The Self-Esteem Movement and College Leftism 1

By Aleksey Bashatvenko

“The presidency is the incarnation of the American people, in a sacrament resembling that in which the water and the wine are seen to be the body of Christ.” -Herman Finer

In 1945, only 2 out of 10 people claimed that they were special or more talented than the average person. Today, 6 out of 10 people make a similar claim and the same holds true for 8 out of 10 college students. Over 50% of college students believe that they deserve a high-paying and a prestigious job immediately upon graduation. The overwhelming 70% of millennials think that they are of substantially above average intelligence and are capable of achieving great things in life. In nearly all surveys conducted on this matter, millennials were almost unanimous in their declaration that becoming famous is both possible and desirable for them.

However, the reality of the job-market does not match their expectations. Recent publications of the Federal Reserve Bank study revealed that as few as 27% of college graduates work jobs that are related to their college degree and as few as 36% are employed in a line of work where a college degree is required. This should not be surprising as the recent study carried out by the Council for Aid in Education discovered that 40 percent of College seniors lack the critical thinking, analytical reasoning and communication skills necessary for professional success. Predictably, 58 percent of employers insisted that the system of education must undergo considerable improvements in order for new graduates to become competent contributors to the job market.

There is no job shortage in high skilled positions as employers of the IT industry continue to look for competent help. Despite their efforts to fill in these positions with immigrant labor-power, the demand for high-skilled labor remains very high. Although the low-skill jobs have been outsourced, America remains a bastion of technological innovation. The fields of medicine, mathematically advanced finance and engineering are lacking professionals who can stimulate the creative destruction of capitalism that American companies wish to capitalize on. Despite the shortage of competent labor-power in America, college students continue to hold rallies clamoring for the expansion of the social safety net to finance their fanciful self-indulgence.

The millennials are known for their cantankerous and rebellious attitudes. To be sure, if one was to bring a dozen of them in a room, they would hardly agree on a single political point. Indeed, one can scarcely expect anything different given their extraordinary powers of reasoning and the remarkably breadth of their general knowledge . Yet, if there is one thing they agree on, it is that the government should be “on their side” rather than “off their backs”. Over sixty percent of millennials believe that a strong government is needed to handle “today’s complex economic problems” while only 46 percent of non-millennials subscribe to this viewpoint. Over 50% of millennials claim that the government should play an active role in solving society’s problems while only about 30% of non-millennials agree with that. Nearly half of millennials view the Federal government in a positive manner while only about a third of the rest of the citizenry share that sentiment. Similarly, 46 percent of millennials display confidence in the government’s ability to solve social problems while around 30 percent of older generations think likewise. Most fervently, millennials believe that the government should be more involved in education and should make college affordable.

Why are the millennials so devoted to the idea of the government becoming more involved in education? Are they blind to the fact that when the government floods student loans with federal money, college tuition goes up?  Are they not aware that the enormous debt they have accumulated will never be paid off with the jobs they will acquire upon graduation? That only seems intuitive given the aforementioned statistics about the severe underemployment among college graduates most of whom work low-paying jobs that do not require a college degree. Are they incapable of understanding that when the federal government offers munificent financial aid to nearly all students who desire it, the demand for college education increases? Is the elementary law of supply and demand truly beyond their comprehension?

When the demand for any good or service increases, the price goes up and its provider becomes less accountable to the consumer. The law of diminishing marginal utility shows that the more of the same good one receives, the less valuable the good in question will become over time. Similarly to how these college students would concede that after having devoured enough sweats at their all night unsupervised cake party, they are likely to become less interested in eating more. Given that they scarcely have a concept of money, it is an exercise in futility to ask them if they would be less likely to pay a premium price for the fifth or sixth piece of cake than they did for the first one. Yet, if they could be forced to understand that after they have consumed the fifth piece of cake, they may not want to eat the sixth one, one just may hope that the following insight can dawn upon them.

If the government made it possible for almost anybody to obtain a college, does it not follow that universities can easily procure all of the customers they could need? In that case, does the law of diminishing marginal utility show that the university administrators will regard these students as less valuable? If students are regarded as less valuable, does it not follow that the universities will have less of an incentive to be sensitive to their needs? In that case, should it be surprising that college classrooms continue to balloon and they are now more likely to be taught by TAs than professors? Should it also be surprising that college students are hardly capable of writing a coherent paragraph, let alone think critically?

Remarkably, the majority of students are not dissatisfied with their university experience. Upon acquisition of their Bachelor’s degree, over 85% of students report being mostly satisfied or completely satisfied with their university experience. Such surveys have also shown that most students are more likely to admire pop-culture celebrities rather than scholars of stupendous intellect. If most students were asked if they would rather be more like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Albert Einstein, they would favor Arnold without hesitation. Given all of the obvious problems with the system of higher education, what value can colleges contribute to the lives of their students that is so great, that it outweighs all of their losses?

John Taylor Gatto proposed an answer to this question: provisional self-esteem. In their hearts, students do not believe that their academic success represents achievements to take pride in and they shouldn’t . In 1998, grade A’s represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28% since 1960 and 12% since 1988. With the massive proliferation of online degree mills such as Strayer, Ashford, Kaplan, DeVry and University of Phoenix, it is evident that grade inflation increased by an even wider margin in the last two and a half decades. Additionally, this manifests in light of the fact that conventional four year schools are emulating the degree mill paradigm by offering more online classes and replacing tenured professor positions with callow TAs. At the very least, today’s average academic institution bears a much closer semblance to University of Phoenix than to a traditional University where nearly all intellectually gifted students coveted admission in the 40s and 50s.

Despite all of the praise educators lavish on students for mediocre work, it cannot emerge as the basis of their durable self-esteem. Aristotle claimed that in order to cultivate virtuous dispositions of character, one must act in a manner that displays such virtues. Over time, these virtues will become an essential part of their character. Clearly, formal education does not help students cultivate moral courage or intellectual ability, regardless of whether the average grade in class is an A- or an A. However, students are able to feel good about themselves on a short-term basis if they are repeatedly told how wonderful they are. That is what John Taylor Gatto refers to as “provisional self-esteem”. Even the least intelligent and the least inquisitive of students eventually begin catching on. Sooner or later, they realize that they have not accomplished much to deserve such praise.

To lull their self-critical judgment, educators must make them intellectually and emotionally dependent on positive feedback. They do so by indoctrinating pupils into an ideology that entirely divorces their identity from their achievements. In other words, students are to believe that they are wonderful, regardless of whether their actions truly deserve praise. For this reason, the academic class invented a litany of social justice “causes” that students can “contribute to” without doing anything of value. For example, recently Ithaca College Student government set up an online system where they could document “micro-aggressions” on campus. All students need to do is document which of their peers made remarks that could somehow be construed as offensive to a protected demographic group. Berkeley students recently held a rally clamoring for the creation of gender neutral restrooms on campus. What purpose could this possibly be done for? Students need to feel that they are doing something important by acting in a way that does not involve “discrimination” against transsexuals. On a different occasion, Berkeley students voiced outrage that their philosophy class did not involve any readings from transgender authors.

It is not enough for campus officials to merely bolster the students’ self-esteem by allowing them to participate in meaningless political outcries that never solve real social problems. If students are constantly reminded that they are exceptionally compassionate, altruistic and tolerant, they will likely believe that they have a great heart. Yet, they cannot believe that they have a great head unless they also receive the best grades they could possibly want. It’s not enough for the average student to get an A or an A-, they should also be able to do it with ease. The mainstream media is saturated with messages about how wonderful, special and unique each youngster is, so they expect themselves to be remarkably gifted. As most narcissists do, college students expect to succeed without devoting any effort to the task at hand.

Perhaps with a smidgen of effort, an average student could do reasonably well in a dumbed down curriculum for a challenging subject such as history or philosophy, but that takes hard work and today’s college students do not like to work hard. For this reason, academic institutions created entire departments of academic disciplines entirely bereft of practical value or theoretical depth. Examples of this include Queer Studies, Miscellaneous literature emphasizing Star Wars and even entire Departments devoted to the Feminist Critique of the Bible. Even Harvard was not above such low-brow gimmicks when they offered an entire class on anal sex.

Permissive parenting has become increasingly more common in American families. Children are now brought up to expect a great deal from the world without devoting much effort to earning what they demand from other people. By the time they become adults in the eyes of the law,  parents tend to push off their offspring to a surrogate parent of the Ivory Tower. That is why college students continue to demand boundless praise in the form of recognition for their “social conscience”. The callow youth justify such demands by participating in rallies that “raise awareness” about “important social problems” that they have no intention of solving. Upon returning to class, the campus protesters’ attitude hardly changes as they expect to be rewarded with the highest of grades that they have not earned.

One would hope that upon graduating from college, America’s youth are more than ready to begin acting like real adults. That is, they will look upon their university experience as a prolongation of adolescence and leave their peccadilloes in the past where they belong. Not so, increasingly more young adults continue to live with their parents and blame Corporate America for their plights. In light of John Taylor Gatto’s “provisional self-esteem” thesis which shows that youngsters are now not only dependent on the incessant praise from teachers, but also on the ideology of gratuitous self-congratulation, one should not be surprised that they are incapable of questioning this patently implausible notion.

Once the millennials move out of their dorms and move in with their parents, they frantically search for their next surrogate parent in the work-place. Upon discovering that a modicum of common-sense, common decency and competency is a prerequisite for sustained employment, these children voice their contempt for the job-market not by refusing to perform well at their jobs, but by refusing to look for them in the first place. Today, over 93.5 million Americans are not participating in the work-force and nearly 16 percent of all people between the ages of 25 to 54 are no longer looking for a job. At least they found the surrogate parent in the government that is supposed to bankroll the children who never grow up.

These new college graduates expect little more than gratification for their puerile impulses. They have entered a covenant with the Federal government resembling that of Christians with God the Father. Just as God is the Almighty creator of the Universe, the government is the Almighty creator of all the good things in life. Despite their infantile remonstrations against the private sector, they are hardly capable of noticing the collusion between the Federal Government they romanticize and Big Business they inveigh. Presumably, when their favorite politician such as John Kerry or Al Gore leaves the board of directors of a transnational enterprise to join the Democratic Party, he undergoes a miraculous transformation. He somehow metamorphosizes from an opprobrious exploiter of the oppressed to their most ardent champion.

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