The Beast of too much Self-Esteem and Positive Language

The New York Times reported Top Test Scores from Shanghai Stun Educators. China’s students were number one globally while the US came in 23rd.

How did the United States fall so far behind?

The scapegoat is not bad teachers or their unions. Even the flawed and biased documentary Waiting for Superman says only 7% of the teachers were found to be considered bad. Since the average student has about 50 teachers kindergarten through high school, this means less than four might be poor teachers.

The real culprit is the “positive language” and the inflated “sense of self-esteem” movement that has plagued the US for several decades.

In fact, Rapid reports that Edward Wynne, Professor of Education at the University of Illinois (Chicago Circle campus), and Kevin Ryan, Professor of Education at Boston University, question the benefits of the obsession with self-esteem in America’s schools. In their recently published book Reclaiming Our Schools, they note: “The self-esteem movement puts a false and infectious pressure on teachers. They are more and more expected to keep students feeling good about themselves. In other eras, teachers were expected to provide pupils with an environment and educational opportunity to grow and achieve.”

Rapid says, “A 1990 study contrasting the performance of American students in mathematics skills with five other countries revealed that the math scores of American 5th-graders were the lowest of the six countries. The Koreans were first. The test asked pupils to say whether they felt they would be “good at mathematics in high school.” Of the Americans, 68% said “yes” while only 26% of the high-scoring Koreans gave that reply.”

The answer is returning to Aristotle’s idea of the “Golden Mean”, which means avoidance of extremes since building a false sense of self-esteem in children is an extreme.

However, Aristotle is not alone.

In Chinese philosophy, a similar concept, Doctrine of the Mean, was propounded by Confucius.

Buddhist philosophy also includes the concept of the Middle Way.

Reverend Dr. George C. Papademetriou at says, “The way of (Christian) Orthodoxy is to converge on the golden mean, carefully avoiding extremes and the pitfalls that can lead to destruction.”

The extreme self-esteem movement in the US is leading the country towards destruction.

In China and in most American-Chinese homes, when a child brings a poor grade home from school, the teacher is not blamed.  The parents accept the blame and tell the child he or she is lazy and stupid and must work harder. 

Then the Chinese parent enrolls the child in private night or weekend classes to help them succeed.  They may also hire a tutor for the child.

Maybe the Chinese concept of raising children explains the 2009 PISA test results from Shanghai and the economic miracle that has taken place in China since the early 1980s. 

Since the Chinese are not as perfect as most Americans born after 1960 believe they are, the Chinese are willing to work harder regardless of low or high self-esteem.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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