Our public schools have bought into the concept that high self-esteem of students translates into productive ones. The better a student thinks about him or herself, the more open, relaxed and absorbing the student’s mind will be. The higher the self-esteem of the student, the easier the learning becomes for him.
This “cultural fact” has reigned supreme for several generations. Even young students now say the most important thing for them is to have a high self-esteem. Feeling good about oneself without being competent in a productive endeavor is not going to allow him to maintain his false high esteem.
The academic results of American students have been dismal. U.S. students have not done better as compared to other American students of the past or in comparison to other nations. At best, U.S. students are treading water and at worst are declining academically.
This high self-esteem movement is fundamentally flawed. The reasons are evident when the theory is logically examined and analyzed. The proponents believe high self-esteem is acquired through high doses of positive reinforcement, even if it is not warranted. In actual practice the person who does the reinforcement is increasing praise by lowering standards. Teachers have been trained to spout positive feedback that is bordering on outright distortion.
The practice of increasing a student’s self-esteem is not by working to improve their performance but by creating an educational environment without failure. Marking of schoolwork and tests has become devalued to the point of not being done. It has become immaterial to a student’s assessment. Grade inflation is a common practice to avoid hurting a child’s self-esteem.
More importantly than the child’s work output is the teacher’s ability to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” The statement “Your effort is better than yesterday” even when it is not or “You have a wonderful writing ability” even when it is grammatically incorrect and illegible has become standard operating procedure.
These positive reinforcement methods have not worked. Modern U.S. students have positive feelings about themselves even when they cannot complete the simplest task. They usually possess poor academic and social skills. These pupils are self-absorbed individuals with little to no need to prove themselves to peers or authority figures. Entitlement mentality sums up the way they view their future. When they want something, they expect to receive it without any effort. This is irrational thinking.
There is little past experience in school or in the home to prepare them to learn how to excel. When everything a young person does is uncritically accepted as top notch, there is no motivation to try harder to improve. Even sports competition has been removed to earn a spot on a team.
Standards have been lowered in most endeavors to erase any possibility of anxiety and the bad taste of failure. Our children have been weakened to the level of whiny complaining wimps.
For centuries children have been trained to be strong and self-reliant by elders setting almost unattainable goals and pushing children to reach them. It did create anxiety and uncertainty in the children’s minds although it pushed them to the next level. Without facing defeat, victory becomes hard to consistently obtain.
Successful people have to put great concentrated effort to reach the top of any endeavor and even more effort to remain there. A person’s fear of failure is a great motivator to keep him focused. Having abilities and competencies in different areas gives them actual self-competence not phony praise that makes a person somewhat delusional.
The higher self-esteem movement has been the false-esteem fiasco. Grade integrity and constructive criticism need to be returned to our culture for us to be strong enough to compete or even survive in our competitive world.
Dr. Maglio is an author and owner/director of Wider Horizons School, a college prep program. You can visit Dr. Maglio at www.drmaglio.blogspot.com.