The Dumbing Down of America's Kids in the Name of Self-Esteem
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This analysis of a controversial trend in American education—the gearing of public schools in the 1980s toward teaching

self-esteem—is all but doomed by its lack of focus and poor organization.

Stout (Educational Leadership and Policy Studies/California State Univ., Northridge) is certainly capable of lucid intellectual

history, as she shows in her accounts of the progressive school movement of the 1800s and the rise of "discovery learning" and

the "open curriculum" in the 1960s. But she is never able to do the same for what she calls "the self-esteem movement." After

differentiating real self-esteem (based on tangible achievements) from false self-esteem (based on uncritical self-regard), Stout

immediately abandons this distinction to launch into a slash-and-burn critique of every educational practice she attributes to the

self-esteem movement. She hits all the popular targets—grade inflation, cooperative learning, social promotion, multiculturalism,

Ritalin, poststructuralism—yet never makes a historical connection between any of these practices and the promoters of self-

esteem, writers she never even names until her final chapter. In the end, Stout's greatest problem is that she has become what

she beheld. Though she criticizes the self-esteem movement for its narcissism, she is relentlessly self-indulgent, peppering her

analysis with pointless glimpses into her personal life. (Why do we need to know that her Victorian literature teacher hated women

and flirted with men?) While decrying the "victim mentality" bred by self-esteemers, she portrays herself as a culture-wars

martyr, badgered by her students who expect A’s for subpar work and reviled by her ed-school colleagues for her resistance to

their constructivist methods.

Despite championing the cause of intellectualism over "emotivism," Stout lets her anger bleed onto virtually every page,

producing a document equally flavored by rant and whine, with just enough social history to let the reader taste what might have


Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 2000
ISBN: 0-7382-0257-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Perseus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000