Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Modesty Manifesto

David Brooks in today's NYT on our absurd overconfidence and the resulting problems:

American students no longer perform particularly well in global math tests. But Americans are among the world leaders when it comes to thinking that we are really good at math.

Students in the Middle East, Africa and the United States have the greatest faith in their math skills. Students in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan have much less self-confidence, though they actually do better on the tests.

In a variety of books and articles, Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University and W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia have collected data suggesting that American self-confidence has risen of late. College students today are much more likely to agree with statements such as "I am easy to like" than college students 30 years ago. In the 1950s, 12 percent of high school seniors said they were a "very important person." By the '90s, 80 percent said they believed that they were.

In short, there's abundant evidence to suggest that we have shifted a bit from a culture that emphasized self-effacement — I'm no better than anybody else, but nobody is better than me — to a culture that emphasizes self-expansion.

Writers like Twenge point out that young people are bathed in messages telling them how special they are. Often these messages are untethered to evidence of actual merit. Over the past few decades, for example, the number of hours college students spend studying has steadily declined. Meanwhile, the average G.P.A. has steadily risen.


The Modesty Manifesto

Published: March 10, 2011

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