Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Oh that phlox

with 46 comments

Here’s another flowerful view from our April 2nd jaunt down south. In particular, it’s from the cemetery in Stockdale. Unlike the long exposures you saw a few posts back, this time I used a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second to freeze the wildflowers that the breeze was whipping into motion.

And while we’re looking at bright magenta phlox, let me back up to our March 19th drive down to Gonzales, where I photographed some old plainsman buds (Hymenopappus sp.) with a foxy phloxy mask-like wraith behind them.

* * * * * * * *

A theme I’ve been pursuing here for a week now is that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense,” which is a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense can be shown not to be true.

One of the greatest fields of abuse is popular psychology, where many notions are passed off as “common sense” that the evidence shows aren’t true. I’d like to refer you to a wonderful book about that: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, by Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, and Beyerstein. Here’s an example of one myth as described on Amazon’s page about the book:

Low Self-Esteem is a Major Cause of Psychological Problems.

Many popular psychologists have long maintained that low self-esteem is a prime culprit in generating unhealthy behaviors, including violence, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. The self-esteem movement has found its way into mainstream educational practices. Some athletic leagues award trophies to all schoolchildren to avoid making losing competitors feel inferior (Sommers & Satel, 2005). Moreover, the Internet is chock full of educational products intended to boost children’s self-esteem.

But there’s a fly in the ointment: Research shows that low self esteem isn’t strongly associated with poor mental health. In a painstakingly – and probably painful! – review, Roy Baumeister and his colleagues (2003) canvassed over 15,000 studies linking self-esteem to just about every conceivable psychological variable. They found that self-esteem is minimally related to interpersonal success, and not consistently related to alcohol or drug abuse. Perhaps most surprising of all, they found that “low self-esteem is neither necessary nor sufficient for depression” (Baumeister et al., 2003, p. 6).

Because activists and ideologues have captured the American educational system, schools here now spend inordinate amounts of time promoting self-esteem. Because a school day has a finite number of hours in it, the more time teachers devote to self-esteem, the less time they have for actual knowledge. The result is that many students are handed diplomas even when they know practically nothing about history, geography, arithmetic, government, science, and logic. But they ooze self-esteem.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 15, 2021 at 4:48 AM

46 Responses

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  1. Well said! The self-esteem of the real winners suffers and nobody wins in the end. A ‘sense of achievement’ becomes meaningless.


    April 15, 2021 at 5:00 AM

    • You said it: when everyone is deemed accomplished, then to be called accomplished loses all meaning. That goes for negative labels, too. There are some people who now dub anyone they disagree with about race a racist; what’s worse, they’re now using that label even when discussing subjects which have nothing to do with race.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 5:29 AM

  2. Wonderfully flowerful! What a great idea to let flowers take over in a cemetery.

    Ann Mackay

    April 15, 2021 at 5:10 AM

      • Those are amazing, Steve! The white prickly poppies were especially beautiful and seem like a serene sort of flower that feels right in a cemetery. Would love that over here!

        Ann Mackay

        April 16, 2021 at 4:47 AM

        • And I’d love it everywhere! I’ll have a white prickly poppy colony view coming up next week, though not from a cemetery.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 16, 2021 at 7:01 AM

    • I should add that at the Stockdale Cemetery (the one in today’s post) the wildflowers were allowed to grow off to the side but not in areas with graves, unlike the five cemeteries I just provided links to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 5:43 AM

      • Bet gardeners would be perfectly happy with flowers all over their graves…me too…but not yet!

        Ann Mackay

        April 16, 2021 at 4:48 AM

        • No, certainly not yet! The problem is that almost all cemeteries have rules against letting wildflowers grow wild, even on an individual grave. You’d have to find a cemetery that would allow it—or start your own for gardeners and flower lovers.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 16, 2021 at 7:28 AM

          • The cemetery here has a ‘green burials’ area, with no headstones and the grass is left long and as natural as possible. There are trees and if wild plants happen to seed themselves there, they’ll be allowed to grow. It’s meant to encourage wildlife and feels very peaceful.

            Ann Mackay

            April 16, 2021 at 7:20 PM

            • That’s a step in the right direction. Are wildflowers common in your area? If so, then they might well seed themselves in that section of the cemetery.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 16, 2021 at 8:18 PM

              • They’re not very common because of our farming methods. But sometimes you see a large drift or red poppies or lots of yellow buttercups on a small bit of ground. Nothing remotely like the displays you have. Because the grass is left long in the green burial sites, there will be small wildflowers in there – and lots of small wildlife.

                Ann Mackay

                April 18, 2021 at 4:28 AM

  3. Beautiful blooms. It’s funny, just this evening a friend and I were discussing the cultural differences between Americans and Australians, both male and female. In the 80s he visited the U.S. for a workshop and was astounded by the differences between the two. Aussies tend still to be less self assured and less demanding, and we certainly still have the tall poppy syndrome. If someone is regarded as talking themselves up, they will soon be cut down to size, warranted or not. Complex.


    April 15, 2021 at 7:55 AM

    • This is the first I’ve heard of “the tall poppy syndrome.” I’ve read about surveys in which students of different nationalities were asked how confident they felt about their abilities in various subjects. American students on average rated themselves higher than those in countries like Japan, even though American students’ performance on objective tests was lower than that of their Japanese counterparts; Japanese students were more modest in assessing their own abilities, even though they were more competent.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 11:52 AM

      • That’s most interesting Steve, but maybe not surprising…..
        As for tall poppy syndrome, we’ve also got the glass ceiling. Merit isn’t always clearly defined nor followed.


        April 19, 2021 at 4:59 AM

        • While merit may not be clearly defined, I think we all understand that it connotes competence, ability, achievement. Alas, increasingly many people in the United States are calling for the elimination of merit as a criterion for admission to schools and for being hired at a job; for those radical people, the primary and maybe even the only criterion should be what ethnic or sexual group a person belongs to. Madness.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 19, 2021 at 6:14 AM

  4. The plainsman buds photo with the magenta behavior is very cool. My own house is full with honor roll trophies and I attended my share of honor roll ceremonies where my son got rewards. Honor rolls were long, frequent, and so many children were featured. Parents losing hours of work, rolling eyes, asking themselves, how come all these children get straight As? I taught biology at a university and a community college when I lived back East and I can attest to the fact the children know nothing and they absolutely do not understand and do not accept their bad grades in college. Some had behavioral problems, cheated, threatened the instructors because they could not believe that they were performing so poorly. College puts their self esteem back where it belongs but then, in many cases, too late.

    Alessandra Chaves

    April 15, 2021 at 8:06 AM

    • You know that I sympathize with you, having been a teacher for many years myself. I’m afraid your last sentence may no longer be true, as grade inflation has infected all of American academia. I know someone in Austin who taught math at a community college in Virginia more than a decade ago. He says that the administration there wouldn’t let teachers fail more than a very few students, no matter how little they learned and how poorly they performed. Educationists have it backwards: hard work and increased knowledge and skills bring self-esteem, not the other way around.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 12:04 PM

      • I felt vary bad because there was no way I could teach them biology because they did not have the required background in chemistry and math. To complement that, most students were unable to express themselves in written form and had difficulties following the simplest directions. It was hard. I quit after two semesters of CC, because I felt unprepared to help them. The state school was not much better. After those experiences I sent my son to a small private liberal arts college. He had to work hard there, but he came out very well in the end.

        Alessandra Chaves

        April 15, 2021 at 1:33 PM

        • I know what you mean, and I understand the frustration that led you to quit. Here’s what I said to another commenter: “A big problem in an objective course like math (which I taught) is that students come in lacking the prerequisite knowledge for a course. For example, it’s common that many students coming into an algebra class haven’t mastered arithmetic. Because algebra can be thought of as abstracted arithmetic, those unprepared students face a tremendous obstacle. The secondary school teacher faces the daunting task of trying to cover the required algebra topics while also spending inordinate amounts of time reviewing elementary school arithmetic.” Some students entering college think the way to add fractions is to add the top numbers and then separately add the bottom numbers. For them 1/7 + 1/7 = 2/14, even though that leads to the absurdity that 1/7 + 1/7 = 1/7.

          It’s good to hear things turned out better for your son in a small liberal arts college than in the state school. Working hard isn’t a bad thing.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 15, 2021 at 1:46 PM

  5. In the second image, the “mask-like wraith” also seems to have leaves that give a skeletal appearance of arms and hands, offering the buds. I like this soft, unusual image!


    April 15, 2021 at 8:08 AM

    • Glad you enjoyed the second image; let’s hear it for strangeness! Now that you mention leaves giving the appearance of upraised arms offering buds, I can see the picture that way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 12:07 PM

  6. Great shot of the Old Plainsman with the Phlox wreath behind it. (One of your techniques that I’m trying to incorporate from time to time). I am also drawn to anthropomorphic interpretations of floral portraits – I see the Phlox as a pair of eyes, the Old Plainsman inflorescence as a mouth, and the leaves as outstretched arms. (That might be idiosyncratic of me).
    As for self-esteem, my daughter teaches STEM classes in middle school, and mentors robotics teams in the LEGO competitions each year. Yet, she still is aware that her own mathematics background is less than it could be. But now and then, she’ll get a card or letter from a student expressing their appreciation that does wonders for her self-esteem. It’s a two-way street, I think. Respect the students, let them know what is expected of them, teach them how to do it, follow with evaluations (and have them do their own evaluations), so that they get corrective feedback when and where it’s needed, evaluate for mastery of the subject matter, and then get out of the way so that they can reach their own goals. (I wish my mathematics teachers had had the benefit of my hindsight as to why I stopped taking math courses after high school. Might be my math teachers were all Australian… ).


    April 15, 2021 at 8:25 AM

    • While I saw the phlox as a mask with dark eye holes, my imagination never went as far as yours in incorporating the old plainsman buds into the mask. A previous commenter shared your vision of the upper old plainsman leaves as upraised arms.

      A big problem in an objective course like math (which I taught) is that students come in lacking the prerequisite knowledge for a course. For example, it’s common that many students coming into an algebra class haven’t mastered arithmetic. Because algebra can be thought of as abstracted arithmetic, those unprepared students face a tremendous obstacle. The secondary school teacher faces the daunting task of trying to cover the required algebra topics while also spending inordinate amounts of time reviewing elementary school arithmetic.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 12:18 PM

  7. To see all these beautiful flowering fields in your area makes my heart ache. But with all these sunny days and warmer temperatures we are presently enjoying, there is hope.
    As to your words on self-esteem, I agree that the emphasis on this elusive psychological phenomenon has caused a decline in the quality of education in our school system.

    Peter Klopp

    April 15, 2021 at 8:34 AM

    • Then one spring you’ll have to get away from a still-frigid British Columbia and spend some time among the wildflowers of Texas.

      The push for self-esteem, as bad as it is, has been just one factor in the decline of education. I could discuss others, but then I might go on for paragraphs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 12:22 PM

      • I always believed in the positive aspects of healthy competition in education.

        Peter Klopp

        April 16, 2021 at 8:56 AM

        • If you upheld that tradition now, there’s no shortage of activists and ideologues who would call you racist. That’s the sorry state our countries have descended to.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 16, 2021 at 8:58 AM

  8. The phlox wraith is an added bonus to this lovely old plainsman bud. You find some very unique shots!

    Lavinia Ross

    April 15, 2021 at 9:55 AM

  9. The first photo is an epitome of spring, all pink-n-pretty, but I really like that second photo, wraith and all!


    April 15, 2021 at 3:45 PM

    • I was originally going to show the second photo on its own, and earlier, but I had second thoughts. This seemed a good place to resuscitate it, alongside that broader and brighter expanse of phlox. Some say it’s a pity an epitome of spring doesn’t last. Others accept that that’s the way of the world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 3:56 PM

  10. I didn’t stop in Stockdale, but I did see some nice phlox between Floresville and Stockdale, and south to Gillette. Going north on FM 108 I found some pretty ones, too.

    In the second photo, the Old Plainsman’s looking a bit skeletal. No wonder the wraith appearing to look at it is wide-eyed.The dark background certainly adds to the overall effect — just as your dark background shows off those possumhaw drupes on the cover of the latest NPSoT News — very nice!

    It occurs to me that the notion of ‘self-esteem’ presupposes the existence of a ‘self.’ Unfortunately, too many parents and educators — not to mention assorted bureaucracies — seem devoted to preventing the formation of a sturdy sense of self in children and youth. The freedom to roam, to assume risk, to experience failure, to learn to cope with limits: all of those are critical for human development. Take them away, and you end up with college-age students demanding ‘safe spaces’ filled with coloring books and teddy bears, or chronological adults who demand that ‘someone’ keep them safe from a variety of threats: hurricanes, foreigners, a pandemic. Unfortunately, the fear-mongers of the world have it figured out; first terrify the population, then offer safety, and you can gain the control that you seek.

    Eventually, I figured it out. The world isn’t a safe space, and developing some coping skills is better than huddling in a closet — even if the self-esteem industry has created a very cozy closet.


    April 15, 2021 at 6:23 PM

    • What you outline in your third paragraph is a main thesis in the book The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt: https://www.thecoddling.com. They noted quite a change in incoming college students around 2015, in the ways you described. Unfortunately those attitudes have sloshed out of academia and into the broader culture extraordinarily quickly, much to our detriment. Not since the Civil War, or maybe ever, has the American way of life been in greater jeopardy.

      You’d already seen the NPSoT cover picture:

      Icy possumhaw drupes

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 7:00 PM

      • I recognized the photo as soon as I pulled the magazine from my mailbox. It made me happy all over again that you had some winter to record.


        April 15, 2021 at 7:06 PM

      • I’ve read The Righteous Mind, but somehow I missed The Coddling of the American Mind. It’s on my list now, especially after reading the linked page. Thanks for that, and for offering something to think about at work this afternoon.


        April 15, 2021 at 7:19 PM

        • I’ve e-mailed back and forth with Jonathan Haidt a few times over the past decade. I bought and read The Coddling of the American Mind as soon as it came out. Alas, so much has changed for the worse in the short time since then.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 15, 2021 at 7:55 PM

  11. Obviously, there is no pox on your phlox there in Texas.

    Steve Gingold

    April 16, 2021 at 3:58 AM

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