Teaching kids how to feel

The self-esteem fad has hit Britain, and teachers are now being asked to be therapists charged with developing “emotional literacy” in students. Writing in The Telegraph, sociologist Frank Furedi notes there’s no evidence to support feelgood education. He adds:

In previous times, educators were charged with teaching children to behave well. Good conduct was associated with clearly defined public acts such as politeness, honesty and altruism. The regime of therapeutic education is based on a form of behaviour modification that not only targets conduct but also attempts to alter certain forms of feelings and emotions.

Training a child how to feel is far more intrusive and coercive than educating a pupil in how to behave. That is why dealing with the question of how children see themselves should be the business of the parent.

Well said.

About Joanne


  1. “Good conduct” used to mean such things as “keep your hands to yourself”, “if it’s not yours leave it along” and “don’t speak out of turn”. Judging from my very limited observations, those concepts have gone by the wayside.

  2. There is a sort of tyranny in the idea that people should “feel” a certain way all the time. If someone is unhappy with the way they look, is it better to try to change things or accept it? Maybe one, maybe the other, but don’t tell the self-esteem crowd the wrong answer. If someone can’t get along with others, it could be that the others are complete jerks. Or it could be the someone’s fault. Or both.

    Somewhere in the world of make-believe, we decided to implement a system under which all people will get along just because we’ve decided that it is important to do so. It’s a lovely underlying principle, but a load of crap in actual practice.

  3. This brings to mind a radio program I heard last week; apparently a lot of workplaces have replaced “sensitivity training” and “diversity training” with “relationship training”. The difference is that relationship training doesn’t tell people how to think; it tells them what is acceptable in terms of how they relate to their coworkers. Apparently it’s been a lot more successful than diversity training, which challenges people’s deeply held beliefs and hence encounters a lot of resistance.

  4. speedwell says:

    I am already seeing (at second-hand) the backlash of all this touchy-feely stuff in the classroom. Some of the teenagers I’m in the habit of talking to say that a few of their teachers have apparently tuned out of the self-esteem stuff altogether and have become pretty callous toward what the kids see as legitimate emotional issues. Sometimes you can’t keep an emotion bottled up until you get home; sometimes you can’t “leave home at home;” sometimes you simply need a sympathetic person to listen and care.

    The writer of the referenced article, like so many other writers who talk about the self-esteem of children, has trapped himself in the false dichotomy of “strict discipline or sloppy permissiveness.” This is what comes about when you think of teens as philosophical cannon fodder instead of as people with honest feelings and honest needs. Even if respect is a little too hard for many of us to muster (sarcasm) the least we can do is to be honest.

  5. It’s easy: Hate everyone equally.

  6. Those interested in further exploring ‘self-esteem’ and ‘Teaching kids how to feel’ might appreciate a dialogue on the relationship between self-esteem and learning located at http://www.implicity.org/selfesteem/
    as well as the effects of struggles with learning to read on self-esteem at http://www.childrenofthecode.org/cotcintro.htm

    David Boulton

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