The Lake Wobegone Effect

Romanticism has a dark side. It's one thing to look on the sunny side of life, but it's neither optimism nor evidence of positive self esteem to ALWAYS look on the bright side. Garrison Keilor speaks of the mythical home town where all the women and strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Commercial bluster promises unconditional superlatives, too. I remember an ad campaign that promised "For A Merry Christmas, Lay Linoleum!"

The problem is that we believe we have a problem. Not all Christmases are merry and bright, and only about one in twelve are white in these parts. Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman reported in his Learned Helplessness that one primary cause of depression is the self-help movement, which promises that we can deliver more than anyone can reliably deliver. In business, the romantic notion that success is achievable through "continuous improvement" has doubtless destroyed more companies than it has preserved.

We live in a curiously romantic culture, one which has almost successfully replaced performance with measurement, achievement with intention, and skill with luck. We follow whatever the latest study found, only to learn after years of bliss-filled ignorance that ... whoopsy! ... that study was apparently wrong. Romanticism breeds ignorant bliss in the short run and humiliating moments of enlightenment longer-term.

The following linked article, The Age of Educational Romanticism by Charles Murray got me thinking about how many activities have become romantically entwined and how awful these infatuations turn out to be. Whatever the field, without room for pragmatism and skepticism—let alone realism (I know, no such thing, but still the only place to get a really good steak)—romanticism guarantees its opposite. Mandating that no child be left behind ensures that many will leave on their own volition. Liberating another imprisons anyone who could have liberated himself.

"No one but the most starry-eyed denies in private the reality of differences in intellectual ability that we are powerless to change with K-12 education. People are unwilling to talk about those differences in public, but it is a classic emperor’s-clothes scenario waiting for someone to point out the obvious. Starting that process can be as simple as more articles like this one."Link Here

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