Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
IALAC – I Am Lovable and Capable. – title of early public school self-esteem program.
We read with interest a Washington Post story that said “an increasing number of teachers are weaning themselves from what some call empty praise.” Further, it says, “A growing body of research over three decades shows that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities.”
In other words, it has taken behavioral scientists 30 years of research to determine what common sense should have told them instantly: The “self-esteem movement” was buncombe from the start.
This fraud was foisted on the Golden State by influential California State Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose, who ramrodded legislation advancing the study “self-esteem and personal and social responsibility.”
Perhaps “fraud” is too strong a term, because Vasconcellos was a true believer in the power of deep thoughts. He was a long-time devotee of Esalen Institute, the Big Sur Mecca of self-actualization. In fact, he went on to become a lecturer there.
A self-esteem task force, composed of human potential acolytes and superannuated flower children, naturally concluded that self-esteem was a “vaccine” that would inoculate kids against lives of crime, bad grades, depression, rickets and pyorrhea. Further, untold public funds were expended on seminars to teach adults how to give esteem-affirming “hand hugs” instead of traditional handshakes. (I’d explain this in detail, but I don’t want you to throw up.)
Members of the educational establishment jumped on the bandwagon (administrators saw money in it). Given the general intellectual level of educators, it wasn’t surprising that they concluded making kids feel good about themselves would result in scholastic achievement.
Rather it is the reverse that is true: Scholastic achievement leads to self-esteem.
Yours truly used to harpoon Vasconcellos’ nonsense in the late-lamented Sacramento Union newspaper. At one point, the legislator sent me a note saying I must lack self-esteem or I wouldn’t be so negative. Maybe he had a point. How could I be negative about a movement that could produce such statements as the following?
“The empathic wall is a gravity shield that must work equally well for all affects and be capable of down-regulation whenever we wished deeper penetration into each other’s mass. Whoever experiences shame in the company of another has not been taken over by the greater mass of that other but entered a warp preventing mutualization just as if s/he and that other suddenly had become entirely the south pole of a magnet with no north available.”
Do an Internet search for “self-esteem” and you’ll find a lot more in this vein. After reading it, you may want to open a vein.
Fortunately, Vasconcellos retired from the Legislature in 2004 after 38 self-actualizing years. But, as this is California, his pernicious influence lingers. You’ll find its echo in “diversity education” and other assaults on sense and values.
It must be bitter gall for Vasconcellos to know that self-esteem is falling by the wayside, even in the Big Sur retreat. The Esalen Institute now says: “What is the key to psychological health? For years it was believed to be self-esteem. However, research psychologists have highlighted several downsides to the endless pursuit of self-esteem, including constant social comparisons, ego-defensiveness, narcissism, and the instability and contingency of self-worth. As suggested by research, self-compassion is a healthier way of relating to oneself. Self-compassion offers all the same benefits as self-esteem, without the same downsides. It requires that people treat themselves with kindness, like they would treat a good friend.”
Watch for a self-compassion program soon, at a school district in your town.
Speaking of diversity:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been dead for a couple of generations, so people with various axes to grind feel safe in misappropriating his name.
Thus, we were not surprised to hear a news announcement during last week’s holiday that there would be events celebrating “Dr. King’s message of diversity.” And President Obama, honoring King, lauded service and diversity. To all this we must ask: What message of diversity?
We repaired to the martyred civil rights leader’s rhetorical treasure house and searched two of his most celebrated productions, his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” and his peerless “I Have a Dream” speech.
Between the two of them Dr. King referred to “free” and “freedom” 38 times, “justice” 32 times, civil and moral “rights” 10 times. The word “diversity” is nowhere to be found.
Purveyors of a vacuous fad – that ill-defined but staunchly anti-American diversity “movement” – wish to bask in the luster of Dr. King’s achievements. Who can blame them? But they are wrong to say he brought a “message of diversity.” His message was one of freedom, equality, justice and civil rights.