Introduction

A solitary poster in the cafeteria of a small northeastern school recently caught my attention. The top line of the poster, written in large letters, read,

DO YOURSELF A FAVOR

with the word "yourself" highlighted as above. Just below the top line was written,

COMPLIMENT SOMEONE TODAY!

The center of the poster featured a cartoon depicting a smiling rabbit closely resembling Bugs Bunny, wielding a paint brush and dripping yellow paint on itself while painting a large sunburst. The words issuing from the rabbit's mouth said,

IT'S HARD TO SPREAD SUNSHINE WITHOUT
SPILLING A LITTLE ON YOURSELF!

The feature of this poster that provoked this discussion is that its message specifically urges readers to compliment others as a favor to oneself, rather than as an act of kindness and charity toward others. The message implies that a major motive for "doing good" is that such acts spill onto oneself, thus making the person paying the compliment feel good. The poster explicitly turns the attention of cafeteria users inward toward their own feelings, rather than outward to concern for others. Yet the latter would be a more appropriate message, urging altruism rather than narcissism. In this way, the poster exemplifies a wider trend in early childhood and elementary school practices that seem to confuse narcissism and the important goal of strengthening children's self-esteem.

A central argument of this essay is that a characteristic of current early childhood education practices which is exemplified by the poster provides environments for young children that are at best unreal and at worst phony rather than authentic, fanciful rather than imaginative, and more amusing and entertaining than interesting and intellectually challenging. Commendable as it is for children to have high self-esteem, many of the practices advocated in the service of this goal may inadvertently develop narcissism in the form of excessive preoccupation with oneself instead of a deep and meaningful sense of self-confidence and self- worth. The fact that the poster's message is issued by a cartoon animal character, another common feature of early childhood practices, further undermines the intellectual vitality of early childhood environments.

The major purpose of this essay is to explore contemporary early childhood educational practices related to self-esteem and narcissism. I begin with examples of the practices in question, continue with a discussion of definitional problems associated with self-esteem and their implications for practice, then consider specific practices, and close with some examples of the uses and misuses of enchantment and their implications for practice.

But first, brief working definitions of self-esteem and narcissism are offered. Self-esteem refers to feelings derived from evaluations of the self. Narcissism is a preoccupation with oneself and how one is seen by others. These terms are discussed in greater detail in a later section.


Continue to Self-Esteem as a Goal of Early Childhood Education

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