There is a raging current inside postmodern society that holds that people must seek self-esteem as a means to fulfillment. Fortified by the constant use of social media, individuals can construct a positive image of themselves for public consumption. This exercise of self-love promises happiness but delivers misery.
However, the self-esteem movement suffers from no lack of esteem. Popularized during the sixties, the current has adapted to the times. Today, people find new ways of expressing self-love yet suffer from the same effects of depression and frustration.
Origins of the Self-Esteem Movement
The popularizer of the self-esteem movement was Nathaniel Brandon, a protégé of the atheist libertarian Ayn Rand. His most famous book is titled The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.
The self-esteem movement teaches selfishness as a virtue. Nothing is more critical than self-image. Anything that makes a person feel bad must be evil. Therefore, avoid shame at all costs. The only sin is to sin against oneself.
This form of self-esteem is not a legitimate sense of accomplishment that comes after doing one’s duty. This doctrine holds that individuals have the right to feel good about themselves, regardless of their actions.
Many books written during the last third of the twentieth century promoted this philosophy of life. I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas Harris, How to Be Your Own Best Friend by Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz and Awaken the Giant Within by M. Scott Peck were all immensely popular books with similar messages.
They all taught that doing is less important than feeling good. They managed to redefine virtue as the habit of embracing oneself. The books advanced a me-first attitude that justified thinking of self before others.
Self-Esteem in American Education
This “pop-psychology” made its way into America’s schools. It meshed well with the heresy that all people are “born good.” It also affirmed educator John Dewey’s fundamental tenet that truth is discovered inside oneself, rather than taught by authority figures like parents, teachers, priests, or God.
The movement developed its own mythology and mythical characters. An example is the story of Teddy Stoddard. In the beginning, Teddy is an unwashed and ill-clothed fifth grader who students and teachers avoid. He presents his teacher with a Christmas gift of a broken bracelet and a partial bottle of cheap perfume. The teacher grits her teeth while putting on the bracelet and the perfume. Through his tears, the boy explains that both items had belonged to his now-dead mother. The teacher takes an interest in Teddy, even after he leaves her class. By the end of the story, Teddy has completed medical school, is married, and happily settling into a productive life.
The moral of the story is that each student’s future is fragile. Teachers build the future by nurturing a child’s self-esteem. Teachers should not punish violations, but “reinforce positive behavior.” Principals admonished their faculties to “catch the kids being good.”
The Woeful Result of a Misbegotten Theory
The results of the movement have been disastrous. Allie Beth Stuckey is the author of You’re Not Enough (and That’s Okay): Escaping the Culture of Self Love. She shared her views in a recorded interview with LifeSiteNews’ Jonathan Van Maren. She takes aim at the self-esteem movement.
“Young people who have been fed this message for so long are more miserable than any other generation. They have higher rates of anxiety and depression and suicide and loneliness and purposelessness. So, if it’s true that the solution to all our problems is self-love, and the youngest generation has been fed this message of self-love longer than any other generation has, then it’s obviously not working.”
In her book, Mrs. Stuckey posits that all children possess a store of wild aspirations that need to be regulated. She claims that “As we get older, we’re supposed to tell ourselves hard things. We’re supposed to grow up, assess our strengths, do things we don’t want to do, and realize that we are not as special as we think we are. We’re supposed to get out of our houses, get over ourselves, and create a life that’s productive and meaningful. The confidence we have in ourselves should change from juvenile blind adoration to grounded awareness.”
Thus, the author believes that teachers must treat healthy students with commonsense. Children need to run, play and work hard at school. Treating children as physically and psychologically fragile beings cripples them. Giving all children intensive psychological care prevents them from finding out the truth about themselves.
A Sick Idea Leads to a Sick Society
Two generations of students have been conditioned to believe that their feelings contain all truth. They are told they must feel good all the time. Yet, they carry a sense of worthlessness and frustration. Since this disastrous policy teaches that such negative emotions cannot be their fault, they look outside themselves to find a cause. Blaming society appears the only option available.
Thus, these frustrated young people embrace “identity politics” to explain the sorry state of affairs for which they will assume no responsibility. A recent essay by Melanie Phillips, “Switching the Code for Racial Harmony,” describes the next steps in this process that often leads to violent demonstrations.
“[I]dentity politics teaches its adherents that they are victims and – fantastically – encourages them to construct their entire identity around that sorry and disempowering claim. This removes any personal responsibility for their circumstances, substituting instead boiling resentment against the people who are believed to control the society in which these “victims” feel they haven’t prospered.”
Dr. Robert Woodson, Sr., the founder of the Woodson Center, believes the present unrest feeds off a desire for self-esteem. His organization promotes the idea that organic organizations within low-income neighborhoods are needed to solve their problems. The Canter holds that “An effective approach to societal problems must be driven by the same principles that function in the market economy, recognizing the importance of competition, entrepreneurship, cost efficiency, and an expectation of return on investment.”
In August 2020, Dr. Woodson participated in a videotaped panel discussion, 1776 v. 1619: Two Visions for American History, hosted by the National Association of Scholars. He shared his dismay that most of the “Black Lives Matter” protesters are young white liberals. He described his sense that these people are essentially narcissistic – that they are, in effect, saying, “If I don’t get involved, social justice will never come. It all depends on me.”
While Dr. Woodson’s characterization may not fit all the protesters, it does support the pattern created by the self-esteem movement. It is long past time that this particular form of educational malpractice end once and for all.
Adobe Stock Photo @ Dennis