The New Curriculum: Reading, Writing, and Self-esteem

Are we over inflating our children’s self-esteem?  Is everything they do actually “amazing”?  Does getting a trophy for simply participating on a sports team really set them up for success in the real world?  I have been struggling with this concept as my sons have been growing up and I see all around us an unhealthy tendency to never let kids experience failure.  I think one of the best things that ever happened to my youngest son Ryan was when he worked really hard for over three years to earn his black belt in Tae Kwon Do and tested for it about 16 months ago…and he failed the test.  He and the other seven year olds in his class had an all day testing event that really pushed them to demonstrate their knowledge.  In the last trial of the day, he didn’t break the board as was required to earn the black belt.  They could have said “Hey, he tried really hard so we will go ahead and give it to  him.”  But, they didn’t and I believe they did him a huge favor.  There were 10 kids in his age group and none of them passed that day.  I was proud that Ryan was the only one who didn’t get upset or cry over this disappointment.  He calmly said he would try harder next time…and he did.  He worked hard for the next four months, tested again and received his black belt a few weeks after his 8th birthday.  He experienced failure, shook it off, worked hard and tried again…that is how to succeed in the real world.

I came across the article below from J. Fraser Field and was drawn to his conclusions about self-esteem and the harm we may be doing to our children.  After you read his article, please come back and post your comments.  Does this idea of overdoing it on self-esteem resonate with you?


The New Curriculum: Reading, Writing, and Self-esteem

By J. Fraser Field

One of the most dominant articles of faith pervading the modern curriculum is the notion that children can’t achieve and won’t succeed unless they have high self-esteem.

In parochial and public schools, in reading and writing, in health class and on the sports field, making students feel good about themselves has become a foundational goal in the modern classroom. 

To read the full article, click here.

Print this entry


  1. I’m actually afraid to begin responding because I may not be able to stop!

    Having taught in a parochial school for many years, and having my own sons attend both private and public schools, I can attest to my own personal belief that we are doing far more harm than good with the “New Curriculum” of reading, writing, and self-esteem.

    As a parochial school teacher I have been yelled at–screamed at is probably a more accurate phrase–by parents who cannot believe their all “A” student received a “C” on a test. I’ve had papers thrown at me and have been treated quite poorly because I gave grades that reflected a student’s actual achievement.

    Then, in the public schools my sons attended for high school we have been to many an “Accolade” night where the students are given praise and certificates for everything under the sun: from helping hold open doors to straight “A’s” on their report cards–although I can’t vouche for how accurate those “A’s” really are in the scheme of things. These nights go on endlessly because the only kids that don’t get an award are the ones who just didn’t show up that night!

    See, don’t get me started….

    This simply cannot be in everyone’s best interest and certainly doesn’t prepare kids for a time where they will have to know how to respond to a Superior at work who isn’t all warm and fuzzy or even how to mentor others. so that they can become better in whatever way is necessary.

    The pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction of the hard line parenting of yesteryear.

  2. Randy – Thanks for posting the link to this article…

    Cheryl – Thanks for commenting FIRST!

    I, too was wondering whether I could stop once I started addressing this topic, as it puts into words so eloquently the thoughts I’ve been harboring for several years now.

    Yes, we are over inflating our children’s self esteem – while at the same time we are deflating their sense of true achievement. And, worse yet, are we teaching the “esteem of self” over “the need of a Savior?”

    Two (I hope short) examples:

    1. My youngest son was an underachiever based on what we knew him to be capable of. He continually claimed he was doing the best he could, when we knew that wasn’t the case. We tried to tell him time and again that he really could do better – if only he would practice more, study harder, try again…whatever the particular need was, because he had the capacity to perform well above what he was showing.

    Instead of being encouraged, he would cry. “But mom,” he would say. “You don’t understand – that’s just what they tell kids so they will believe in themselves – it really isn’t true, because I CAN’T do it!”

    2. While working with inmates in California, one of the young women I came to know quite well is on Death Row. She was condemned to death for a home invasion incident during which she stabbed to death a nine year old girl. She, herself, was only 18 at the time of her crime. When I was visiting her, she was in her mid 20’s, and still had no recollection of the day of her crime. Through our visits, I learned that she was a second generation gang member – quality time with dad had meant hanging out with dad’s gang. By age 5 she was stealing hubcaps, by 8 she was running drugs, and by 12 she was working as a prostitute…all under the supervision of her dad and his gang. By the time she went to prison under the death sentence, she had 4 children of her own – the last two being twins who were born while she was incarcerated in County Jail. Yes, she was pregnant when she committed the crime.

    One day as we visited she said, “Vicky, I need to feel good about myself, and I need my children to be proud of their mama, but I don’t know how to have good self-esteem. Will you write my story and make it pretty? I really need for someone to do that.”

    I tried to explain to her that the only One who can give a happy ending to a tragic life story is the Savior she needed so desperately…but she remained convinced that all she needed for her story to be “pretty” was to have “good self-esteem.”

    I’m reminded of the line in the movie “The Incredibles” where the little boy has gotten in trouble for showing his superpowers in school. His mother tells him that the family cannot afford for him to demonstrate how “special” he is. He sighs deeply and says, “Yes, I know…I’m special – just like EVERYBODY else.”

    So, with our “new curriculum” I wonder whom we’re really fooling? Our selves, maybe?

  3. Cheryl/Victoria-Thank you for your insightful and thoughtful feedback. Yes, we have a real problem on our hands. How do we spread the word? How do we change minds and hearts on this subject?

    Keep talking, keep writing, keep persuading and keep praying!

    God bless and thanks-


  4. Randy, I read the Self Esteem article with interest. My children are in their late 40’s. I graduated from high school in 1959. I have a covey of grandchildren and greats. I ALSO worked in a high school and middle school for 4 years each. I agree with all the statements decrying the “self-esteem” curriculuum.

    However, here are some thoughts on how to do it right. My parents, not perfect, but good hearted, did self-esteem correctly, in my opinion. We moved a lot – not so much from city to city, but from house to apt. to house, often changing neighborhoods and schools. It was part of the “upward mobility” of my father’s profession. My parents would call a family meeting whenever we had to make a serious family decision (such as whether to buy this house or not). My father would draw a vertical line down a piece of paper and we would all give our pros and cons about this decision. Mind you, we children didn’t get to make the decision; what we received was their quiet attention to our opinions. My parents made the ultimate decision without making any excuses to us. But, we knew they heard and considered what we said. So, we trusted them.

    Here’s another example: when I was in high school, a boy asked me out who had a prison record – he had been in youth detention for stealing tires. I asked my mother if I could go out with him (he was so CUTE). She said “I’ll discuss this with your father and get back to you”. The next day she said, “We decided that it is your reputation that is at stake so we are not going to make this decision for you”. I didn’t go.

    These and many other events helped me to grow into a young woman who had confidence in my intelligence, my sense of right and wrong, and my ability to make good decisions. This self-esteem was invaluable later in life when I lived through a quarter century in a less than perfect marriage. I later thanked my parents for giving me that self-esteem which was responsible for my survival.

    And, I believe, this quality also motivated me to seek God endlessly, finally converting to Catholicism only 12 years ago, at age 56.

  5. Carol –

    I hope that one day (if you haven’t already) you will write a book on “Self-esteem…the Godly way.” It sounds to me like your parents had it right – and, they passed their wisdom on to you!


Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *