The Power Of Proper Praise: Self-Esteem Destroys

The primary goal of our public schools right now is the flawed and destructive idea that kids will be okay if only they have good self-esteem. Forget struggle and achievement, forget actually trying. As long as they feel good about themselves they’ll be just fine.

Well the science is in, and the proponents of self-esteem were lying, through their teeth, most of them. And the lives they’ve destroyed, the growths they’ve stunted, the children whose futures they’ve darkened. Jesus even reserved a special wish for them, that they have a millstone hung about their necks and they be cast into the sea.

In an article published in New York Magazine, the work of Carol Dweck is examined. The article is rather long, but it is engaging and definitely worth the read. Whether you have kids or not. Whether you’re involved with children or not. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, or sibling, or just friend. Your words are important. Praise is important. But as with equality, the only things worth praising are those things people can change. Anything else is like assisting a butterfly free from it’s shell: it seems like such a nice thing to do, but that butterfly will die because it’s wings will not inflate because it will not have strained enough.

Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.

Dweck and Blackwell’s work is part of a larger academic challenge to one of the self-esteem movement’s key tenets: that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together. From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem and its relationship to everything—from sex to career advancement. But results were often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science. Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standards.

I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.

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