April 18, 2003

I love me, I hate you

Photon Courier has a post on a study showing that -- surprise! -- focusing on a child's "self-esteem" turns kids into lazy little pricks if they are lucky, and borderline-psychotic delinquents if they (and we) aren't.

What surprises me is why this "just keep telling Johnny how great he is!" shtick lasted so long. Actually -- no it doesn't. After all, this self-esteem nonsense has been going on since I was in school -- that's a good thirty-plus years ago. I was fortunate in that I was smart enough to escape more than the edges of this nonsense, because in the early days the Self-Esteemers ignored the smart kids, figuring if anything that smart kids had too much self-esteem. Then the first generation of below-average-to-average kids who had been bathed full-on in SE-rays grew up, and entered the education system on the other side of the desk podium lectern beanbag chair on the floor of the rec room, because that was all they were fit for, to be clones of their indoctr-- I mean, instructors. Now Self-Esteem Building™ has become a lucrative profession. Just visit any bookstore and scan the titles on the shelves in the Self-Help section.

But I digress from my original subject: why the SE crap only makes kids worse, not better. I think it has everything to do with the openly empty-calorie nature of the movement's methods. Since they come from the low end of the dummy side of the bell curve, the SE-ists are not the most perceptive people in the world. They see smiling, obedient children and think: "Our videos and posters are working!" No, a child's desire to please is working. Children, at least up to puberty, are incredibly easy to manipulate emotionally. Of course they are going to smile at a video that is nothing but some cartoon character telling them how wonderful they are. (And half of them are drugged on Ritalin or other kiddy calmers.) But deep down inside they know that they are being lied to, and it causes them to develop another wonderful emotion that has added so much to our society: contempt, mainly for the people in charge, such as the adults who are feeding them this load of garbage. It's no surprise to me that children are turning out twisted. Their caretakers were spoiled rotten for the most part too.

Posted by Andrea Harris at April 18, 2003 11:43 PM

Relevant data point: studies of self-esteem show that demographically the following rank order holds:

Highest SE: young black men
Lowest SE: young white women

Interestingly, the reverse order holds when we want to assess educational performance. In other words, the kids who do the worst (on a number of dimensions besides educational performance) think most highly of themselves.

Posted by: Ernie at April 19, 2003 at 08:41 AM

I remember asking my mother about all this years ago. She said that the meaning of "self-esteem" had been perverted; it was originally supposed to mean not that a kid thinks he's great no matter what he does, but that he thinks of himself as a moral agent with the capability to do great things.

Now, at the time she was a school psychologist and card-carrying NEA member, so from the perspective of many reading this blog, this was no doubt a lie constructed as part of her plot to destroy America, and I a useful idiot for believing her. But I think she meant it.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin at April 19, 2003 at 11:14 AM

A year or so ago Scientific American had an article that compared (falsely) high self-esteem with violent behavior. Any guesses on what the researchers found?

Yup, the higher the un-earned self-esteem the more violent behavior. How many times have we heard about shootings because "he dissed me"?

Posted by: Rick T at April 19, 2003 at 01:19 PM

Matt, if your mother's POV had prevailed, very few people in my acquaintance would have that view of the NEA.

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at April 19, 2003 at 03:23 PM

I agree with you on the "lazy little pricks" part completely. I used to teach high school and saw that too often. I also coached and usually spent my bench time with an arm draped around the kid telling him/her what I wanted from them one-on-one; I couldn't do that today. Kids today are given free reign at schools; the last school I taught at a teacher's word was given less weight than a student's about a rules infraction that would result in another student's suspension. Teachers can't lay a hand on them (even in encouragement) without fear of a mult-million dollar law suit focused on damaging the kid's SE. What a load of shit that is. Some kids need a good old-fashioned "session behind the woodshed" as my grandpa used to say. They need to realize they are not the center of the universe.

The best line I've ever heard about this was in the Disney movie "Remember the Titans". I paraphrase Coach Boone (Denzel Washington) tells Coach Yeost (Will Patton): "The world doesn't give a damn about these kids feelings. By taking these kids aside and making them feel better you're crippling them. You're crippling them for life."

Sometimes you HAVE to feel bad about things - I've screwed up and felt bad about it. It's the only way experience can be a good teacher is if we fail so we can learn where we fail and correct it. Telling us it's OK not only takes away the bad feeling it does not allow us to learn where the failure initiated so we can eliminate it next time.

Posted by: BillH at April 19, 2003 at 10:33 PM

Rick T has a good point. As an INTJ, I have oodles and oddles of self confidence. As a result, when my own perception of myself clashes with others "ergo: I 'get dissed'" my response is usually to go "That guy's a moron, which makes his criticsm worthless". And I just continue on my merry way acting smug.

I don't actually have a problem with criticism. I just tend to ignore it if it's not constructive. Havign someone say "you're a stupid, retarded fag" presents no opportunity for discussion on ways to recify the percieved shortcomings.

That sort of blase attitude is far more indicative of self esteem than the sort of flase bravado that is encouraged.

That said, false bravado is fun.

Posted by: Korgmeister at April 20, 2003 at 03:10 AM

I have a 3 year old son (another kid on the way) and my mom and mom in law and wife all think I'm hard on him. (I don't make him run laps or do pushups), but he does get a swat on the butt when he needs it and correcting when he needs it. I've noticed of all my friends the ones, who always had to work for their money who's parents didn't take any crap seem to be the happiest and usually most successful. My mom wasn't like that, she thought that we shouldn't have to work while we were inschool (I wa skind of spoile d, I never had to practice typing) It makes life harder. I never had curfews, could drink in high school, pretty much whatever Iwanted. I am not blaming my mom, because she had a crappy childhood. She did not do me or my brother any favors.

Posted by: Chuck Rutt at April 20, 2003 at 03:46 AM

I am fighting against being a LLP. (still)

Posted by: Chuck Rutt at April 20, 2003 at 03:52 AM