Re "Right, Wrong ... What's the Dif?" Commentary, May 24: In trying to account for her students' unrealistic attitudes (they're confident they're doing well when they aren't), Marlene Zuk suggests that the problem might be an overload of self-esteem, or else an exaggerated respect for all opinions, even wrong ones. I think there's another factor at work here: The widespread conviction that one's feelings are a surer guide to truth than the mind is, with its nitpicky emphasis on weighing and analyzing the facts. How well I remember the time a student shook her (F) midterm exam under my nose, shouting, "I know I'm not an F student!" What she meant, of course, was that she didn't "feel" like an F student; consequently, the objective evidence, the midterm, must be wrong. Our students too often privilege feelings over critical thinking.
This kind of anti-intellectualism might be no more than grimly amusing if it weren't for the fact that our country's direction is currently being determined by a president who thinks -- I mean feels -- exactly the same way.
As I read Zuk's account of her blissfully ignorant students, I found myself smiling in recognition. During my 35 years in the classroom I too encountered pupils whose unrealistic views of life and learning were clouded by "unwarranted self-regard." But they weren't all like that. Zuk clearly overstates the situation, to the point of revealing more about herself than those she complains about.
Her descriptions of students are darkened by a condescension that approaches contempt. I'm disturbed by the way she speaks of them as if they were all alike. Each individual is just another example of the stereotype.
Zuk seems unhappy as an instructor. Perhaps she, and everyone, would be better off if she were puttering away in some research lab, leaving the teaching of young people to those willing to tackle the challenge of leading them to self-knowledge, rather than simply scorning them.
Zuk laments the inability of students to accept the mistakes they make. She wonders if it's the result of "all that self-esteem this generation of students was inculcated with as youngsters." As a psychologist, I would suggest that it is not the result of too high a self-esteem that is the problem -- but not enough of it. Real self-esteem is like gold -- you can't have too much of it.