The End of Self-Esteem

The backlash against self-esteem is afoot. Psychologists disowned the idea of self-esteem several years ago. Education scientists, always on the lookout for hand-me-downs from the psychology field, made it the hallmark of teacher training for several years. Teachers of my generation were reared to guard against anything that might destroy a student’s confidence. It is an important reminder. But studies have shown that our obsession with self-esteem has raised a generation of cocky youngsters, with very little about which to be cocky.

Such a flimsy idea as self-esteem was bound to meet its end someday. While normally its demise would be a cause for minor celebration, there is very little to celebrate in this instance. Education researchers go where the grant money is. Deformer groups like the Gates Foundation are looking for a bold new generation of education experts who push their familiar “no excuses” agenda. Chances are that the next 10 to 20 years will see teachers being trained in the latest “no excuses” research of the education field.

No excuses is a dangerous approach to education, especially when combined with standardized exams. We see this in the youth of South Korea, who commit suicide at rates far higher than their peers around the world. Their acceptance of nothing short of the best, as measured in high-stakes exams, has bred a nation of youth who constantly worry about not being good enough. Failure means dishonor. Dishonor is a bitter to pill to swallow when one believes they only have themselves to blame.

This is the type of neurosis from which the education deformers want children to suffer. Neurotic people doubt themselves. People who doubt themselves are more likely to blame themselves when something goes wrong. People who blame themselves automatically assume their station in life can be ascribed to their abilities, decisions, ambition and work ethic. They are too busy questioning themselves to be able to question the system around them. Neurotics are easy to control.

This type of neurosis is an outgrowth of the surveillance state. We are at the point where cameras record our movements, credit cards record our purchases and Google records our searches. The goal is not necessarily to track us, although that is a direct result of surveillance. Instead, the goal is to make us so neurotic that we act as if there are eyes on us all of the time. We begin to monitor ourselves with our inner cameras. Internalization is the ultimate goal of all discipline. It is important to note that discipline is not only exerted by the state (schools, prisons, etc.) but by private institutions as well (corporations, hospitals, etc.)  A battalion only marches in formation after everyone has internalized the movements.

Marching in formation is exactly what standardized exams and “no excuses” aim to accomplish. It means kids who get their exams back will find nothing but indications of what they did wrong. A kid who gets a 75 will have an exam 25% marked by the teacher (or machine). The results of these exams, as per the deformer formula, will determine the future of these kids’ schools. In that case, “no excuses” and standardized testing are really exercises in arbitrary judgment. Considering that the deformers also happen to be the major employers of tomorrow, it behooves them to produce a populace raised in this manner.

Children reared on arbitrary judgment become workers who accept arbitrary judgment. That means people who will not question their employer when their rights are stepped on or their jobs downsized. After all, maybe they did something wrong to warrant being stepped on or downsized. Just like there were a bunch of unexplained red marks next to their wrong answers when they were kids, their unexplained turn of bad fortune was due to some mistake on their parts. People who think this way are not so much human as they are proto-human. They are cavemen who believe that the dragging of their knuckles or the stoking of a fire can bring on a volcanic eruption. “No excuses” and standardized testing is a recipe to raise a generation that will be paralyzed by self-doubting neurosis.

At last, a childhood filled with judgment and self-doubt makes one insecure. Insecure people are perfect prey for advertising and consumerism. They constantly believe they are not (choose one: smart, pretty, cool, wealthy, happy) enough, therefore they need a constant stream of (choose one: online schools, makeup, designer jeans, pyramid schemes, self-help books) to fill the void. Anything that holds out the promise of making them whole will be in high demand. They will need to be made whole only after their education breaks them in half.

We should never lose focus on who the education deformers are. They are more than just a ragtag bunch of concerned billionaires. They are the people who run the economy, controlling what is to be produced and how to produce it. Their ideal system is a nation of zombies who will do any work and buy any product. Education deform is just their way of hollowing out the American spirit. There is no room for innovation or confidence. Only neurotic troglodytes who constantly doubt themselves will be allowed to thrive in the future. While self-esteem is meeting its long overdue end, what promises to replace it is much darker than we can imagine.

5 responses to “The End of Self-Esteem

  1. A great piece. And once again, I’m in more or less complete agreement. Concentrating too much on self-esteem and treating everyone with kid gloves irks me, but introducing what’s basically social darwinism intro schools is ridiculous.

  2. The deformers are very transparent in showcasing their main objectives. They have taken over all aspect of our very being. Smartboards from techequitment to the very eraser from staple. The structure of our lesson to Charlette’s evaluation.. Not for one moment you are credited for teaching students the spirit of stick to it. Students give up so easily because they were to taught to be visionary. I would think if these skills were promoted in the learning environment it would not be in the interest of the deformers (capitalist ). Capitalism celebrates servetude . I feel that the schools are doing great, since they all are adhering to the rules of the deformers, and the capitalist are being rewarded with a labor force, and consumers that support their profitability…


  3. I much prefer the idea of a society, like Korea, where “we” are more important than “I.” Here, in America, it is all about “me, me, me.” Please tell me I’m great. If you tell me the truth (like that I am repeating the ninth grade and maybe I better take a look at my behavior), then YOU’RE the asshole, because I am GREAT. I think a mild sense of “shame” is rather helpful, but my students don’t have it. These children in the high-need public schools have no shame about showing their underwear with the low pants or their bras with those trashy see-through lace shirts, that look tacky even when worn in a bar. I MUST express my right to self-expression, after all. Despite the high self-esteem that our children have, they are still avid consumers. They feel they are owed the latest and greatest, whether or not they can actually afford such things. People who are slightly neurotic tend to be strivers and achievers, because they are never satisfied with the status quo. They are often the tortured artists that do things that are truly great. Embrace your neurotic tendencies. Just my humble opinion.

  4. Great piece. Thank you for sharing this.

    “But studies have shown that our obsession with self-esteem has raised a generation of cocky youngsters, with very little about which to be cocky.”
    – Self-esteem should not be abused like this. Future generations have a false hope in themselves. As they grow up and enter the real world most of them are going to be in for a huge culture shock and lose that shallow self esteem.

    Kids need to base it off of their actual selves and the actual skills that they have that they should be proud of.

    • Thank you for your comment. Of course, you are absolutely right. Around half of the graduates from NYC public schools who go on to college end up dropping out after 2 years. I can imagine it has everything to do with not having their feelings catered to. Kids are given unlimited chances in high school to screw up. With standards so low, they have no clue what the world of college and work is about. The worst part is that this inflated ego they have ends up making them insufferable and vacuous adults.

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