The Importance of Self-Esteem in Education

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem" by Nathaniel Branden. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What role does self-esteem play in modern education? Why is it important that educators put effort into building healthy self-esteem in their students?

Developing self-esteem should be a major objective, not an afterthought. That’s the view of psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden. Since the aim of educational institutions is to provide students with the skills and qualities necessary for professional success, they must make building self-esteem—not compliance—their central focus. One way to do this is through the curriculum.

Read about the importance of self-esteem in education and how schools can adjust their curricula to promote healthy self-esteem.

Self-Esteem in Education

In his book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Branden stresses the importance of self-esteem in education: Schools are meant to provide their students with the tools necessary for success, and in the modern workforce, you need self-esteem to succeed. For example, many modern jobs require you to make judgment calls—which you can only do if you trust your own mind and thus have self-esteem. 

In education, self-esteem seems to be an afterthought. Schools focus on teaching compliance over self-esteem because that was necessary for success in previous labor markets: Back when most people worked in factories, you succeeded if you followed orders well. But this system doesn’t work anymore.

(Shortform note: The findings of one 2019 McKinsey study suggest that, in the nearly 30 years since Six Pillars was published, schools have not updated their curricula to provide students with these skills. Over half of companies struggle to hire employees who can solve problems or are adaptable—both skills that require self-esteem.)

So how, exactly, can schools adjust their curricula to teach self-esteem? Branden suggests three main additions. 

1. Schools should teach children how to feel and accept their emotions without acting on them. Many children are rejected by their parents when they express emotion—so they learn that certain emotions are bad and should be suppressed or ignored to avoid parental rejection. By teaching children how to properly deal with their feelings, schools can prevent these kids from growing into adults who always suppress or ignore their emotions—in other words, who live in self-rejecting ways that damage their self-esteem. 

(Shortform note: In contrast, psychologist Daniel Goleman suggests that acting on negative emotions appropriately is the key to utilizing them effectively. In Emotional Intelligence, Goleman explains that some students succeed by using their anxiety as a source of motivation. In fact, there’s an ideal peak of useful anxiety in which the amount of nervousness propels the worrier toward excellence.)

2. Schools should teach children how to have healthy relationships because healthy self-esteem requires confidence in your ability to do so. (Shortform note: Researchers add that teaching children how to have healthy relationships in school may also reduce domestic violence among young people.) 

3. Schools should teach children critical thinking skills because, in a world that depends on knowledge work, students must learn how to use their minds effectively in order to survive. (Shortform note: One technology company adds that teaching critical thinking to kids can also help them detect and avoid misinformation on the internet, which could lead them to avoid dangerous situations like meeting a stranger on the web.) 

The Importance of Self-Esteem in Education

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem summary :

  • Exactly how to behave to improve your self-esteem
  • Why you need to take responsibility for your life and actions
  • Why so many self-esteem techniques don't work

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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