It appears the self-esteem movement is finally dead. It all began back in 1969, when psychologist Nathaniel Brandon published a highly acclaimed paper called “The Psychology of Self-Esteem.” He argued that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life,” and his idea soon became the hot new thing in education. At the apex of the craze, the California Legislature even established a “Self Esteem Task Force” for the state’s schools.
But the only problem with teaching self-esteem? It doesn’t work.
Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal about the 15,000 studies the movement generated, reviewer Kay Hymowitz concludes: “And what do they show? That high self-esteem doesn’t improve grades, reduce anti-social behavior, deter alcohol drinking or do much of anything good for kids. In fact, telling kids how smart they are can be counterproductive. Many children who are convinced that they are little geniuses tend not to put much effort into their work. Others are troubled by the latent anxiety of adults who feel it necessary to praise them constantly.”
The new book “NurtureShock” by Po Bronsom and Ashley Merryman may put the final nail in the coffin for the self-esteem movement. For instance, as Hymowitz points out, the book reveals that: “Drop-out programs [based on self-esteem] don’t work. Neither do anti-drug programs. The most popular of them, D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), developed in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department, has become a more familiar sight in American schools than algebra class. By 2000, 80% of American school districts were using D.A.R.E. materials in some form. Now, after extensive study, comes the news: The program has no long-term, and only mild short-term, effects. Oh, and those tests that school districts use to determine giftedness in young children? They’re just about useless.”
My beef with self-esteem is how it’s invaded America’s churches. In a well-intentioned effort to encourage and motivate people, we’ve created a “theology-lite” where we rarely refer to scripture, never discuss the hard truths of the Bible, and avoid words like “sin” because they might turn off visitors.
The famous “Reveal” study from Willow Creek is a powerful confirmation that programs don’t create disciples. In fact, The Center for Bible Engagement in Lincoln, Nebraska has just completed a landmark research study that reveals regular church attendance has little to no effect at all on behaviors like marital infidelity, drug dependency, financial crisis, emotional sickness, or other undesirable behaviors. They discovered the real “tipping point” of spiritual maturity happens when we encounter the Bible at least four times a week.
Reading the Bible four or more times a week. Who would have thought?
And yet I visited one nationally known church in Southern California recently where they actually discouraged members from bringing a Bible to the worship service. When I asked about it, their response was, “We don’t want a non-believer to feel intimidated sitting next to someone with a Bible.”
I’m all for motivation and inspiration. But truth is truth. Maybe it’s time we stopped candy coating it give it to them straight.
There. I feel much better about myself.