Inflated Sense of Worth

High self-esteem doesn't lead to good social behavior, researchers say. The New York Times reports:

Recently, however, some psychologists have begun debunking the notion that a poor self-image is the malady behind most of society's complaints and bolstering self-esteem its cure.

"D" students, it turns out, think as highly of themselves as valedictorians, and serial rapists are no more likely to ooze with insecurities than doctors or bank managers.

A review of research linked high self-esteem to racist attitudes, drunken driving and other risky behaviors. Apparently, people with high self-esteem are more likely to take the initiative -- but not necessarily in socially desirable ways.

The correction for such an exclusive focus on the self cannot be found in self-esteem classes that encourage children to believe that they are special and that their personal success and happiness are paramount, Dr. (Jennifer) Crocker and other experts argue.

"Not everything is about `me,' " she said. "There are sometimes bigger things that we should be concerned about."

Yet more old-fashioned strategies for making one's way in the world, like learning self-control, resisting temptation or persisting in the face of failure have received little study, in part because the attention to self-esteem has been so pervasive.

"My bottom line is that self-esteem isn't really worth the effort," Dr. (Roy) Baumeister said. "Self-control is much more powerful."

This isn't really new. Fifteen years ago, California set up a task force to study the effect of self-esteem on social problems. Despite the pro-esteem bias, the researchers were unable to find evidence that raising self-esteem will improve academic performance or lower rates of drug addiction, violence, welfare dependency, you name it. Yet the self-esteem movement lives on, its inflated self-image unaffected by evidence.

It’s done real damage in the schools. Teachers are told to pump up students’ self-esteem without regard to their performance.

I read a self-esteem reader once featuring a badger (or some such rodent-like animal) who was fussing and fretting about going to school for the first time because he couldn’t read. Benny Badger finally goes to school, where his teacher assures him that she loves him just the way he is.

1. Your teacher doesn’t love you, Benny. Maybe she likes you. Maybe not. But it’s not her job to love 20 or 30 kids a year. Ma and Pa Badger love you -- at least I hope so. Not the teacher.

2. Your teacher doesn’t think you’re perfect just the way you are, Benny. For one thing, you can’t read. Her goal is to change you into someone who can read, which is better. Sure, you’re cute, Benny. But that’s not going to last you forever. You need to improve your skills and knowledge so you can make your way in the uncuddly world.

Animal Crackers

Mean Mr. Mustard, a Berkeley blogger, cites a letter from a friend who's getting a master's in education at UCLA:

Two days ago, they played a game where they had to choose one of four animals by going to a corner of the room. Then they had to say how they were like the animal, and how they could interact with all the other animals. Today they made a poster of their feelings.

More than 45 years ago, my mother was taking classes for an education master's. All the prospective teachers had to pretend to be animals in a circus parade. My mother, who was about seven months pregnant, was assigned the role of elephant. She's still a little bitter about that.

Mr. M's father, a principal, was sent to a workshop where educators were forced to sit in a circle and talk about what kind of trees they'd be, if they'd chosen an arboreal career path.


Dorothy Williams writes:

During her M.A. program in linguistics at Cal State Northridge, my daughter was outside a classroom preparing for a presentation. She was going over the statistical correlations on data she had gathered. Next to her, similarly preparing for a classroom presentation down the hall, was a young woman in the education grad program. She was also worried. The glitter kept falling off her poster. 

Williams retired from the federal civil service and now teaches part-time in the GED program at the local community college. As a union officer, she attended the state convention.

One of the K-12 teachers was wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned, "What we need are less guns and more schools." The community college teachers just shook their heads. If a K-12 teacher doesn't even know the difference between "less" and "fewer," is it any wonder most of their honors graduates take remedial English when they reach our campus?

What we need are fewer glue guns.


San Mateo High's Satanic Thought Club is off to a running start, drawing 35 people to a lunchtime meeting at the California school, reports the San Mateo Times. Two juniors started the club to "rile things up a bit." They succeeded. Christian parents are outraged that the club has official standing, though the school also hosts a Christian Club.

Organizers say they won't perform rituals in school, and that their brand of Satanism isn't about hate, violence, evil spirits or worshipping "a horned beast symbolic of the leader of hell." They see Satan as a symbol of "defiance and rebellion against a conformist, God-fearing society." In short, it's a way to rile things up a bit.

Authorizing the Satanist club is the best way to make it lose appeal to students.


Shawn S. Friesen:

It's hard to teach when there is no discipline in the schools, corporal punishment is gone, and principals are afraid of parents. When a conflict arises between a teacher and the parent of a bad child, the principal will generally side with the parent, since (1) the principal is not tenured, (2) principals must prevent frivolous lawsuits at any cost, and (3) many parents grew up with school board members from the district who can cost teachers and principals their jobs if the "wrong parent" has a bad child who needs punishment.

Gary Lee Schiffer:

Why should our students know history? Our teacher colleges are reducing the demand. The Department of Education -- and the political parties -- seem only interested in test scores for reading and math. The same powers wish only 16 hours of drug prevention for students in grades K-6.

Oh, I taught for 30 years and was in a so-called Blue Ribbon school that went on probation the following year.

George Harrington:

When my son’s school decided to teach geometry through discovery, 75 percent of the students failed the first year. What was the schools response? To enroll the students in summer school where geometry was taught the old fashioned way or to allow the students to take a lower-level math course as a substitute for geometry. I have now learned that after 3 years of 75 percent to 80 percent failure rate, the school has dropped the geometry through discovery and is back teaching geometry the old-fashioned way. So much for one fad, but I wonder about all the kids like my son hurt by these fads in teaching.

Bonnie Green:

I used to be an elementary public school teacher. Presently I am an assistant professor. In my experimental psychology class, I am continually amazed that students try to throw "big words" around that only serve to decrease the precision of their writing...

I am certainly with you in agreeing that fads should not be driving education in this county. Our knowledge of how students learn should be driving decisions. It is quite frustrating for me to see good marketing and not good science dictating what is happening with children. After all, we only get one shot to do it right!

Some interesting tidbits that might be driving Japan's decision to follow American teaching.

1. American-educated scientist account for most of the influential discoveries of the 20th century.

2. International pharmaceutical companies find that their R&D dollars are better spent in U.S. labs with American-educated scientists.

Without creativity, all of the scientific knowledge in the world is useless. Now, if American schools can just make use of the science that is already out there to maximize school performance for all, our children can be knowledgeable and creative -- and hopefully precise in their use of the English language!

Elizabeth Galindo

I have had my run-ins with my children's teachers and school administrators to be sure, but I have to give credit to the public education system in this country who did a wonderful job in preparing my children with a broad range of knowledge in history, English, languages, the sciences and math.

I took an interest and laid the foundation for what they should and could accomplish. Parents have only themselves and their children to blame if by graduation the student still hasn't mastered the very basics of a 12th grade education.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.  

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