Maybe it’s not as bad as we think it is.
According to a Harvard University study most parents want their children to be high-achievers and to gain happiness through achievement. Of course, the researchers find this to be bad news.
It seems that parents pay lip service to empathy—the pseudo-value that most educators want children to acquire—but they are really more like Tiger Moms.
Of course, if this were as true as the study suggests it is, the nation would have risen up with one voice to praise the Tiger Mom.
It didn’t, so we take all of this discussion skeptically.
It might be that parents value student achievement, but perhaps they do not value it enough. Or perhaps their feelings do not translate into the kind of parenting that will produce the desired results.
Of course, parents are only one side of the equation. The study also suggests that schoolteachers also value achievement over empathy, but what are they teaching these children?
Are they teaching the value of achievement? Are they helping children to hone their skills to compete with children in the rest of the nation and the world? Or are they paying lip service to achievement while teaching self-esteem and empathy?
As it happens, the Harvard study tells us that empathy is not being ignored. It is simply being put in second place. For all I know, children would be happier if empathy were put in fourth place.
The Atlantic’s Jessica Lahey writes:
If there is any good news to be found in this report, it is that while we may value other things above empathy, we still care about it, and want our children to value it. While only 22 percent of the students surveyed ranked caring first on their list of priorities, almost half of them students ranked caring second, and 45 percent thought their parents would rank caring second as well.
But, this is not necessarily good news. Perhaps it explains why American schoolchildren, on the whole do poorly on international tests of math and language.
While 96 percent of parents say they want to raise ethical, caring children, and cite the development of moral character as “very important, if not essential,” 80 percent of the youths surveyed reported that their parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” Approximately the same percentage reported that their teachers prioritize student achievement over caring. Surveyed students were three times as likely to agree as disagree with the statement “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my class than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
Note well that the educators identify moral character with empathy. It’s a sleight-of-hand. They are so viscerally opposed to competition and achievement that they do not understand that sports, for example, builds character by teaching children to play the game by the rules and to show good sportsmanship.
They also fail to see that, for someone who is competing in the arena or the marketplace or the battlefield, empathy is counterproductive. If you feel for your opponent and feel badly for him when he loses you will become a weak competitor.
The educators at Harvard are distressed that their efforts to indoctrinate parents have not been more successful, but perhaps it’s a good thing that parents are unwilling to sacrifice their children’s success in favor of being caring and compassionate.
According to Lahey, Harvard educators want:
As the report shows, simply talking about compassion is not enough. Children are perceptive creatures, fully capable of discerning the true meanings in the blank spaces between well-intentioned words. If parents really want to let their kids know that they value caring and empathy, the authors suggest, they must make a real effort to help their children learn to care about other people—even when it’s hard, even when it does not make them happy, and yes, even when it is at odds with their personal success.
The educators are willing to sacrifice success in favor of doing charity work, giving to the neediest. They want to live in a nation of social workers, not a nation of entrepreneurs. They are not teaching empathy as much as they are teaching guilt. What they call empathy seems to be a way to assuage guilt for being a capitalist oppressor.
Of course, it is not self-evident that the less fortunate will profit from more compassion and caring. Perhaps they would do better to learn how to gain happiness through achievement and success.
The educators and psychologists are purveying empathy. They see it as the supreme moral value and believe that it solves all problems and produces happy well-adjusted children. We note, yet again, that empathy is not a moral value at all and that it is so poorly defined that it could mean just about anything, from feeling someone’s pain to getting along with others.
Psychologist Michele Borda argued for empathy:
Studies show that kids’ ability to feel for others affects their health,wealth and authentic happiness as well as their emotional, social, cognitive development and performance. Empathy activates conscience and moral reasoning, improves happiness, curbs bullying and aggression, enhances kindness and peer inclusiveness, reduces prejudice and racism, promotes heroism and moral courage and boosts relationship satisfaction. Empathy is a key ingredient of resilience, the foundation to trust, the benchmark of humanity, and core to everything that makes a society civilized.
Of course, these values are anything but neutral. They are intrinsic to liberal and progressive politics. Whatever else you think of Borda, she is trying to enlist parents and teachers in the daunting task of brainwashing children to make them more like her, to affirm her values.
Unfortunately, this hodge podge is anything but true. Being civilized means following rules, communicating clearly, showing respect for others and competing fairly in the arena. The nation's great master of empathy, Bill Clinton was happy to feel everyone's pain, but that did not prevent him from inflicting some on hapless young women.
We are currently living through a period in our history where we have an empathetic government. We have a government that cares for people, but we also have a government that prefers to keep people in a position where they need to be cared for.
Obviously, it depends on what you call caring. A government that really cared about people would make it easier to create jobs. A government that really cared would be more interested in job creation than in handouts.