How to Prepare Kids For a Lifetime of Failure

James Bowman writes in the Wall Street Journal today that, beginning next month, the College Board will allow high-school students who have taken the SATs multiple times to submit only their highest score to the colleges to which they are applying." Is that really a good idea?

It's called Score Choice, and, according to the Journal, it "brings the SAT into line with the ACT, the rival college-entrance examination, and it is supposedly designed to reduce the stress that this examination places on students worried about their futures."


Whether stress can actually be good for you is a subject of much debate. That aside, critics of Score Choice note that it gives an unfair advantage to those who can afford the time and the money to take the test more than once. Not only that, but since it makes the job of assessing applicants more difficult, it may contribute to colleges weighing the test less than in the past. Again, that's a subject of much debate.

Bowman blames the 1980s self-esteem movement for catalyzing a do-over culture that prevents schools from holding students to high standards. He recalls the days when school districts banned placing students in alphabetical order for fear that the self-esteem of those whose names began with the later letters of the alphabet would suffer. And in 1986, Bowman notes, self-esteem-based education in California rewarded feeble efforts and simply removed the incentive for kids to work hard."

Bowman writes that "while American students perform poorly compared with many foreigners of the same age, they are top of the charts when it comes to how well they think they have performed. Artificially pumping up their self-esteem produces only self-deception in the first instance and frustration and anger when -- or if -- the truth must be faced...We do children no favors by teaching them that they have a right to a favorable outcome in all that they do."

In a world where success is increasingly rare, Bowman says, schools should 'submit students to the same sorts of stresses and failures that adult life does, in order to teach them how to cope with such things."

Here is a recent Big Think interview with College Board president Gaston Caperton explaining the value of standardized testing. In this increasingly challenging global economic environment, schools must focus on what makes kids smarter. And everyone knows that competiton works.

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