Sunday, April 29, 2007

The American education system in microcosm

Three kids, aged about 14 by the look of them, play their version of a significant, yet easy-to-play song, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" at what looks to be a school talent show. And they are absolutely awful. Terrible. They are comically -- even historically -- bad.

While I realize it's not very nice and perhaps unfair to make fun of children, I find this video to be supremely illustrative of education in America today. It shows what "self-esteem" education does to people. These kids have absolutely no idea that they are very, very bad at what they're doing. None at all.

First there is the drummer. He is the only member of the band who is anywhere near competent. In fact, he's mediocre for his age. He can play his instrument, more or less. This makes him appear almost brilliant in contrast to his bandmates. Yet he has no idea that his band is horrible. At the end of the song, rather than slinking from the stage in shame at the debacle in which he has participated, he raises his arms in triumph, little dreaming that his band's little performance is about to become a YouTube byword for teh suxxor.

Next we have the guitar player. He simply can't play. He apparently has trouble even keeping his instrument plugged in, because the sound keeps cutting out. He can't stay in rhythm. He misses notes. And then his solo (at about 2:52 in, if you can stand to listen that long). Oh. My. Freakin'. Gourd. He plays it completely without distortion. (My daughter said, "It sounds like a ukulele.") He's off rhythm. He's off tempo. And nope, he doesn't even know it.

Last but not least on the Unintentional Comedy Scale, there is the singer. Fully outfitted at Hot Topic, she struts around the stage like a rock goddess. There's only one problem: she can't sing. Not only can she not sing, she doesn't appear to even know what singing is. I suspect that if you were to tell her that singing involves producing particular "notes" in certain "keys," she would be quite confused. Her idea of singing is to shout tunelessly, more or less (quite often much less) in rhythm, while prancing about the stage. Things like "notes" don't enter into the equation. "Over-bored and self-assured," she's all attitude and no ability. But, of course, she's quite convinced that she's very good. And why shouldn't she be? After all, the audience applauds wildly at the end.

This is what "self-esteem"-based education does to people. All their young lives, they've heard, "You're special," "You're so good," "That was wonderful." Never have they heard, "Sorry, not good enough." Never have they heard, "You need way more work before you're ready to perform." Never has anyone told them that music is difficult, that they need to work harder at it, that they will humiliate themselves if they don't get better. Because that might hurt their little egos. It might damage their precious self-esteem. No, in America today it's better to build children up with an entirely unearned sense of self-worth than it is to push them to actually achieve genuine competence, much less virtuosity. Because every child is above average. Even the ones that are very bad at what they do.


  1. I couldn't last through the whole video. Yikes. That was painful and a sad commentary on our furture generations.

  2. I hadn't really thought about it nor put 2 and 2 together.

    But, this may be the reasoning behind some of the "attitude problems" we've been noticing in the younger members of our extended family.

    After hearing day in and day out about how you can do know wrong, you start believing your own hype


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