Teaching Self-Esteem Undermines Students’ Academic Achievement

by Hans Bader on January 10, 2013 · 4 comments

in Legal, Politics as Usual, Zeitgeist

Self-control, not self-esteem, leads to success, researchers have found. Indeed, teaching self-esteem actually harms students’ achievement and work ethic. “In one study, university students who’d earned C, D and F grades ‘received encouragement aimed at boosting their self-worth.’ They did worse than students with similar grades whose self-esteem had been left alone. ‘An intervention that encourages [students] to feel good about themselves, regardless of work, may remove the reason to work hard,’” notes “Roy Baumeister, a Florida State professor who’s studied the topic for years. ‘Self-control is much more powerful and well-supported as a cause of personal success,’ he says.”

A year ago, The Washington Post reported on the failure of self-esteem to improve educational achievement: due to the self-esteem fad, American 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.’” Yet, “for decades, the prevailing wisdom in education was that high self-esteem would lead to high achievement.” That false “theory led to an avalanche of daily affirmations, awards ceremonies” and time-consuming feel-good exercises in our schools.

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 important 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, where he was a guest and she was a caller. “Governor Lowry, I teach self-esteem,” 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 on such “self-esteem” teachers.

Due to inflated self-esteem, “More students say they’re gifted in writing ability” than in the past, “yet test scores show writing ability has gone down since the 1960s,” says psychologist Jean Twenge. “And while in the late 1980s, almost half of students said they studied for six or more hours a week, the figure was little over a third by 2009 – a fact that sits rather oddly, given there has been a rise in students’ self-proclaimed drive to succeed during the same period.”

Achievement is sometimes inversely related to self-esteem. “American students, for example, took first place in self-judged mathematical ability in a comparative study of eight countries, but last place in actual mathematical competency. Korean students, in contrast, ranked themselves last in self-judged mathematical skills and took first place in actual mathematical performance.”

Government officials who associate self-esteem with better performance have gotten causation backwards. It is better performance that eventually leads to higher self-esteem, not higher self-esteem that causes better performance. As law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds has noted, government officials’ misunderstanding of causation may also help explain government policies that contributed to the housing bubble, and government officials’ misguided desire to send everyone (no matter how bored or disinterested in academics) to college (a policy that leads to many students dropping out of college after incurring large amounts of debt, or costing taxpayers a bundle for subsidized college tuition).

Dean Bender, MFT January 10, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Parents and teachers are better off prasing effort not results. “I saw that you worked hard to earn that grade on that test.” Is so much better than, “You are a very bright and gifted child.” Authors Glenn I Latham, Ph.D. and Jane Nelsen, Ed.D. have been saying this in their parenting and classroom books for more than two decades.

Anonymous January 12, 2013 at 6:08 am

No, praise results and not effort… none that “you didn’t suceed but here’s an A for trying” stuff. Results are really hard to inflate with feel-good buncome. You either succeed or you don’t.

Avi Keslinger January 11, 2013 at 3:07 am

It all depends on how one defines self-esteem and its goals. It has always been known (albeit without surveys) that a person who thinks that he cannot succeed will not succeed. Of course, some people simply do not have ability in some areas although they do have ability in others. Healthy self-esteem teaches them to valure themselves for the abilities they do have but first and foremost to value themselves as human beings created in the Divine image.
However, raw talent must be developed. Once the person has faith in himself he can then work to develop his talents. Thus, it would seem that self-esteem combined with a work ethic is the answer.

Jean January 11, 2013 at 2:06 pm

You have done the same thing, in your last paragraph, as you ask if the government has done here:
Government officials who associate self-esteem with better performance have gotten causation backwards. … government officials’ misunderstanding of causation may also help explain government policies that contributed to the housing bubble, and government officials’ misguided desire to send everyone (…) to college (…).

No – that’s intentional.
Mark the correllation as causation, and claim there’s a need for more of the same, since we didn’t do enough the first time.
- Money for schools
- College degrees
- “Availbility” of guns

It’s like saying the cure for cancer is MORE cancer. We, who aren’t interested in controlling other people’s lives, CANNOT think the way these literal and figurative parasites do: they want control over the host organism. Nother more, nothing less. We are cells, if you will, in that host organism. Until the Killer T cells sense the disease and mobilize, we keep trying to vote in better “brain” cells, but truth is – they’re not incapable, thesy are INTENTIONALLY steering us wrong, like a thrill-seeker hunting the next adrenalin fix.
Banning guns leaves criminals to have guns? MORE LAWS! MORE BANS! Because the criminals heed the law, right?
Educators never learn the subject they teach, they learn “Teaching”. IE, management, of a sort – but bereft even of psychology, IIRC. So, no understanding of the child/adolescent brain, no understanding of history, science, or math, or English, maybe even languages like French or Spanish… So the solution, of course, is MORE MONEY TO THE FAILING SCHOOLS! STANDARDIZED TESTS TO GRADE THE TEACHERS! And anyone who has a child knows the school teaches the children – even the literal retards (IQ<80) – how to pass the tests. Keeps the Federal money rolling in, ya see…

No, we're being intentionally dumbed-down, intentionally mis-fed and mis-informed and medicated into complacence, and These "Elites" who wish to be Aristocrats are COMPLICIT in it all.
Check who the last several CDC Chairs have been (Top position, think it's chair.) then check who they worked for before CDC. Check the senator's and congresscritter's votign records, when they stand up there and tell you how they'll cut taxes. (Obama, Boehner, name you A-hole).

They PROFIT from our misery. So don't mistake the correllation for causation: they align, but the cause is their power and enrichment. The impoverishing of the populace is just a bonus.

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