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Bursting the Self-Esteem Balloon – Part 1

charlie_1Below is the first of two posts from veteran educator and interview coach Charlie Margolis.

“I think high self-esteem is overrated. A little low self esteem is actually quite good. Maybe you’re not the best, so you should work a little harder.” — Jay Leno

Have you seen the State Farm Insurance commercial that features Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rogers? The setting is an elementary school on Career Day. A group of speakers are describing their jobs to the children. Aaron Rogers says, “I play football,” adding, “I was MVP last year.” One precocious student responds, “Mr. Hubble (teacher) says that trophies are for people with low self-esteem.” Even Madison Avenue recognizes the irony in one of education’s most fundamental practices; inflating the balloon of self-esteem.

I began teaching just as the self-esteem movement was gathering momentum. I confess to having been a “true believer.” I heaped praise on students, repeated affirmations and the papered the walls with inspirational posters. I taught a very popular parenting course which was based around methods of enhancing self-esteem… “You really did a nice job of taking-out the garbage.” For many years, I was immersed in self-esteem books, tapes and seminars. I even attended training workshops presented by Jack Canfield, the renowned author ofChicken Soup for the Soul. His idea was simple; the better children felt about themselves, the more successful they would be as learners. By the mid ‘70’s, the concept of self-esteem had become inculcated into most schools. Any trace of negativity was driven-out of the classroom faster than a kid with the chicken pox. Psychologists advised parents and teachers to never say “no” to a child, as it would impair developing egos. Everything became negotiable. Education evolved from a product to a process. Teachers were expected to inspire, engage and entertain their students. Soon, student centered education eviscerated the teacher’s authority. Everyone, from the stock broker to the plumber, became an “expert” on education.

Not all of this was bad. Certainly, there are individuals who suffer from a lack of self-worth. They feel unworthy and undeserving of anything good or nice. They compare themselves to others and always come-up short, at least in their minds. The root causes of negative self-esteem are neither simple nor entirely understood. No doubt, how a child is spoken to is a strong influence. As I have said in other articles, words do matter. They stick to the wall of our mind like wet cement. Negative comments seem to have an inordinate impact. Yet, the same words that damage one child can impel another to excel, for no other reason than to show the world that it was wrong. This is where resilience comes into play. Learning to persist in the face of adversity, the ability to recover from a setback and the courage to risk failure are learned traits.A consistent diet of praise is like eating nothing but Oreo cookies. It satisfies for a while, but in the long run, has dire consequences.

The discussion continues in Part 2 of “Bursting the Self-Esteem Balloon”.


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