Engaging Culture

The Death of The Self-Esteem Movement

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.

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  1. You wrote:  “We don’t want a non-believer to feel intimidated sitting next to someone with a Bible.”


    That was my exact response!  Oh my!

    You’re article reminded me of a post I recently worked on for my blog that had to do with the “difficult” decisions of abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, etc.  Peter Singer who is in Obama’s inner circle, made a statement in a youtube video that “the question of God doesn’t determine the answer to these issues.”

    If that is how people are approaching all the many issues they are struggling with, no wonder America is a mess…or at least our government and those way left.

    Wow, when we no longer look to God or His word to define truth, we are most definitely headed for major trouble.



    Remaining Steadfast, Dominique


  2. Amen and Amen!  I visited a Lutheran church this past Sunday which actually had Bibles in the pew (Yea!  I grew up Lutheran and never heard of taking a Bible to church until I went away to college.)  This church “happens” to be one whose pastors are rightfully upset with the recent decision of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) to allow active homosexuals in the pulpit. 

    Too bad that those who caused the passing of the vote (by the exact required 66.6666…. percentage…[note number]) saw no significance in the “unforeseen” tornado, which made a beeline for the convention center as the issue was being discussed, damaged the roof, blew away the outdoor food set-up, and split the steeple of the Lutheran church next door, causing the cross to hang toward the ground (!)

    May the Lord have mercy on us all…and may His Word be revered again in the church!


    (A blog containing an eye-witness account can be found here:)


  3. Excellent post Phil!

    It seems God was onto something when he tells us to meditate on His Word DAY and NIGHT. I guess those who aren’t reading their Bible regularly may not have come across those passages yet!?!

  4. All of this would be especially hard-hitting if the Bible wasn’t written by some fallible humans who simply claimed that their words were divine.

    1. The “Humans” that claimed to write the Bible never said THIER words were divine, the Bible is Gods DIVINE word written by His CHOSEN people. I suspect you should do your research before you bash another religion.

  5. Amen!
    People with “high self-esteem” bore me.
    I like people with a little humility, and a dash of self-doubt who can laugh at themselves; and at me when I am less-than-perfect.

  6. There is much misinformation here. Firstly, Brandon’s book defines self esteem very clearly as something that is earned by one’s own effort through productive achievement. This is completely counter to the “teach all the kids they’re special” movement, which is born out of the progressive movement in education.

    As for this quote: “Others are troubled by the latent anxiety of adults who feel it necessary to praise them constantly.” Newsflash, people who feel this way have LOW self esteem.

    Self esteem is critical for happiness. But it must be earned.

  7. The first rule of statistics is that correlation does not indicate causation. It is just as plausible that something else, the thing that causes their behavior to improve, also leads them to partake of the bible more often. My point: bible reading in and of itself does not produce spiritual maturity.  This has been proven countless times over by Christians.

  8. Came across your article doing some research on self esteem and how it relates to the US education system (and how coddled some of our kids are getting). Really great post.

  9. It is wonderful to see that even secular psychologists are starting to see that self-control is more important than self-esteem.  The biblical virtues of unselfishness and humility are proving to be more valuable than the secular value of self-esteem.  Once again, the bible has been proven to be correct.  It is quite disturbing that so much pop psychology is being preached in our nation’s pulpits.  I think that this is probably the reason that a lot of youngsters are leaving the church.  If the church is going to preach the same message as pop psychologists, then why not just follow pop psychologists?  Clergy forget that they cannot beat the devil at his own game.  Why would a youngster embrace the message of “self-love, self-centeredness and abstinence” when they could embrace the message of “self-love, self-centeredness and indulgence” ? If we are not preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified, then we are just wasting everyone’s time. 

  10. wait, how do you know it’s dead? and what do you mean by dead? are you denying that parents still teach that shit to their children?

  11. understand the intent of the writer…however….telling folks the straight of things is single minded….what is telling it straight…my years in the pew listening to those telling it like it is often meant a debate of control….”let me tell you my version of what is straight talk” …loss of cultural control……fear of reprisal when you don’t follow my view of what is straight…..I applaud those that start with the bible rather that…..those who stalk and use funerals of our troops as the platform of their view of truth…….view the skills of moving the discussion to the marketing of theology for money…..in today’s world I still l hold the message by an suspicious of a messenger with an agenda of exaltation of themselevers

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