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American Public Schools Deserve an F-
Teachers seem to think that if they keep on telling students that they are wonderful over and over again, that their students “will perform to the highest possible standards in school.” (Curtler) This idea is known as the self-esteem movement amongst educators, and the roots of this movement are traced back to 1960’s America. Educators thought that if children had high self-esteem they could make students immune to “academic failure, drug use, welfare dependence, violence, and other ills.” (Weissbourd) However, no matter how high a student’s self-esteem is, they aren’t going to be ‘immune’ to all of these problems. In fact part of a high self-esteem comes from feeling powerful, it’s been proven that violent criminals often have extremely high self-esteem and yes, while some children are bullies because they have other problems going on, a large number of these bullies are bullies because bullying makes them feel powerful and important. As far as academics go, a student’s high self-esteem won’t transfer to academic achievement; it will only transfer if a student values academic achievement. Just look at student athletes who don’t do well in school, they have a high amount of positive self-esteem but it’s not reflected in their report cards.
"Such competitions can only deal a blow to the self-esteem of those who don't win." -Bob Dole. The self-esteem movement works like this, teachers tell their students how wonderful they are and how good of a job that they’re doing, regardless of the truth of how talented and wonderful they really are. (Curtler) Over time teachers added grading curves to bring up student’s test grades, dumbed down their curriculum to make it easier for all students to understand, and got rid of all competition. Without competition how are students supposed to find out how well they deal with stress or how far they can push themselves? It’s important and healthy to have a high self-esteem, but acquiring a high self-esteem shouldn’t come at the cost of a student’s education and impacting their future in a negative way.
There’s a saying ‘you reap what you sow’, however this isn’t true in the case of American public school students. If a public school student in America fails a class, teachers can opt to allow them to enter the next grade level. This act is known as social promotion. There are several reasons for allowing social promotion to occur. Three of the most argued are that moving a student up to the next grade level, regardless of academic ability, won’t hurt their self-esteem, and by keeping the student with their age group younger students won’t be corrupted. And since most educators think that keeping a student in the same grade twice doesn’t help the student at all and know that students are more likely to drop out of high school if held back. (Ownings and Kaplan) However, a study conducted by Karl Alexander performed in 1982 proved that if students are held back, their “test scores and grades actually [do] improve.” (Mendez) However, the vast majority of teachers still opt for social promotion or lower standards in order to allow more, if not all, of their students pass. This method does work in the sense that more students are graduating high school and going on to college in America. Unfortunately, this isn’t as impressive or meaningful as it sounds, “a Department of Education study revealed four years ago  that more than half of America’s college graduates couldn’t read a bus schedule. Nor were they able to figure out how much change they should get after putting down $3 to pay for a 60-cent bowl of soup and a $1.95 sandwich.”(Dobson) Part of this startling conclusion is because students have learned the trick to ‘succeeding’ in public schools. They literally have to do next to nothing and they will succeed; social promotion teaches students that all they have to do is the barest of the bare minimums and skid by on the skin of their teeth. “They [can] get something for nothing.” (Ownings and Kaplan) And what does that teach students? It teaches students that they don’t have to work hard, ask for help when they need it, and push themselves. All are skills which are invaluable to life after school is done and over with and ‘real life’ begins.
However, not all hope is lost, things can always change. Americans have always prided themselves on being a nation that “moves forward”, it’s time to move forward and fix the problems within the educational system in American public schools. The first thing that needs to be done is getting rid of the self-esteem movement. It’s really going to end up hurting students of all ages in the long run. Teachers need to be teaching students that it’s okay to fail and how to deal with disappointment, there will be things that go wrong in life. Students don’t know how to deal with failure and the consequences of not doing work, and not studying among other things. This may be a bit of a stretch but the rise of teen depression and suicide might be related to teachers not teaching teens how to deal with anything but success. These teens are going to be thinking that something is wrong with them and be stressed, depressed, and upset when something doesn’t go right. Teachers should also set the bar for success higher, not lower. This will give students something to work towards and then after working hard they’ll know that they’ve done a good job and then the praise that teachers give to build up their self-esteem really will do that. Another thing that should happen is more parent involvement in their children’s academic careers. Not just signing off on progress reports halfway through a marking period either, they need to be making sure that homework is getting done and tests are being studied for. This will lead to students doing all of this on their own and developing responsibility. Going back to teachers being convinced high self-esteem would lead students away from violence, instead of focusing so much on the individual student have students focus on volunteering in the community. This will show students, younger elementary age children especially, that helping other people and being a positive addition in their community can make them feel good and increase their awareness for those in the world around them. Two birds with one stone.
"Despite all the gold stars and smiley faces, if [pupils] simply don't have the skills to compete and survive [they] will eventually figure that out and know it's all been a fraud.” Charles Sykes is right, students will figure out that success isn’t always guaranteed in life. While they might not realize this until school is behind them, they will encounter competition and not always finish in first place. No competition in school, high self-esteem for all students, that’s great(!) but what happens when students aren’t students anymore? Real life will come face high school graduates head-first and they might not know to ‘grab the bull by the horns’ and then all that wonderful self-esteem that teachers spent so much time building up will come crashing down all around them. That’s why competition needs to be reinstated and embraced in place of the self-esteem movement, social promotion, and other things hindering the American public school system in this age of entitlement. School is a place to learn and prepare students for life after school, and it’s about time that it was treated that way.
Curtler, Hugh Mercer. “Making Kids Feel Good.” Modern Age 46.3 (2004): 268-271. ProQuest Discovery. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/196947289/abstract/13312E2C4371BE1EE8C/18?accountid=34664>.
Dobson, James C, Ph.D. “And now, a word about our children and their schools:.” Apr. 1998. News and Press. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Exodus Mandate . Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <http://www.exodusmandate.org/art_dobson_and_now_a_word_about_our_children.htm>.
Mendez, Teresa. “Promotion commotion ; New York City’s mayor has a goal: stamping out ‘social promotion.’ But can he succeed where so many others have failed?” The Christian Science Monitor (Apr. 2004): 11. ProQuest Discovery. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/405674321/13312DB52C916FBE375/1?accountid=34664>.
Owings, William, and Leslie Kaplan. “Standards, retention, and social promotion.”
National Association of Secondary School Principals. NASSP Bulletin 85.629 (2001): 57-66. ProQuest Discovery. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/216049042/13331BCC0F82D4D1C3/8?accountid=34664>.
Weissbourd, Richard. “The feel-good trap.” The New Republic Aug. 1996: 12-. ProQuest Discovery. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/212806139/1335095E4C32BB65DEE/2?accountid=34664>.