Self-Esteem Fad Harms Students and Education System

Two politically-correct beliefs have inflicted enormous harm on our education system: the belief that inflated, unearned self-esteem is a good thing, and the belief that money without accountability will improve our schools. The Washington Post reports on the failure of self-esteem to improve educational achievement: “For decades, the prevailing wisdom in education was that high self-esteem would lead to high achievement. The theory led to an avalanche of daily affirmations, awards ceremonies and attendance certificates — but few, if any academic gains.”

Indeed, students’ self-esteem outstripped their achievement, which fell compared to their international peers. U.S. eighth-graders did worse in math than their peers in countries like Singapore and South Korea, but felt better about themselves and their ability in math. “‘We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter,’ Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck said. ‘That has backfired.'”

So now, teachers in some school systems are belatedly “tempering praise to push students” to achieve more rather than just feel good about themselves. But in other school systems, there are “self-esteem” teachers, who continue to teach students to feel great despite their own mediocrity, and to feel “bullied” when their exaggerated ego is affronted by behaviors like “eye-rolling” or critical comments from peers, which some self-esteem teachers claim is a form of “bullying,” even though it is often constitutionally-protected speech.

While visiting my mother in Washington State, I heard a bossy “self-esteem” teacher talking to then-Governor Lowry on a talk radio show. Her first words were, “Governor Lowry, I teach self-esteem,” which she growled, in a deep, harsh voice that made her sound like a 300-pound bully. My cousin Gigi, who teaches special-education in the state, says that self-esteem teachers are some of the angriest people around. Yet millions of tax dollars have been spent hiring such academically useless people.

The belief that dumping more money on the education system will automatically improve it is also now being questioned by education experts like Richard Vedder, high-tech innovators like Peter Thiel, and even writers at the liberal New York Times. Increasing education spending has often benefited politically-correct bureaucrats rather than teachers. There are now more college administrators than faculty at California State University, and colleges are creating new positions for liberal bureaucrats even as they raise student tuition to record levels:

The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

Other colleges raised spending on administrators as much as 600 percent in recent years. Flush with cash, colleges have also spent millions of dollars on “diversity training,” even though some “diversity training” is racistspawns lawsuits, or contains bad legal advice that blows up in the face of the institution paying for it. For example, Glenn Singleton, a wealthy “diversity” trainer, promotes racial stereotypes, such as teaching that “white talk”  is “impersonal, intellectual, verbal” and “task-oriented,” while “color commentary” is “emotional.” California Superintendent Jack O’Connell, a white liberal, was recently embarrassed, and called racist, after he foolishly repeated a notion peddled by Glenn Singleton: that black people are loud.  Singleton’s racially-charged “diversity” teachings embarrassed the Seattle Schools in a landmark Supreme Court case that the school system lost in 2007.

States spend hundreds of millions of dollars operating colleges that have extremely low standards, yet manage to graduate almost no one — like Chicago State, “which has just a 12.8 percent six-year graduation rate.” Bush increased federal education spending 58 percent faster than inflation, while Obama seeks to double it. Spending has exploded at the K-12 level: per-pupil spending in the U.S. is among the highest in the world.