Saturday Night Live and The Washington Post Rail Against Self-Esteem

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 17 2012 3:54 PM

Saturday Night Live, Education Researchers Agree

selfesteem
Jason Sudeikis in a still from Saturday Night Live.

On Sunday, The Washington Post published a story on the supposed decline in “self-esteem boosting.” According to the piece, “an increasing number of teachers are weaning themselves from what some call empty praise.”

Drawing on psychology and brain research, these educators aim to articulate a more precise, and scientific, vocabulary for praise that will push children to work through mistakes and take on more challenging assignments.
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If you stayed up the night before to watch Saturday Night Live, the story may have seemed weirdly serendipitous: One of the better sketches from the episode (destined to be remembered for its nervous musical guest) was called “You Can Do Anything.” That’s the name of a fictional talk show “that celebrates the incredibly high self-esteem of the YouTube generation.”

As one of the show’s co-hosts, played by Bill Hader, explains, “thanks to technology and everyone being huge pussies about everything, it doesn’t matter if you have skills, training, or years of experience: You can do it.”

Presumably the SNL staffers who wrote this sketch didn’t base it on education reports published by the Brookings Institution. But they could have: As the Post piece points out, a 2006 study put out by the organization found that “U.S. eighth-graders had only a middling performance on an international math exam, but ... registered high levels of confidence.” Or, as the character in the SNL sketch played by Jason Sudeikis puts it: “My self-esteem is through the roof, because no one has ever been honest with me about how mediocre I am.”

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

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