Don’t use lies to motivate kids


Picasso's Don Quixote
Picasso’s Don Quixote

A teacher and neighbor of mine, Janusz Maciuba, has written a thought-provoking piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution warning would-be mentors: Be careful what you tell kids, because some of the high-sounding rhetoric that gets dished out can actually be counterproductive:

In the service of instilling self-esteem in students, teachers and other cheerleaders of scholastic and personal achievement have promoted slogans that are potentially dangerous if taken at face value by students. In fact, some of these motivational mottoes can actually encourage students to drop out of school. I base my observations on teaching 7th and 9th graders and from reading thousands of GED essays, some of which explained why students left school before graduation and what their dreams for the future were.

Here are some of the motivational phrases that can backfire:

  • You can be anything you want to be (not true).
  • Never back down (leads to unnecessary conflict).
  • Be a leader not a follower (promotes anarchy).

As Janusz points out, if you can’t spell “pediatrician,” you’re not likely to become one.  Better to “Know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em.”

And please don’t tell kids “to give 110 percent.”

I don’t agree with his take on Tupac Shakur’s upbringing, but the piece is well worth reading for anyone who wants to keep their life–and their counsel–rooted in reality.

Read the entire column at Maureen Downey’s Get Schooled blog.


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