More on kids’ entitlement.

July 27th, 2007

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”?

Many readers appreciated the arguments. But others felt the column was unfair to target Mr. Rogers, who was such a positive influence. I hadn’t expected that column to be taken so literally, and I should have articulated the fact that Mr. Rogers also encouraged hard work and mutual respect. It’s not his fault if others now misinterpret the “special” language he popularized.

So, kudos to Zaslow for clarifying what he means, and for putting a big chunk of the burden right where it belongs — with parents, consumer culture, and “the self-esteem movement”. Especially if you read the earlier column and my comments on it, you should certainly give this one a look. I particularly liked the homey quote that Zaslow uses to wrap up the piece, taken from Florida schoolteacher Syd Corbett: “Self-esteem comes from the self doing something worthy of esteem.” Just so.

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* One little quibble here: Whether Zaslow meant it this way or not, “a premise some found too provocative” is weasel-ish. It can be read as putting the burden on readers for being too squeamish, as when you don’t-really-apologize for being unkind by saying “I’m sorry your feelings got hurt” rather than saying “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” Speaking just of my own reaction, I didn’t find Zaslow’s original premise “too provocative” — I thought it was flatly incorrect. But anyway, good for him for following up and giving more nuance to this subject.

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