Self Esteem Movement
Date sent: Wed, 21 Jan 1998 09:16:04 -0500
From: Dianne Cassidy (by way of "J. E. Stone" )
Subject: Book on self-esteem
The self-esteem movement had a profound effect in education. Originating in
the sixties, it urged teachers to place the student's personal development
(i.e., heightened self-esteem) ahead of achievement in reading, writing, and
arithmetic. The idea was that if students have high self-esteem, learning
would practically take care of itself. It was an extremely attractive idea
to an education profession already trained in "progressive" educational
thinking. It explained why many students did not respond with expected
enthusiasm to the various forms of progressive teaching. They were impaired
by poor self-esteem.
The teacher-as-therapist idea was the rage in teacher training and new
teachers enthusiastically injected it into the schools. When students still
failed to respond as expected, the self-esteem boosting movement came to
believe that more therapy was needed than they had previously believed.
They seized on cultural, economic, and societal factors as impediments to
positive self-esteem and student enthusiasm for learning. Teacher training
increasingly encouraged teachers to become social activists and to see
students as victims of faulty conditions beyond their control.
While undergoing teacher training, I read A. S. Neill's SUMMERHILL: A
RADICAL APPROACH TO CHILD REARING, Carl Rogers' ON BECOMING A PERSON, and
the 1962 ASCD Yearbook, PERCEIVING, BEHAVING, AND BECOMING. Virtually the
only academic notable who rejected these ideas as scientifically unfounded
nonsense was B. F. Skinner. The "progressive mainstream" vilified him
personally and trashed or distorted virtually everything connected with him.
Although the self-esteem movement has become the object of ridicule in
recent years, much of what it recommended in teaching and child rearing
remains firmly entrenched--as accepted wisdom. As have so many other
untested educational fads, it has had deleterious effects well beyond simple
failure to improvement school achievement. The book to which Diane refers
below talks about one of them--fragile and self-absorbed children who are
prone to depression. The history of the self-esteem movement once again
illustrates the dangers of a teacher-training and public education monopoly
that is able to impose untested methodologies on whole generations. Surely
it argues against further empowering "experts" with top-down mandates and
for greater consumer influence in the education marketplace.
I will certainly be interested in Diane's findings.
J. E. Stone, Ed.D.
Education Consumers ClearingHouse
P.O. Box 4411
Johnson City, TN 37602
phone & fax 423-282-6832
I will prepare something for the ECC on sections of the book that deal
with education. The book contains quite a nice history of the
self-esteem movement and how it undermines education, self-esteem and
self-reliance. The book is primarily a resource for anyone dealing with
children (parents especially, but also for teachers) who want to know
how to counteract a child's tendencies to become depressed. Seligman
notes the increasing incidence of depression at ever younger ages even
as the culture has become more aware of self-esteem issues. This in not
a coincidence -- it is a byproduct of this movement.
The majority of the book describes a rational-emotive (cognitive
therapy) approach to teaching children how to control their thoughts and
thus control their emotions, and how parents can help their children
gain the skills to be strong, self-reliant individuals. This, in turn,
should prevent depressive states in most children both now and later on
I am pleased that the author continually cites replicable research and
relies on scientific proof of his observations and practices. This is a
very sensible and thoughtful approach to child-rearing. Though this
book may be too detailed and prescriptive for most parents, the
underlying theories are applicable for all children. Those parents who
have reason to be concerned about thier children becoming depressed
should most definately read this book. I am a true believer in the
rational-emotive theories, but had thought that children had to be older
and very mature to understand and apply these practices. This book
tells parents how to create an atmosphere of healthy optimism and
correct thinking for even yery young children.
This book reminds me of one of my favorite books on childrearing,
Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World, by Stephen
Glenn and Jane Nelsen. This is less prescriptive, but Glenn and Nelsen
stress allowing children to learn from mistakes and the value of
perseverence leading to mastery and self-confidence. Similar idea
without the psychological underpinnings and how-to aspect.
John, you may post this to the ECC if you wish, though it's educational
content is very slight. Your call. As I said, I will try to prepare
another document that is more germaine to education.
Other books by Martin Seligman (alone or with other authors) look
Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death
What You Can Change and What You Can't
Biological Boundries of Learning
Psychopathology: Experimental Models
Human Helplessness: Theory and Applications
> Would you let me know what you think of this book when you are finished? I
> read a review and it looks interesting. The quote you chose was excellent.
> Dianne Cassidy wrote:
> > I probably should hold off writing about a book I haven't read (I just
> > bought it today), but I was so delighted with a passage in it I thought
> > I'd pass it along.
> > >From "The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children
> > Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience" by Martin E. P.
> > Seligman, Ph.D., 1995, Harper Perennial
> > Chapt. 4: The Self-esteem Movement
> > "We were surprised by what we probable should not have been, because
> > what we saw just reflects the way most American parents of the boomer
> > vintage are now raising their children. Armies of American teachers,,
> > along with American parents, are straining to bolster children's
> > self-esteem. That sounds innocuous enough, but the way the do it often
> > erodes children's sense of worth. By emphasizing how a child *feels,*
> > at the expense of what the child *does* -- mastery, persistence,
> > overcoming frustration and boredom, and meeting challenge -- parents and
> > teachers are making this generation of children more vulnerable to
> > depression.
> > ...The self-esteem movement has teeth. It has helped lead to the
> > abolition of tracking, lest those on lower tracks suffer damaged
> > self-esteem; to the abandonment of IQ testing, lest those who score low
> > feel low self-esteem; to massive grade inflation, lest those who earn
> > D's feel bad; to teaching aimed at te very bottom of the class, to spare
> > the feelings of the kids slower to learn (now that they are untracked);
> > to *competition* becoming a dirty work; to the demise of rote
> > memorization of epic material; and to less plain old hard work. Each
> > tactic is used to protect the feelings of self-esteem of the kids who
> > would otherwise be outshone. This gain is deemed to outweigh any
> > benefits lost to the kids who would shine."
> > Seligman is a professor of psychology at the U. of Pennsylvania.
> > EDUCATION CONSUMERS CLEARINGHOUSE
EDUCATION CONSUMERS CLEARINGHOUSE