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#21 David's Response to January 20, 2005 Scientific American Article:
Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth

Dear Editors of  Scientific American,                                                                                                                January 21, 2005

Re: Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth - January 20th Article in Scientific American

I wish to thank you and the authors for this important contribution to the self-esteem dialogue. I would also like to share the following with you and the authors:

Who doesn’t want ‘inner-health’ and ‘outer success’ for themselves and their children? Clearly, they are related and the potential benefit of deepening our understanding of how they’re related warrants serious scientific inquiry. The question here is whether the 'self-esteem' discussion is taking us there. Unfortunately, both sides appear lost in the mythic assumptions that A) 'self-esteem' is a good 'domain-name' for a serious scientific inquiry into 'inner/subjective health' and B) that whatever we mean by it, it's something that is accumulated and built up into an edifice.

Modern neuroscience is proving that we are naturally oriented towards 'inner/subjective health'. However, maintaining that health depends on healthy-learning. It is the accumulation of self-negative images, primatively imagined to protect ourselves from overwhelming feelings (inadequacy, fault, shame...) that stress and overwhelm the health of our learning. When we become learning-disabled by our aversion to negative feelings, in ways fundamental to the learning/development of ourselves, we exhibit, what is often referred to as 'low self-esteem' and its associated effects.

Our nation's reading crisis connects to our nation's educational difficulties and social pathologies via 'inner subjective health' / 'self-esteem' in ways that illustrates this:

It is not the absence of the positive effects of reading proficiency that are most responsible for the strong correlation between reading improficiency and social pathology. It's the collateral injurious effects of attempting to learn/improve reading proficiency that, more than only dis-enabling, are adversely effecting cognitive and emotional health.

An aversion to shame evoked in insufficient learning environments results in 'learning aversions' that fundamentally harm cognitive and emotional health and development. Within affected dimensions of learning, learning aversions become, cognitively and emotionally, pathological learning disabilities. The affected dimensions (complex, abstract, mind-trust, learning-faith, 'self-esteem'...) are co-implicate in the developmental/unfolding learning of 'self' and in educational attainment. Social pathology is an inevitable effect of such personal learning disabilities.

All of which is to say, that in the emerging scientific model of education, one rapidly moving towards medicine (ala Flexner) and consequently challenging notions like 'self-esteem', I think our concern for 'self-esteem' (whatever we call it + more importantly the health of learning) can be best served by the first principle of medicine which is:

Above all else, do no harm


David Boulton

Producer, Children of the Code, A Public Television Documentary

Stewarding the Health of Our Children's Learning - The Code and the Challenge of Learning to Read It.

Please do forward this to the article's authors.

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