According to a report from the Brookings Institute, countries where students have low self-esteem are better at math than those in places that “embrace self-esteem, joy and real-world relevance” (re: USA).

But the author of the report says the findings don’t necessarily mean that “happiness causes low achievement”.

Of course, the implication is that if we’re going to raise math scores on standardized test, we’d better make learning the subject even more dull and dreary than we already do.

Chester Finn, of course, agrees with this concept of learning as gulag: “Schools should work on academics, not feelings,” Finn said. “True self-esteem, self-confidence and happiness are born of true achievement.”

I’ll give the final words here to two people who have a more open perspective on things.

Alfie Kohn, a progressive author and lecturer, questioned the findings. “Let me get this straight,” Kohn said. “Kids who get higher scores on standardized tests are unhappy and self-doubting, so that means we should question the importance of happiness and self-confidence, rather than the importance of these tests?”

Gerald W. Bracey, an educational psychologist and columnist for the education journal Phi Delta Kappan, said the report overlooked countervailing trends in Japan, Singapore and other countries that do better than the United States on eighth-grade math tests. Officials in those countries say their education systems are not yielding graduates who have the same level of creativity as American graduates. Some Asian nations have begun to copy aspects of U.S. education, including the emphasis on letting students search for answers rather than memorize them.

Some people need to remember that math is actually used creatively in the real world. And learning enough to pass standardized tests will do little to get students ready for that reality.

math, teaching, brookings