In past years 'self-esteem' [= the feeling of being satisfied with your own abilities, and that you
deserve being liked or respected] for its own sake has been given so much importance in American education
that even courses have been offered in high schools and junior colleges. But self-esteem was considered
unconditional, i.e. children and students were told that they were 'special' for no reason whatsoever.
Just the fact that they existed made them special.
Nowadays teachers and educators have second thoughts about this misconception of what 'self-esteem' really is.
It didn't make children perform, nor did it prevent them from behaving well or being social. In contrast, they
were self-centered and couldn't cope with criticism.
The following passages are taken from Jean M. Twenge's book 'Generation Me':
SELF-ESTEEM AND ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
There has also been a movement against "criticizing" children too much. Some schools and teachers don't
correct children's mistakes, afraid that this will damage children's self-esteem. One popular method
tells teachers not to correct students' spelling or grammar, arguing that kids should be "independent
spellers" so they can be treated as "individuals." (Imagine reading a neuespaper wyten useing that
filosofy.) Teacher education courses emphasize that creating a positive atmosphere is more important
than correcting mistakes. In 2005, a British teachers proposed eliminating the word "fail" from
education; instead of hearing that they have
failed, students should hear that they have 'deferred success'. In the
United States, office stores have started carrying large stocksof purple
pens, as some teachers say that red ink is too 'scary' for children's papers.
Florida elementary schoolteacher Robin Slipakoff said, "Red has a negative connotation,
and we want to promote self-confidence."
ARE SELF-ESTEEM PROGRAMS GOOD OR BAD?
Psychologist Martin Seligman has criticized self-esteem programs as empty and shortsighted. He argues that
self-esteem based on nothing does not serve children well in the long run; it's better, he says, for
children to develop real skills and feel good about accomplishing something. Roy Baumeister, the lead
author of an extensive review of the research on self-esteem, found that self-esteem does not lead to
better grades, improved work performance, decreased violence, or less cheating. In fact, people with
high self-esteem are often more violent and more likely to cheat. "It is very questionable whether
[the few benefits] justify the effort and expense that schools, parents and therapists have put into
raising self-esteem," Baumeister wrote. "After all these years, I'm sorry to say, my recommendation
is this: forget about self-esteem and concentrate more on self-control and self-discipline."
I agree with both of these experts. Self-esteem is an outcome, not a cause. In other words, it doesn't
do much good to encourage a child to feel good about himself just to feel good; this doesn't mean
anything. Children develop true self-esteem from behaving well and accomplishing things. "What the
self-esteem movement really says to students is that their achievement is not important and their
minds are not worth developing," writes Maureen Stout. It's clearly better for children to value
leaming rather than simply feeling good.
So should kids feel bad about themselves if they're not good at school or sports? No. They should feel
bad if they didn't work hard and try. And even if they don't succeed, sometimes negative feelings can
be a motivation. Trying something challenging and learning from the experience is better than feeling
good about oneself for no reason.
Also, everyone can do something well. Kids who are not athletic or who struggle with school might have
another talent, like music or art. Almost all children can develop pride from being a good friend or
helping someone. Kids can do many things to feel good about themselves. So self-esteem can be based
on something. lf a child feels great about himself even when he does nothing, why do anything?
Self-esteem without basis encourages laziness rather than hard work. On the other hand, we shouldn't
go too far and hinge our self-worth entirely on one external goal, like getting good grades. As
psychologist Jennifer Crocker documents, the seesaw of self-esteem this produces can lead to poor physical
and mental health. A happy medium is what's called for here: don't feel bad about yourself because you
made a bad grade - just don't feel good about yourself if you didn't even study. Use your bad feelings
as a motivation to do better next time. True self-confidence comes from honing your talents and learning
things, not from being told you're great just because you exist.
The practice of not correcting mistakes, avoiding letter grades, and discouraging competition is also
misguided. Competition can help make learning fun; as Stout points out, look at how the disabled kids
in the Special Olympics benefit from competing. Many schools now don't publish the honor roll of
children who do well in school and generally downplay grades because, they falsely believe,
competition isn't good for self-esteem (as some kids won't make the honor roll, and some kids
will make Cs). But can you imagine not publishing the scores of a basketball game because it might
not be good for the losing team's self-esteem? Can you imagine not keeping score in the game? What
fun would that be? The self-esteem movement, Stout argues, is popular beause it is sweetly addictive:
teachers don't have to criticize, kids don't have to be criticized, and everyone goes home feeling happy.
The problem is they also go home ignorant and uneducated.
Kids who don't excel in a certain area should still be encouraged to keep trying. This isn't
self-esteem, however: it's self-control. Self-control, or the ability to persevere and keep going,
is a much better predictor of life outcomes than self-esteem. Children high in self-control make better
grades and finish more years of education, and they're less likely to use drugs or have a teenage
pregnancy. Self-control predicts all of those things researchers had hoped self-esteem would, but
Cross-cultural studies provide a good example of the benefits of selfcontrol over self-esteem.
Asians, for example, have lower selfesteem than Americans. But when Asian students find out that
they scored low on a particular task, they want to keep working on that task so they can improve
their performance. American students, in contrast, prefer to give up on that task and work on another
1. If children are kept on being told that they are "special" for their own sake, do you think this
will have positive effects on their personal development?
2. From your own observations, do young German people lack self-esteem and self-confidence? Substantiate
3. What are your friends like: Are they self-centered or are they considerate and display a feeling
for their social environment?