Self Esteem and the Role it Plays in Americas Schools

Self-esteem – The first thing that comes to mind in connecting this term to education is Columbine, that Littleton Colorado high school where in 1999 two teenagers, Harris and Klebold, decided to go on a murderous rampage.

Was it the ravages on their self-esteem caused by years of bullying that lit the fuse for this rampage? Or was it a larger assault on their self-esteem by a system that glorifies violence, belittles learning and culture and sets a standard for young males that defines them as either perpetrators or victims?

Schools in America are a mirror of the larger society, a microcosm of the larger sexist brutality of our corporate, capitalistic, greed-driven system. This system is heartless at its core because its sole purpose is profit, regardless of the cost to human beings or environment.

Although we are constantly lulled by mass advertising to believe everything is as it should be – that we are good people living in good country – the awful truth is that we live in a pitiless society that does not take care of its old, its sick and its injured, of its weaker and helpless members. It seeks instead to exploit all human situations, including the most sensitive and most crucial, and draw financial lifeblood from any source.

Health and education should be protected and nurtured – instead modern society capitalizes on them, using them as sources of income and aggrandizement for those who run the systems.

How can we expect the children in our schools to gain self-esteem in this pyramidic structure of power and submission? It is no wonder that they turn to alternative sources of inspiration or revolt. In many cases their life at home and their lives in school are crushing, materialistic, soul-defeating experiences. They begin their lives by enduring rather than growing – by tolerating rather than blossoming.

While it is said Harris without Klebold or Klebold without Harris would have never acted it behooves us to wonder why the possibility of their actions exists at all? How many others have acted out in similar ways, alone or as accomplices? There is obviously a pattern here, a pattern that reveals a deeper reality.

As long as we continue to expect something from our educational system that is not present in the society or the home we can be expected to fail. School is no sanctuary, no battle-free zone. It is in fact the crucible – the place where all forces collide and ignite.

When we respect and live up to deeper human values, when we stop focusing our culture on greed and profit we may have the opportunity to begin healing our sick and disrupted society. Until then any self-esteem we may posess for ourselves or our children will surely be an illusion.