When it is undeserved.
Unfortunately the mindset of too many of our educators is that rewards are needed to build self-esteem, and self-esteem was far more important than actual achievement. The side effect of this esteem building? Increasing academic failure because there are no negative consequences for failure. With no consequences no one bothers to try. Such a system is set up to ensure failure and minimize success. That's no way to build a future for our kids.
Leland Teschler writes:
The “everyone wins” philosophy is nothing more than means of imposing leftist egalitarianism, where equal outcome is far more important than equal opportunity. Far too often (every time, actually) the “equal outcome” is worse than if actual competition were allowed. Even the 'losers' in a competitive atmosphere will, more often than not, perform better than the 'equal' outcome of the “everyone wins” scenario. The equal outcome scenario always pulls everyone down to the lowest common denominator, which is usually pretty bad. The true competition scenario tends to pull everyone up, though not to exactly same level. Call it an effect of the Law of Unintended Consequences, sort of. It's like a scene out of Harrison Bergeron, where everyone is forced to be equal.
“When I was a kid, we’d just have first, second, and third-place winners for stuff like this,” he remarked. “Most of the time you didn’t win anything. When that happened, you’d just shrug and go out for a milkshake. I’m not sure giving everybody a prize is healthy.”
There is a body of research that shows that accolades handed out too generously may cause kids to underperform. In one case, researchers did a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders, some of whom were praised for their intelligence, others for their effort. It turned out that kids praised for their intelligence tended to give up when confronted with tough tasks at which they didn’t excel. They assumed their poor performance was evidence they weren’t really smart after all. Kids praised for effort, however, reacted to failure differently. They generally just assumed they hadn’t focused enough and bore down on the problem.
It seems all kinds of bad ideas, particularly when it comes to education and social engineering, start in California. The self-esteem movement started there and spread like a cancer. Self-esteem became more important than actually learning anything useful. Self-esteem became more important than performance. When I'm flying in a commercial airliner, give me a pilot that knows what he's doing over a pilot that is a marginal performer but has great self-esteem.
I suspect the everybody-gets-a-gold-star movement arose from misguided attempts to bolster kid self-esteem. After all, the self-esteem bandwagon started rolling downhill with such momentum that in 1984 California created an official self-esteem task force. But there’s evidence that performance doesn’t rise with self-esteem. One study in particular conducted by social psychologist Roy Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. Nor did it reduce alcohol usage or use of violence. (In fact, other studies show that criminals have plenty of self-esteem.)
Self-esteem only gets you so far. Beyond that you actually have to know something and know how to perform, no matter what type of job you have.