Confidence: A feeling of assurance or certainty
Self-esteem: Pride in oneself
It’s probably because I am “educator” that I’m considered fair game for tasteless poster companies and other originators of visual drivel. Hardly a week goes by without the mail to Logos including a multi-colored, ocular-assaulting order form for sets of posters and accompanying materials designed to “build students’ self-esteem!” You’ve seen them. My favorite is the one with the sad-faced little boy and the message, “Ispecial, cuz God don’t make no mistakes!” (No, but sure do!) There are countless programs, materials, and even computer software available to assist teachers in pumping up their student’s self-esteem. It has gotten to the point that to have a “self-esteem” program in a school/class is bordering on child abuse.
Think about it. If you have had the occasion to hear educators talk about their students, how many more times is the term “self-esteem” used, versus the number of times you hear about developing “confidence?” Are these just synonyms for the same condition? Not according to traditional definitions of these terms. As noted above, one term relies on “pride in oneself”, and the other relies on “assurance” or “certainty” especially in regard to one’s abilities.
When I was teaching each of my four children to learn to ride a two-wheeler (and concurrently jogging more miles than our president ever has or will), I gasped out countless praises as to their personal attributes. Somehow all those praises didn’t seem to make them feel good about themselves, much less assist them in actually riding the bike. It was only when they had mastered staying upright and mobile for lengthy periods that they exuded a positive outlook on bike-riding. They had gainedin their abilities by , not accolades. Sure, my praises helped them more than criticisms would have, but it was success in attaining their goal, through much effort, that produced a lasting confidence.
Over the years at Logos, we have seen innumerable similar situations. Our teachers try not to be short on dispensing praise, but we have seen that the kind of praise students respond to best is praise for a their. We have also observed the very real truth that “success breeds success.” Students frequently prefer a task that includes the possibility of failure, if there is a chance for real success, vs. an “everyone wins” type of program. It seems only the very young enjoy a “Participant Ribbon”; the meaningless, you-were-there “award.” Very often just giving students a second chance to succeed after a failure, is far more confidence-building to them than praising them for what they know was a poor job. Most self-esteem efforts and promotion materials I have seen focus on intangible, cotton candy feelings in an effort to make the students “feel good about themselves.” Consistently in the numerous international testing comparisons from math to geography, students in the United States have been at or near the lowest rank for years. But, in one testing program they scored higher than any other students in the world; U.S. students ranked the highest in “feeling good” about themselves. Yippee.
The Bible nowhere commands, or even encourages us to feel good about ourselves; itrepeatedly command and encourage us to …hard, well, often, and with a good attitude, “as unto the Lord.” Only this kind of work brings confidence, and well-deserved praise. Ultimately, our goal as parents and Christian teachers is for the students to find their confidence in the Lord and seek His “Well done!” Children who live with these standards don’t need artificial pumping up and their will last a lifetime; “self-esteem” feelings are as temporary as a poster.