One of the main reasons I and my wife have decided to take our children out of public school is the alarming failure of character growth. Instead of teaching that life throws curve balls and they need to get up, dust themselves off and try again, they’re taught that everyone is special, no one is better than another and superiority does not exist.
As I see it, the public schooling system is now shrouded in a bubble of nonsensical myths, namely:
- High expectations damage self-esteem
- Evaluation and discipline are punitive, stressful and damaging to self-esteem
- Effort is more important than achievement
- It is the teacher’s, not the student’s, responsibility to ensure learning.
As a result of discouraging honest evaluation, overcoming and excellence, our educational system is turning out ranks of narcissists with grotesquely overblown self-esteem, zero motivation, and the logically and mathematically impossible view that, no matter what they actually do, they are always and in every way above average. Everything within our educational system has been carpeted with the dense foliage of positive self-talk, non-judgementalism, and general sunny thinking.
Further, the self-esteem movement has convinced us that those who engage in unacceptable behavior should never be corrected, disciplined, punished or otherwise restrained. Instead, they should be made to feel good about themselves, which will make them stop engaging in those actions, the thinking goes.
What we end up with is a schooling system that is an international embarrassment. We can’t add, subtract, divide, or multiply…forget about doing calculus! We can’t spell, we can’t even write our native language properly. Yet, we’re given awards for success; not one or two children, but the entire class. No child is left behind.
And so what we are witnessing in schools today is the emphasis on self-esteem as a chief virtue, divorced from achievement or even effort. Children are sheltered from the sting of failure—and therefore trapped in a fantasy world where bad behavior, lazy attitudes and poor achievement have no negative consequences. They live in an environment which teaches that praise is not just the best, but in fact the only, motivator for them. So rather than simply saying “You did good” when a child does something right, they’re told, “Wow—you’re really smart!”
All this leads to is pride and promotion of self, the glorification of narcissism. We are witnessing an ugly, unkempt, self-indulgent and demanding generation of greatly ballooned egos leading directly to narcissis, detachment from community, rejection of absolute truth, and cynicism. Yet few see the direct correlation with the dumbing down of curricula, grade inflation, loss of motivation, an unmerited sense of entitlement and the ridiculing of critical thinking skills.
Now a lot of people reading this will want to educate me on the barbarism of my words. That’s fine – I hear what you’re saying, but, I just don’t happen to agree with you. Losing is a part of life. It may not be the most joyous occasion, but it’s the truth.
Children do grow up and perform best in a positive environment—that is an enduring truth. A withering climate of criticism can destroy a child’s confidence and we want our children to be confident, well-adjusted and happy. But overpraise is not the way to get them there.
Let’s face it: High self-esteem is overrated. Repeated studies have proven that over-inflated self-worth doesn’t improve a child’s grades, strengthen relationships, avoid self-destructive behavior or translate into success later on in life. In fact, it can prove to be more of a hindrance in these areas, because a child raised on the notion that he is fantastic just as he is has little motivation to improve.
The other problem is that few want to be around adults who live in such self-delusion. Perhaps a child can pull off this trick around other children, but with adults, it is an alienating experience to witness someone convicted of being more popular, more capable, more loved, than is really the case.
That same high opinion, with no link to personal achievement, generally leads to crushing shocks when reality finally comes knocking. Praise is hard to come by in the brutal reality of life’s arena. Having long been shielded from small failures, the adult now finds sudden, big failures overwhelming.
A 2007 San Diego University report titled “Egos Inflating Over Time,” warned that the self-indulgent child-rearing techniques used today have led to an inability to satisfactorily adapt as contributing members of a stable society. In fact, the report indicated that this generation presents an unattractive proposition in terms of their employability within the society that has raised them.
How to properly raise children
Praise for children is not wrong, of course. We should think on what is praiseworthy and commendable (e.g. Philippians 4:8). But empty, indiscriminate praise means little. Children should receive sincere, specific praise when appropriate, which also lends itself more to giving gentle guidance on how to improve the next time. Handled correctly and lovingly, constructive criticism will not be harmful to children. In fact, it is one of life’s greatest gifts and helps them to see reality, serving as an aid to personal growth.
Strength that comes from experiencing weaknesses and teaching our children to see their inadequacies is very biblical. As Jesus Christ told us, “Without me ye can do nothing”—clearly the opposite of self-worth. The reality is this: Children must strive as they grow. They have a lot to learn and that knowledge must be practical and applicable to real life. And in the end, our children will need to recognize, deep in their heart, that, like all human beings, they must rely on God first, not their teacher, for proper guidance.