Which Comes First?
In the circular riddle of the chicken or the egg, one can argue that either of them comes first, or that neither comes first, or that the riddle is just nonsense. Since most of us believe that everything in life is caused by something else, our minds are confounded by the premise that an egg could be prior to a chicken, or vice versa.
For parents and educators, a similar conundrum is posed when we wonder what must comes first for our children, success or self-esteem? Traditional wisdom tells us that any feelings of confidence and pride we may possess are always the product of our having done something notable to deserve feeling that way. Success, therefore, precedes and makes possible our self-esteem.
Through the influence of educators like John Dewey and child psychologists like Dr. Benjamin Spock, these assumptions have been stood on their heads in the last half-century. Today many believe that children must feel affirmed, appreciated, and honored if they are to have any chance of being successful in life. Perhaps this is why we now give awards to every participant, whether they can play their instrument or run, catch or throw, and why some schools give out passing grades to students whether they know the material or can pass a test.
So which does come first, success or self-esteem? We have all witnessed young people whose confidence has been lifted by praise and encouragement go on to accomplish great things. And we have also seen young people who have received negative comments from parents, teachers or peers just give up or underachieve.
At the same time history gives witness to a large number of people who achieved great things in art, sports, and industry yet came from disadvantaged, even abusive, childhoods. In fact an inordinate number of heroes and world-shakers seem to have found the determination to succeed despite ever receiving any of the strokes and affirmations that we associate with self-esteem. Likewise one can find too many examples of adults who were praised as great and gifted in their youth and yet who never came close to fulfilling their promise.
Could it be that self-esteem and the effort to succeed are both essential if we are to realize our potentials in life? Children thrive when they are cared for and valued while being held to a higher standard of responsibility and effort. That is why boys and girls who come to Ascension inevitably raise their game, so to speak. For we are a nurturing community wherein every student is welcomed as someone whom we value and count as one of our own And we are also a life laboratory in which young people are taught those habits and disciplines of success that raise the bar of what we expect of them, and they, in turn, expect of themselves.
Which comes first, success or self-esteem? At Ascension…both come first.