Emersonian self-reliance — based on self-knowledge and the study of poetry and heroes — has been replaced in our schools by inflated self-esteem, writes Michael Knox Beran in City Journal.
(Emerson) believed, as most Americans do, that there is in every man a restless desire to better himself, along with an innate desire to transcend unworthy impulses. The modern school of self-esteem, however, sees no need to transcend, no reason to make what Emerson called an “effort at the perfect” to find out the best and strongest places in one’s soul. The modern proponents of self-esteem argue that the undeveloped self, however callow, should be praised as it is. In contrast to Emerson’s work, the primitivist ethic of the self-esteem movement promotes not the discovery but the abdication of the self.
The long essay also praises the McGuffey readers and disses John Dewey.
With a quintessentially American faith that runs from Ben Franklin through Emerson and Abraham Lincoln, McGuffey orchestrated the music of his Readers toward a single end: the stimulation of his students’ desire for self-improvement. “The education, moral and intellectual, of every individual,” one of his utterly Emersonian lessons reads, “must be, chiefly, his own work. Rely upon it, that the ancients were right; both in morals and intellect, we give the final shape to our characters, and thus become, emphatically, the architects of our own fortune.”
In Emersonian fashion, McGuffey tried to guide the student’s inchoate desire to better himself. His primers are, like the early Greek poetry itself, intended to be shapers of ethos, character. The Readers praise hard work and thrift; they warn against intemperance, gambling, and procrastination; they teach the importance of patience, self-discipline, perseverance, and courage.
By contrast, Dewey “fostered youthful complacency. Instead of encouraging kids to find out the depths of their souls, Dewey was content to let them navigate the shallows.”
Thanks to Kimberly for the link.