Loving Me

In Littleton, Colorado, parents are squinting their eyes to decipher the new report cards their offspring are bringing home from school. The kids don't get marks for reading and writing any more. They get marks for things like "intellectual curiosity," "emotional well-being," and "self-esteem." I wonder: Just how is a child graded on self-esteem? And if he gets a poor grade, what does that do to his, well, his self-esteem? The bigger question, of course, is what business public schools have probing into children's psyches in the first place. Teachers have always known that school achievement depends on a basic level of self-confidence. But they also know that confidence has to be earned. Good feelings come from real accomplishments. But today's educators are so worried about children's feelings that they want to slide right past the accomplishment part and go directly to the feelings. The San Diego city school system even tried to abolish failing grades, in order to avoid scarring kids' self-esteem. The board voted to get rid of the F grade, though the plan was never carried out because of public protest. The effect of all this is that American kids entertain unrealistically high opinions of themselves. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Education found that students in Washington, D.C., scored highest in the nation on answering the question, "I am good in math." But in actual math performance, they scored lowest. To rephrase an old proverb: Self-esteem goeth before a fall. Another study, this time of students around the world, found that South Koreans scored highest in math. But asked for their opinion, they said they weren't that good. Is this low self-esteem? Or a healthy sense of how much room there is for improvement, even at the top? The self-esteem movement has made inroads even into the Church. Its prophet is Reverend Robert Schuller, who preaches what he calls a "theology of self-esteem." Schuller literally believes that "the absence of [self-esteem] is the cause of almost all the problems in the world." The principle of liking yourself has become a new faith. It's a sacrilege to ask, but should I like myself? What if I've just done something vicious or mean? Today's psychologist assures us that anyone with high esteem won't do anything vicious or mean. Self-esteem has been labelled a "social vaccine" that builds up resistance to anti-social things like crime, drugs, and teen pregnancy. But here is where Christians must part company. Self-esteem is not a cure-all. People will always behave badly, because human nature is twisted--and liking yourself doesn't remove the twist. The inclination to evil is too deeply rooted in the human heart to be tamed by happy faces and positive slogans. No, genuine peace with oneself comes from realistically facing the evil within--and trusting God to root it out. It comes from knowing God will give you the strength to accomplish whatever you need to in life. That isn't something that will come home on your child's report card. It isn't something the public schools can teach. But it's the only basis for real self-confidence.


Chuck Colson


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