Is the American Government suffering from a false sense of confidence?

The Brookings Institute 2006 Brown Center Report on American Education asked how student happiness affected student learning. Then answer shouldn’t surprise anyone – a false sense of happy confidence may indicate that you are not very competent at your subject. From the report::
The international evidence indicates that American kids score very well on measures of enjoyment and confidence. American teachers rank high on making mathematics relevant. But our test scores are mediocre. If we as a nation want to increase student achievement in mathematics, it will take more than the happiness factor to do it. The happiest, most confident, most soaked-in-relevance American eighth grader cannot compete with the average Singaporean eighth grader in math. Students do not only learn in school, but they also receive signals from peers and families and the broader culture that convey what we as a society believe to be valuable. Right now those signals are not indicating that learning mathematics is very important. And, as a nation, we have the test scores to prove it.

… if enjoyment and self-confidence are divorced from an academic purpose—if they are pursued as ends unto themselves—they appear to lose their educational value. Real student engagement is not about keeping students happy, boosting their self-esteem, or convincing them that what they are learning is relevant; it’s about acquiring new knowledge and skills and pursuing the activities that contribute to that attainment.
I think this may explain what’s going on in American politics. Life is really nothing more than a less forgiving classroom. Something is seriously wrong when people go through life wearing blinders in the assurance that they are doing well because they are not bothering to measure themselves. President Bush is an excellent example of this. When asked to give an example of his errors he famously said he couldn’t think of a single mistake.

I seem to recall a quote that says something about how if everything is progressing well, you are probably going in the wrong direction.

The GOP has displayed a dazzling denial of reality in almost everything it has done. When reality didn’t meet up with their expectations they hid the truth and presented their own interpretations. One of Bush’s many justifications for occupying Iraq was to stop them from becoming a nuclear power – which turned out to be nothing more than an attempt to alter reality.

But Democrats are just as guilty of trying to alter reality – I’ve been listening to a few of the Democratic leaders call for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, which is also not a good idea. A new strategy in Iraq is needed, something that genuinely helps the Iraqi people become independent. We broke Iraq, and now we have to fix it again. Simple “Stay or Go” plans of action are too black and white and don’t address reality.

There are Democratic leaders, and a fair amount of Republican leaders who are capable of seeing reality for what it is, and if you listen carefully you can hear some of these people in the background making good suggestions for strategy in Iraq.

The best suggestions seem to be coming from those who are critical of themselves, and of American politics. People who know that current strategy is failing, who are willing to work hard to develop a successful strategy, who are insecure in their strategy and continue to check and recheck and modify it when necessary are those people that we should be looking toward.

“Stay the Course” deserves a failing grade.


Scientia said...

Cal- There's a study called "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead To Inflated Self-Assessments", and it appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1999. It basically described a societal phenomenon that matches what the educators in your quotations are talking about- the fact that knowing less makes you think you know more (because you have much less idea how much there is to know). It was both prophetic and frightening at the time, and even more so now.

I have a PDF copy, so let me know if you want to read it.

Anonymous said...

I read that report before, and just came across it again yesterday at the Pharyngula blog. I've got a PDF of it now on my thumb drive and will read it again.

I think parts of it apply to this essay.