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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 21/07/2011

My best friend Fran is in California on holiday at the moment and she has just emailed me to say:  'Saw this in a magazine at our Berkeley house and thought of you.' She then included a  link to an article in The Atlantic.  Valuing Fran's opinion I opened it immediately, read it and if she had been around I'd have given her a big hug. The article was not only interesting and highly readable but also personally gratifying and heartening.  

Since the early days of the Centre we have been somewhat out on a limb – critical of much of the practices of the self-esteem movement and warning of the impact this is having on youngsters' resilience and attainment.  Of course, we never supported old-style, cold, authoritarian child-rearing and educational practices but always thought there was a middle ground. We just didn't think  it was helpful that the ethos was swinging from one extreme to another.

Over the years I have given lots of talks on this topic and also covered a number of these ideas in my book Creating Confidence: A Handbook for professionals working with young people. This went down extremely well with the vast majority of teachers who could, on a daily basis, see exactly where many of the mis-placed, protective, self-esteem boosting practices were leading.  But I don't know that it won us much institutional support.  Of course, I have never believed that Scottish educational, or child-rearing practices, were identical to what was happening in the USA but, in terms of thinking, this was the trajectory we were on and this is certainly the view of many people working in education and other related sectors.

What I think has been needed is much more debate on these topics - debate initiated and  facilitated  by those running education (and other government departments with a responsibility for young people) and not just by a small organisation like the Centre. But instead of  encouraging thinking and discussion these various authorities and experts have been intent on drawing diagrams, or providing guidance, for what the new Curriculum for Excellence or Getting It Right For Every Child means. Once things are committed to paper in this way, particularly in folders with some degree of permanance, authorities have a vested interest in suppressing discussions and debate, not encouraging them. Inevitably our work which aims to question some fundamental issues such as whether extensive choice is a good thing, or whether focussing on confidence is actually a good way to foster it, can easily end up looking like it is unhelpful.

The article in The Atlantic is so heartening for those of us at the Centre as it shows how right we have been to raise these big questions for the last seven years. The USA is ahead of the UK in making this change in child-rearing and schooling practices and so we should pay attention to their experiences. In the USA many of those who were raised with protective, child-centred, self-esteem building parenting and schooling which gives youngsters lots of choices are now adults. And far from being happy and content with themselves they have little ability to cope with life and are ending up in therapy. This might not happen in Scotland, given that, unlike the USA, we don't have a therapy based culture but we are seeing a rise in mental health problems and so it makes  sense for us to pay attention to America's experience.

But don't take my word for it - read The Atlantic article and judge for yourself.

Note: You can read more or listen to some of the thinkers mentioned in the piece (Professor Barry Schwartz and  Dr Jean Twenge) outline their ideas on this website as we've been citing their work for years and they've given talks for the Centre.


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