Three Rs vs. Self Esteem
Sometime in the decade of the sixties, American public schools got a new direction. If it came from Harvard or just the atmosphere, it was a real and important change. The change was away from teaching the Three Rs, that is stressing learning content, and toward supporting and building the egos of children, their self esteem.
The reasoning goes that schools create patterns of defeatism and even an underclass of people who become convinced, via failure in school, that they are rather worthless and destined to a stunted life. This pattern was created, goes the reasoning, by schools stressing learning lots of facts and skills, taking demanding tests, and, gasp, actually failing a grade level or a subject. It was not unusual for a child to be “held back” a year due to failure to show learning of the Three Rs, reading, writing, and arithmetic. But, failure in school, the new story goes, damages little Pat’s ego and his feelings of self worth.
Then, a wide-spread movement was adopted by schools, and definitely in place by the late 1970s, to down-play learning subjects and getting grades and to do what can be done to support children’s egos. Every child became “above average,” became special in his limits as well as strengths, and became convinced that his self-worth was an automatic grant that did not need real achievement to under-pin that feeling. Teachers became “sensitized” to communicating the basic value of every person regardless of what that person failed at or achieved via hard work and learning.
A passing grade became standard foremost not because of overcrowding but to support the child feeling good about himself. Parents caught the message and showed up at schools examining the teachers rather than their child’s learning. A failing student simply had not been approached individually and correctly (due to either his limitations or his slacker attitudes) by teachers who seemed to want to hold on to a high standard for academic achievement. That idea was soundly defeated as teachers’ new job was to protect and promote the child’s feeling of great self-worth. Building self esteem became the goal.
America is now living with the results. It has become a slacker nation filled with people feeling entitled to a good life (and their own attitudes) based on their learned high self worth. It has become a deeply fractured society filled with millions of people feeling the value of their own personal opinions far above a sense of community, of compromise for the greater good, and of toleration for other people. After all, the child learned well he had high self worth and then easily concluded that HIS self worth is worth more than all other people. This triumph of individualism has fulfilled the great democratic ideal of all people being equal. However, THIS individualism is really the tyranny of the single person feeling great and even superior to others.
This ego valuing has given America the rock-hard divisions of unforgiving opinions about religion, politics, and personal behavior (mine is best and not only that, it is proven because it is mine). Compromise is now a dirty word, and tolerance is condemned. After all, to compromise or have tolerance for others who are different represents admission of possible flaws in the individual’s tightly held opinions; that is not to be a part of the promoted ego. If one thinks he is RIGHT, then to compromise is a violation of his basic being and his valuing his own beliefs and opinions.
America is now a nation of people with powerful self esteem. The schools “turned to” and did their job well. Along with that self esteem, America is a nation of people who can not add and subtract without a calculator, can not spell without a spell checker, can not identify salient points in an argument and analyze it, can not do a balanced evaluation of differences in politics or religion, and who lack respect and tolerance for other people. But, they do feel good about themselves.