Good details, lousy hook.

July 18th, 2007

Jeffrey Zaslow writes good columns for the Wall Street Journal. This one — “Blame It on Mr. Rogers: Why Young Adults Feel So Entitled” — is interesting but essentially flawed. It draws on some of the same insights discussed by Po Bronson in this excellent (long!) article from New York magazine: “How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise.”

Don’t get me wrong: I have lots of face-to-face experience with the college kids Zaslow discusses, the ones who “feel” or “believe” that they tried hard and did well in a course, and therefore should receive an A (or a B et cetera). I have experience in disabusing them of these notions — gently when I can, brusquely when I must, firmly in all cases. But Fred Rogers is not the culprit, for at least a couple of reasons:

1. Any discussion like this must center on the role of parents, period. Zaslow knows this, because he spends much of the column talking about how parents do talk versus how they should talk. But the whole idea of laying this at the feet of Mr. Rogers is a red herring. Parents, parents, parents: if we’re looking for accountability in children, we must hold parents accountable for the way they raise their children — not a kindly television host who entered those children’s lives for half an hour per day (armed, I might add, with the best thinking in educational psychology available at the time).

2. As a point of fact, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood routinely featured segments in which Mr. Rogers would visit various workplaces, for example to show how coats are made, or how soup is canned. These segments always included conversations between Rogers and folks doing the type of work depicted, and off the top of my head I can recall plenty of comments from Rogers about how hard these people worked, how involved they were in what they were doing, and so on. So suggesting that Rogers somehow aided in depriving children from viewing the lives of adults — the problem is rightly diagnosed, but Rogers was hardly a culprit in abetting it.

Re-reading what I’ve written, I’m probably coming down on Zaslow too hard. His fundamental point — that children should be taught that “being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself” — is absolutely correct, as Bronson’s article explains in considerable detail. And I’m conscious that a columnist like Zaslow needs a good hook upon which to hang his article. It’s just that, in this case, Mr. Rogers was the wrong hook to choose.

2 Responses to “Good details, lousy hook.”

  1. What I’ve Learned So Far » Blog Archive » More on kids’ entitlement. Says:

    […] Last week I took Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow to task for blaming Mr. Rogers for the sense of unearned entitlement that infects too many younger Americans. Turns out I wasn’t alone: The Entitlement Epidemic: Who’s Really to Blame? . . . more than 1,000 psychologists, educators and observant readers contacted me in response to my recent column headlined “Blame It on Mr. Rogers.” That column included a premise some found too provocative*: Did TV icon Fred Rogers contribute to our entitlement epidemic by telling children they were “special”? […]

  2. What I’ve Learned So Far » Blog Archive » Let your kids get some sleep! Says:

    […] A while back I referred to this Po Bronson article from New York magazine about over-praising children. The other day Ashley Merryman — who helped Bronson research that article — dropped me a line to let me know that she (? — I think this Ashley is a she) and Bronson had written more in the same vein. So, here are two useful articles for parents, and especially for those whose kids don’t get enough sleep at night, or who don’t have well-established bedtimes. […]

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