Saturday, June 02, 2007

Self-Esteem is Overrated

Culpepper's blog at Redstate touches several hot buttons for me.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I was honored to be the guest on a radio program called Political Pistachio. The show’s host (Douglas Gibbs) and his wife (“Mrs. Pistachio”) invited me on to discuss several issues facing public education. I shared my inside view regarding two PC agendas polluting public classrooms: multicultural excrement and artificial self-esteem. In nine years of teaching, I saw firsthand how PC programs retarded my students’ critical thinking skills and defiled American cornerstones like competition and self-reliance.

Multiculturalism and tolerance sound pleasant and polite, but their mesmerizing drones have paralyzed students’ ability to think. The staggering number of American students who cannot formulate meaningful arguments based on reason and facts is a serious concern, but why is anyone surprised? Multiculturalism orders students not to make judgments about anything, and tolerance deceives kids into believing that uninformed opinions are just as valid as reasoned arguments.

If there is one thing liberals do that infuriates me the most, it's their propensity for placing the cart before the horse. It is typical of the left that they see self-esteem as so awfully important, because the left generally conflate outcomes and causes. Whether it's diversity and freedom or prosperity and government, that's why liberals get it wrong so often.

Most people readily understand that self-esteem is A) overrated and B) a product of achievement.

I say self-esteem is overrated because while low self-esteem can have negative consequences in terms of life choices, so can inordinately high self-esteem. A person who is full of themselves is oven a bigger loser than one who is not. The correct trait to pursue is the virtue of Humility, stemming from correct self-knowledge.

Esteeming one's self comes from learning that accomplishments are in one's own power. It doesn't matter so much what the things are; it's the memory of seeing an obstacle and of having used ability and resources to overcome it. When those in authority (or peers, or any audience whose approval we seek) praises that success, it cements the esteem and leads to similar behavior in the future. When the achievement is denigrated, it leads into the nexus of emotions and beliefs surrounding frustration. But when the achievement is ignored or treated as merely acceptable, the response may be to encourage or discourage, depending on the momentum currently being experience by the achiever.

A self-esteem deficit is not a hindrance to scholastic achievement, at least in secondary school. It can obviously affect a kid's career and life choices. While scholastic achievement tends to raise self-esteem, there are other factors involved that are outside the teacher's control, factors which dwarf the teacher's ability to affect it.

One problem with targeting self-esteem is that there is not just one kind of self to esteem, and not just one way to esteem each of those selves. We each have a range of phyical, emotional, spiritual, sexual, intellectual, familial, peer group, andeconomic opinions of ourselves, and look for gratification among our many roles in each those interrelated areas. A man who has a low opinion of himself as a bed partner may make a fantastic salesman (which is not to say that all salesmen are compensating).

Among naive teachers, arrogantly afraid of damaging self-esteem, there is a practice of praising every little jot and tittle that comes from the kids they assume have low self-esteem: minorities, girls, the slow kids. The kids pick up on this practice, and look past it, or even learn to work for the ambivalent response that the foolish teacher gives to smart kids. The praise becomes exactly the kind of humiliation the teacher is seeking to avoid.

There is a vast difference, however, between informing a student that a particular piece of work is unacceptable and ridiculing him. Students should be treated with respect when possible, but never pampered. Pampering and false praise can at best lead to arrogance and excess self-esteem; that these traits are undesirable I feel no need to prove.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm liberal, and I think self-esteem is overrated. You shouldn't over generalize.

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