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The Real Self-Esteem Crisis in Education By: Onkar Ghate
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 23, 2007


The beginning of the school year is an appropriate time to question how our schools propose to teach our children.

Today's educators, observing widespread self-doubt among the young, believe that the way to get a student to learn is to inflate his self-confidence. They believe that the curriculum should be designed, in the words of a resolution from the National Education Association, to "foster positive self-esteem."

There is indeed a lack of self-esteem among our students. The real tragedy, however, is that the educators' irrational view of "positive self-esteem" not only prevents a solution to this problem--it is itself part of the very cause.

Too many educators believe that self-esteem can be achieved simply by encouraging a child to "feel good" about himself. They continually exhort students to praise themselves causelessly, by such means as chanting in class: "I am me and I am enough."

The actual reality of the child's life--the choices he makes, the thinking he engages in, the effort he exerts, the actions he takes--is disregarded. As one guidebook on self-esteem explains: "Children have the right to feel good about themselves exactly as they are. . . . A child's value is unconditional. Nothing the child does, says or chooses can change it."

This is absurd. Real self-esteem consists not in unearned self-praise, but in an earned conviction about yourself. It is the unshakeable knowledge that you--by your choices, effort and actions--have made yourself into the kind of person able to deal with reality. It is the conviction--based on the evidence of your own volitional functioning--that you are fundamentally able to succeed in life and, therefore, are deserving of success.

Since it is only through careful, logical thought and action that one develops the ability to cope with reality, self-esteem results from an individual's commitment to reason. A rational, productive person will possess self-esteem; a drug-addicted bum will not.

In the view of our Dewey-inspired educators, however, logic is a "straitjacket." Students are taught by "progressive" educators that there are no rigid principles in life, and that emotion, not reason, is one's link to reality; the purpose of education is to teach the child to effectively express his feelings.

But a child who makes bad choices because he feels like it--who does not think but drifts in class, who shuts down his mind at the first sign of difficulty, who heads for the mall instead of exerting the effort that learning requires--will not acquire self-esteem. Constantly getting the answers wrong in class and feeling bewildered by the world outside, such a child will experience only uncertainty, helplessness and self-doubt.

How then will these educators make him "feel good" about himself? By attempting to obliterate any facts that lead him to a negative estimate of himself. More and more, they teach him that there are never any wrong answers.

This is what gives rise to such nightmarish phenomena as inventive spelling, whereby a fourth-grader who spells "favorite" as "fffifit" is lauded by the teacher for expressing a "creative feeling." This viewpoint infects even the most objective of disciplines, mathematics. One educator explains the root of a girl's errors in mathematics: "She was trying to get these problems right. The alternative was to get them wrong. . . . So this is a situation within the win-lose world in which there's no way the child can feel good about the assignment."

Erase the concepts of objective reality and truth from the child's mind--these educators maintain--and he will never discover that he is thinking or acting wrongly. If he believes that anything he does is right because he feels it, he will always "feel good" about himself. For this reason a Minnesota Education Association's guide to self-esteem tells students: "Express your beliefs . . . as your point of view--not as the 'truth.'"

Today's child lacks self-esteem precisely because modern educators encourage him to dispense with his mind and indulge his feelings. Self-doubt is the inevitable result, as the child realizes that he lacks the tool by which to comprehend reality.

Yet, to solve the problem they themselves have created, educational leaders propose to continue the same anti-reason, emotionalist approach to teaching.

There is certainly a crisis of self-esteem among America's students. But don't look to the modern pushers of pseudo self-esteem for the remedy. Their ideas are the disease.


Onkar Ghate, Ph.D. in philosophy, is a resident fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.


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