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Recession may get rid of rampant self-esteem

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Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Sure I'm buying "two for one" eggs in the grocery store and ignoring my retirement statements like everyone else in this crummy economy. But I'm also marveling at the benefits -- yes benefits -- of a serious recession.

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Like, well, "two for one" deals on eggs and other things in the grocery store.

I'm also wondering -- and hoping -- if along with the housing market, there might be a long overdue and much needed corrective to the "self-esteem" movement on its way.

We've heard the news reports about young adults in jobs who want to be praised constantly. According to the Wall Street Journal, some firms were hiring companies to throw "confetti parties" for their young workers, and otherwise help management constantly stroke young egos. At least that was the trend until, presumably, last fall when the economy crashed.

Perhaps we are on our way back to the time when not getting fired was all the self-esteem building one could ask for.

Whether or not such common sense is hitting the workplace, it has not, apparently, filtered down to the college level. There, as the New York Times recently chronicled, it seems more students think they should get good grades for just gracing their seats in class.

In his article, "Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes," Max Roosevelt describes the scene at the University of California-Irvine, in which "a third of students surveyed said that they expected Bs just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading."

Other professors report the same. Dr. Ellen Greenberger, also at Cal-Irvine, said, "I noticed an increased sense of entitlement in my students and wanted to discover what was causing it."

So, she authored a study on self-entitled college students, and found parental pressure and other root causes at work.

But what about understanding that surely one culprit must be the "I'm great just as I am" self-esteem preaching that kids are getting from birth through high school?

James Hogge, a professor at Vanderbilt University, said: "Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that 'if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.'" As one student told Roosevelt, "I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade."

Really? What if one's "effort" isn't good enough? What if it downright stinks?

I fully confess that I graduated from the University of Illinois without gracing my class seat very often. In fact, even my mother used to say that I never let my studies interfere with my education.

But, at least I certainly didn't believe I was owed anything. Not a good grade, not a good job, not anything. Eventually, even I found out I had to work hard to get what I wanted.

So, what has changed in recent decades? We have young people being raised on a steady diet of "I'm awesome just as I am."

One popular parenting Web site says, "helping your child grow up with strong self-esteem is the most important task of parenthood."

Oh? What about learning to esteem others? Wow, I can't find much about that in the bookstores. The book, "Just Because I am: A Child's Book of Affirmation," says "all children have the right to feel good about themselves exactly as they are."

Really? Who knew?

It turns out that excellence and effort are not the same thing. And do we really think that college kids who complain about not being rightly rewarded for the latter are actually trying that hard anyway?

For too long we've confused the two. To be more accurate, our culture has preached that you don't need either to get ahead. Apparently you just have to be "wonderful" you -- and grace your seat in class.

Well, guess what? Times have changed.

Maybe one of the crazy benefits of this crazy economy will be that there are no more confetti parties for just showing up to work, and, by extension, no more As for simply completing a required classroom project or warming a seat.

You know what? That would be a bigger silver lining in this economy than even two-for-one eggs.

-- Hart hosts the "It Takes a Parent" radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago.

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