On Tuesday, I’m interviewing my long-time blogging friend Bookworm for Crazifornia – not that there’s much at all “crazi” about Bookworm, mind you; she’s one of the saner Californians I’ve come across. But she is the product of a Bay Area education, and I’m very curious to hear her recollections about what it was like to be schooled in the Petri dish of liberal education programs.
Everything that’s wrong with America started in California, and that goes for education, too. Bookworm mentioned that she still struggles with math after having been a guinea pig for new math, and my oldest daughter is still a lousy speller after being exposed to “creative spelling” as a youngster. Most famous of all the California-bred education crazes is the teaching of self-esteem. Here are some relatively current examples, from a 1999 LA Times article:
Similarly, bumper stickers distributed by Cleveland Elementary School in Santa Barbara proclaim that “all children are honored” at the school. Principal Michael Vail said he uses the school’s monthly award ceremony to stress “over and over again . . . that they’re all students of the month.” …
School districts including San Francisco Unified have justified their creation of single-sex academies and proposals that students read books by nonwhite and female authors partly on the grounds that students’ self-regard would be improved. …
Dip into the history of the self-esteem movement, and you’re swimming in California waters. U.C. Davis psychology prof Stanley Cooperman, who died in 1979, led the charge with his 1960s studies into the personality’s sources of strengths, which culminated in his 1967 book, The Antecedents of Self-Esteem, and the intellectual father of the movement, Nathaniel Brandon, studied at UCLA and still practices today in Los Angeles. (Brandon was once the young lover of Ayn Rand – which was probably pretty darn good for his self-esteem – but dumped her for an attractive young model – which was probably pretty darn bad for Rand’s. She reacted by purging his name from all future editions of Atlas Shrugged.)
And of course, you can’t even say “self-esteem” without mentioning John Vasconcellos, the California assemblyman whose 1986 legislation led to the creation of the California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility. He later compared society’s new emphasis on self-esteem with unlocking the secrets of the atom and opening the door to outer space.
Even after most of the claims of the self-esteem movement have been trashed, as research shows no correlation between high self-esteem and good grades or success, the movement lives on in America’s education system, with over 300,000 hits on a Google search for “elementary school mission statements for self-esteem.” Leading that charge is Michele Borba and her Esteem Builders curriculum for schools.
Borba’s base of operations? Palm Springs, California.