Friday, June 2, 2017

Self-esteem, again

Below are a few excerpts from "How the Self-Esteem Craze Took Over America." It is a great article, well worth reading, especially if you were an educator or victimized student.
.... The self-esteem craze changed how countless organizations were run, how an entire generation — millenials — was educated, and how that generation went on to perceive itself (quite favorably). As it turned out, the central claim underlying the trend, that there’s a causal relationship between self-esteem and various positive outcomes, was almost certainly inaccurate. But that didn’t matter: For millions of people, this was just too good and satisfying a story to check, and that’s part of the reason the national focus on self-esteem never fully abated. Many people still believe that fostering a sense of self-esteem is just about the most important thing one can do, mental health–wise. ....

.... Maybe it isn’t that high self-esteem causes high performance, but rather the reverse, that people who are more talented or smart or successful have higher self-esteem because of their positive attributes and accomplishments. ....

Nowhere did the craze hit harder than in American schools. And once it did, it produced an endless assortment of colorful classroom interventions. One common exercise for elementary-schoolers involved a Koosh ball. A kid tosses the ball to another kid and compliments them — I like your shirt. Then they toss the ball to someone else and compliment them — You’re good at soccer. The good feelings travel with the Koosh ball across the room, back and forth and back and forth. ....

Other schools stopped using red pens, the theory being that seeing a lot of red on a spelling test could harm a child’s self-esteem. Some installed mirrors with text like “You are now looking at one of the most special people in the whole wide world!” engraved on them. ....

It wasn’t just Koosh balls and cheesy mirror exercises — in many schools, prevailing assumptions about academic rigor and feedback changed too. The thinking went, “Don’t make kids feel bad about everything, because if they feel bad they’ll perform poorly,”.... In many cases, advocates focused on self-esteem “rather than hiring better teachers, spending more money on actual schools and instruction. It became a surrogate for the stuff that might actually have done some good.” ....

“The self-esteem movement is at least one factor in explaining why millennials have higher self-esteem, are more likely to see themselves as above average, and in general have more positive self-views than previous generations did at the same age,” she said. “I also think it may explain why they score higher in measures of narcissistic personality traits.” .... “Certainly millennials were the generation most exposed to the idea that self-esteem is the key to success,” she said. “They were also the generation most exposed to the idea that we should boost children’s self-esteem either at home or in school through various methods.”

.... Believe in yourself and anything is possible, and You have to love yourself first before you can love someone else. “Those phrases are taken for granted as advice we give teens and adults,” explained Twenge, “but they’re very modern. .... They’re all very individualistic, they’re all very self-focused, they’re also all delusional. ‘Believe in yourself and anything is possible’? Nope, it’s just not true.” ....

...[M]any of the features that defined the self-esteem craze — the simple, inspiring message, the large quantity of less-than-rigorous research, the prevalence of confirmation bias, the cottage-industry opportunities for profit — have popped up again and again in the years since, in the many other forms of half-baked psychological science that have garnered mainstream attention and vacuumed up resources....

No problem important enough to attract the attention of social scientists is simple enough to be solved by the latest idea to spring forth from their labs. Things are always more complicated than “If only we could get people to be more X, then surely we’d see improvements in social problem Y.” Social science, in short, should be seen as just one part of the very complicated process of solving big societal problems – not as a fountain of revolutionary One Simple Tricks. [more]