According to The American Freshman Survey, America's college freshmen think they're pretty darn good at what they do.
Unfortunately the massive downers who read their test scores think otherwise. Seeing this made me think of a conversation I had earlier this week with a friend who's teaching graduate business courses at a state university. He's just been doing it for a semester, but he said he'd run into a couple of problems with his grading. Apparently, he believes in it, and I guess a couple of the students in the class took exception to the idea of their work being evaluated against a mean ol' objective standard.
Since they're in classes to earn graduate business degrees, the chances are good that even if they find a way to slide through school without being seriously tested they'll eventually run into someone who will pretty much insist on things being done a certain way. This person will be called a "boss" if they work for someone else, and this person will be called a "judge" if they own their own company.
I'd just make a surface guess, but I think the problem comes less from younger folks these days being told often and oftener that they're special. I think it comes from a failure to understand that being special doesn't automatically translate into success or skill. I've had several friends who, in the last year or so, have had children. Those children, none more than two years old, are all special. But not a one of them can read worth a darn. They can't drive a car. They can't solve...or say... a quadratic equation (Yes, I can, but it will take awhile and more than one attempt). I'd hesitate to let them vote...not because I think we'd be any worse off if they did but because requiring children to pay attention to politicians is just plain cruel.
All of those tasks must be learned. Some we learn well. Some we learn less well. Some we learn and then dispense with once we move beyond the arena in which their knowledge is important (this is known as the "When am I ever going to use algebra in real life?" effect). Some of us are gifted for some of them, and some of us for others. My friends' children will be no different, and they will be no less special no matter what their gifts and aptitudes. But unless they pay attention in math, they'll get the kind of grades I got, and dealing with financial reports, tax returns and the checkbook will be the same kind of long hard slog it is for me.
And no report card worth the paper it's on gives out grades in self-esteem.