Keep self-esteem in the education picture

In response to the Oct. 24 Opinion piece "Education's self-esteem hoax": Dinesh D'Souza presents a common-sense argument, clearly stated and grounded in solid research against what he says are educators' efforts to bolster students' self-esteem in America. A teacher for 12 years, I have yet to see or hear of such efforts in any of the schools where I have taught, though I've had students whose self-images have been successfully degraded.

Self-esteem might be, as D'Souza argues, a very American concept, but so is the universal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; or equal protection under the law; or public education for all citizens. Implied in those ideals is the notion that all people deserve respect as human beings.

When we provide a school system that increasingly caters only to the college bound, basing all school success on standards and tests designed exclusively for the college bound, and when we tell all other students that because they are not college bound they are therefore failures, we are forsaking those American ideals.

D'Souza is right to point out the foolishness of such efforts. The other lesson, though, the one I wish D'Souza would take to heart, is that students who see no place for themselves in their own educational system, whose self-esteem (however D'Souza wishes to define it) has been degraded, and who have no adults who believe in them, are doomed to failure and bitterness.
Kas Zoller Gold
River, Calif.

In response to "Education's self-esteem hoax": D'Souza greatly enhances the discussion by being both profoundly right and profoundly wrong.

He is right to take educators to task for promoting an empty kind of self-esteem, one that does not reinforce understanding oneself. But he is profoundly wrong in ignoring the effect that racism or any other kind of "ism" can have on the relationship to oneself. Society convinces many that, because of race, gender, or some other quality they cannot change, they are inherently barred from certain kinds of potential fulfillment.

It does not help, however, to tell people that they are fine exactly the way they are. If they were, there would be no point in education or growth of any kind.

Instead, we must convince people they are capable of meeting challenges set for and by themselves. This involves adjusting each educational challenge precisely to the level of performance a given student can reach, and it requires reinforcing artistic creativity to make classroom experiences deeply satisfying intellectually, aesthetically, psychologically, and spiritually.
Peter Kline
South Bend, Ind.

Regarding "Education's self-esteem hoax": I was enjoying the article until Mr. D'Souza stated that blacks get their self-esteem from beating others or having strong sexual prowess. The crass stereotyping ruined an otherwise decent article.
J. Jerez

Israelis everywhere must voice concern

Regarding your Oct. 24 article "A life lost in Gaza spurs reflection from all sides": This article reflects a fundamental sadness of the Palestinian problem.

There are so many Israelis who are compassionate and who treat Palestinians as decent, fellow human beings. Sadly, there are more who do not, and who are quite happy to shoot down Palestinian children as if they were dogs.

It is vital not only that we foreigners protest the continued killings and brutality, but Israelis and international Jewry must protest what is being done in their name.
Christopher Leadbeater
Oxon, England

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