chosen, as very late developer, any athletic ability remained well hidden for years. Did that deter me, no way, it drove me. I wanted to play with the big kids, I wanted to make varsity. Let’s get realistic, by not allowing kids to face reality we are setting them up for bigger failures. We must praise effort that warrants praise and correct poor effort. Lake Wobegon is fictional, life is real. Remember without the C students where would the world be?

5 Comments:

At 6/17/07, 1:16 PM, Anonymous tlanger said...

Vern,

I'm a little confused. What exactly are you talking about? Is it effort or results?

You stated, “Some people are good at certain skills and tasks and not good at others. Some the mistaken notion has arisen that if we praise mediocre efforts that they will magically become superior efforts.”

The preceding paragraph is somewhat contradictory and it’s very possible for someone to be awful at a certain task, but with 100% effort. Based on your comment it seems a person should not be commended, or praised, if their results aren’t up-to-par (i.e., they are not good). This mentality is fine for professional athletes who are already selected as the elite and being paid as such, but I don’t feel it’s the way to approach children. In fact, instilling self-worth in children regardless of the results should be embraced and intertwined within a motivational message...isn’t that what teaching is all about?

You stated, “In the search for perfection we have created a dream world where there is no failure.”

Again, you seem to be defining results as the measuring stick and not effort; however, this would teach children that winning is everything and not how they play the game. Isn’t this the mentality that has led to the plethora of performance enhancement drug use?

You stated, “Let’s get realistic, by not allowing kids to face reality we are setting them up for bigger failures. We must praise effort that warrants praise and correct poor effort.’

I guess this would depend on who you perceive reality. Is it that winning is the ultimate goal or learning a sense of self-worth from trying your hardest and giving it your all?

I understand your message is that we can't placate children to protect them from the "real world," but it's also our job to protect fragile egos and provide an environment where they can flourish....

Todd Langer
www.balance2posture.com

 
At 6/17/07, 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If adults build up children's egos with false or meaningless praise, they will never be resilient enough to live successful lives. Athletes/students are all different. Success should be measured based on realistic goals designed with the student/athlete in mind and not the scoreboard. We can't control our talent, size, or quality of the opponent. Effort and determination are the only things a person/team can actually control. What's important is to teach children how to establish goals, work really hard to reach them, and how to relish in the satisfaction in having completed a good day's work.

Jill Gerber

Here's a quote from a coach far more insightful than me: "This is your first game, my child. I hope you win. I hope you win for your sake, not mine. Because winning's nice. It's a good feeling. Like the whole world is yours. But, it passes, this feeling. And what lasts is what you've learned. And what you learn about is life. That's what sports is all about. Life. The whole thing is played out in an afternoon. The happiness of life. The miseries. The joys. The heartbreaks.

There's no telling what'll turn up. There's no telling whether they'll toss you out in the first five minutes or whether you'll stay for the long haul. There's no telling how you'll do. You might be a hero or you might be absolutely nothing. There's just no telling. Too much depends on chance. On how the ball bounces.

I'm not talking about the game, my child. I'm talking about life. But it's life that the game is all about. Just as I said. Because every game is life. And life is a game. A serious game. Dead serious. But that's what you do with serious things. You do your best. You take what comes. And you run with it. Winning is fun. Sure. But winning is not the point. Never letting up is the point. Never letting anyone down is the point. Play to win. Sure. But lose like a champion. Because it's not winning that counts. What counts is trying."

- John Wooden, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observation and Reflection On and Off the Court

 
At 6/17/07, 8:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said Jill

 
At 6/20/07, 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those interested, here's an interesting article on praise fro the New York magazine http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

Jill Gerber

 
At 6/20/07, 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite quote is "Cloninger has trained rats and mice in mazes to have persistence by carefully not rewarding them when they get to the finish. “The key is intermittent reinforcement,” says Cloninger. The brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”
Jill

 

Post a Comment

<< Home