The art and science of making decisions requires two components: free choice and personal confidence. If there are no options to chose from, there is, in effect, no decision to be made. If you do not have the self-assurance to make choices for yourself or others, you will likely choose inaction, allow others to make the decision for you, or intimidate others out of exasperation.
These factors are directly linked, because we live, work, or study in highly pressurized environments where rules, regulations, and policies (see this blog post) strip the need for individuality, uniqueness, and offer little freedom, as well as very few options, thereby leaving the population with an abundance of frustration and little or no self-confidence in regards to making decisions.
I believe there are two distinct responses that can evolve from the above scenario: The first being a developed sense of entitlement which often looks very similar to confidence, but is actually on the opposite end of the spectrum. The second is learned helplessness which sadly appears exactly as it sounds.
I will argue that some children will acquire a sense of entitlement, because even though they live in these very controlled atmospheres, they seemingly have everything they could want and get nearly all the “stuff” they ask for. They know exactly how much “work” they need to put into something to get the desired result. This abundance gives them the false idea that they are entitled to good grades, praise, and all the respect they could possibly desire.
I believe that entitlement actually leads to bullying, because despite the largess, these people don't have the power to make decisions or take command of their own lives and therefore behave badly towards others to create that perceived sense of authority.
Learned helplessness, on the other hand, comes from existing in that same controlled environment, but feeling the weight of defeat on every single level you can possibly imagine. These are the people who have been told time and again, through words and actions, that they are just not good enough, because they have the wrong name, are in the wrong socioeconomic class, are the wrong color, learn the wrong way, wear the wrong clothing, come from the wrong geographical location, identify as the wrong gender, etc. Living is a struggle, never mind finding the inner strength and resources to excel.
There you have it, two opposite and often devastating results to the same societal pressures.
I will adamantly assert that these above scenarios can be addressed (and, dare I proclaim, erased) by simply adopting a self-directed educational model; where everyone is offered the opportunity to explore an endless variety of subject options and where they are guided and supported to excel in whichever topics they choose, whether it is hardcore traditional academic subjects, hands-on creative tasks, trade skills, or all of the above.
You won't find carrots and sticks or extrinsic rewards; you will however discover the inner sense of satisfaction of having worked hard to achieve the desired results. This in a nutshell is how autonomy and intrinsic motivation is developed. No one tells you what to do, everything you achieve is the result of following your passion and personal desires based on those decisions and exertions you made along the way.
Education is not just about learning the random rote facts, figures, and incidentals, it is a conversation between student and teacher built on respect, honesty, and understanding. There is no end game, because education is a life-long process that opens up the world of options to each student (we are all students, because we never stop learning).
Fostering confident, passionate, strong, motivated, empathetic, respectful, and all round pleasant human beings requires little more than a supportive, open and free environment, filled with confident, passionate, strong, motivated, empathetic, respectful, all round pleasant human beings!
* I will reiterate, I do not have a degree in psychology and, in fact, only took one psych class entitled Child Development at SUNY Potsdam. My arguments and assertions are based solely on my personal observations, anecdotal evidence, and life experience.