When I was in junior high, they tried doing this "character education" program with us once a week. I don't remember much of it, other than that we all thought it was lame, and it talked about self-esteem a lot. The message that came across was that we should all be proud of ourselves no matter what.
Personally, I've never found that approach effective. Saying everyone should feel good about themselves is empty, hollow, meaningless. It sure didn't work for me. What does work? Encouraging kids to do something they can be proud of, perhaps. Helping them accomplish those things. Emphasizing pride in things of more intrinsic value (like accomplishing something through hard work) than extrinsic (like being the most popular kid in school).
This week, I heard about some events at recent high school graduations. Four seniors have to complete twenty hours of community service before getting their diplomas, because their family and friends cheered when their names were called during the ceremony. I thought the no-cheering rule was odd and surely an isolated thing, but no. A graduate's mother was arrested for supposedly cheering too much for her daughter.
From what I've read, the reasoning behind the anti-cheering (or anti-excessive-cheering) ceremonies is that in the past, some families have carried on so much that the following students' names couldn't even be heard, or delayed the ceremony by refusing to settle down for several minutes. Maybe that's true. Maybe it's been a problem in some places. (But arresting the mom? Really?)
At the same time, part of me suspects there's a bit more beneath. Could it be that these rules are so some kids don't feel bad that they get less cheering than some of their classmates? I don't know. But I think it's possible.
I just attended a graduation a week ago. It was unusual. The state governor was the speaker. The graduating class consisted of just ten kids. Most of the ceremony was in ASL, with interpreters over the sound system, so "not hearing" something wasn't an issue. Anyone could cheer as much as they wanted.
So I thought back to my own graduation. I was in a graduating class of several hundred. The graduation was held in a university arena. They cranked through our names fairly quickly. Some kids had loud and enthusiastic cheering sections, but I'm pretty sure the sound system beat them out.
Then, when some girl I didn't even know had her turn to walk across, half of the arena erupted. It didn't make sense. Then I found out why.
This had just happened:
John Stockton had to feel pretty proud of himself. Deservedly so.
And I didn't need my family to cheer that loudly for me to know they were proud of me.
What's your take on self-esteem? How do we encourage kids to develop it without making it empty and meaningless?