Beginning in the 1980s, a concerted effort by policymakers concerned about U.S. students performing low on international tests involved the idea of how students saw themselves. The thinking was that low self-esteem caused low test scores.
Solution? Raise students’ regard for themselves. The movement spread rapidly especially after a California legislator got his bill through both houses of the legislature and the governor signed the new law that assigned the state’s schools raise students’ self-esteem. Critics, of course, pointed out that the causal arrows that policymakers believed in, that is, if you raise students’ self-esteem, then achievement will rise as well–those arrows could just as well point the other way. That is, higher achievement using direct ways of helping students academically could result in their higher self-regard.
Without knowing for sure which way the causation goes, cartoonists have had a field day with this school reform as it permeated through the rest of society. So enjoy the cartoons on what started out as a school reform called the “self-esteem movement” and became a running joke for all aspects of human behavior.
*Reader Tomas Björnberg from Sweden reminded me that comedian George Carlin had a stand up bit on “child worship” that included the self-esteem movement. It is on YouTube. Readers should know that its 8 minute run is filled with expletives. For those sensitive to such language, you have been warned.