When I was packing away my teacher books I noticed one I have had since my college years: “100 Ways to Enhance Self-Concept in the Classroom” (Canfield and Wells, 1976). In fact, now that I look at it I am realizing I checked it out of my Dad’s library, probably when I was a student at Concordia.
Sorry about that, Dad, hope you are willing to waive the overdue fees.
Self-concept was a big topic when I was in school. It was still a big topic ten years later when I took my written and oral exams for my masters. Self-concept, as a teaching or parenting philosophy has received a bum rap over the years. The philosophy works under the adage that you can never love yourself too much. Our effort to improve self-concept in children has been blamed for creating self-centered, yet, insecure children who believe they can do no wrong. Activities, like the one on page 43 called “Bragging” in which children were encouraged to take five minutes, each, to list their stellar qualities, do not do much to give us confidence that these methods result in healthy happy children.
Let’s just say that if “self-concept” was a child he/she would need a little affirmation right now.
I have been reading an Ed/Psych text book to bring myself up to date on current issues and interestingly enough; the experts are still talking about the importance of self-concept. Now a child’s self perception is recognized as including three different things:
1. self-concept (Who am I?)
2. self- esteem (How good am I?) and
3. self-worth (How effective am I?)
While it may be more carefully defined, the basic idea has not improved in 30 years. If we base our self-concept on what the world understands about humans, we are setting up ourselves, or our children, for failure. No matter how you define it, study it, measure it, or teach it, we are sinners in a sinful world and we have no SELF worth. We have only GOD worth.
Let’s redefine self-worth through the eyes of faith:
Self- concept: Who am I?
We do not need to spend our lives searching for our true selves. Am I a wife? Teacher? Writer? Sales clerk? If one of these facts is altered does that change who I am? No, I am simply a child of God the Father. He made me and He loves me, no matter what. Who I am does not depend on what I do; it depends on who God is and the relationships He creates with me.
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. Isaiah 43:1
Self- esteem: How good am I?
Psychology books urge us to help children find what they are good at and to arrive at a sense that they are basically a good person. Society tells us as adults the same; if you have good intentions, that alone is enough. The Bible turns this upside down. I am not good. Even my good deeds are like dirty rags before the Lord. (Isaiah 64:6) I can never be good enough, or smart enough or fast enough or righteous enough. But, I don’t need to be. I am forgiven through the work of Jesus. My “goodness” is found in the redemptive act of Jesus.
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5: 8
Self-worth: How effective am I?
I need not agonize over whether or not I make a difference in the world. Will I leave my mark? Will people remember me? Will history remember me? My truth is I cannot be effective on my own merits. Without God I am useless. My freedom is that this does not matter because I am powered by the Holy Spirit. I am effective as God’s tool, doing His work, for the benefit of His kingdom.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22
When I take that test in my first Psychology class and the professor asks me about the role of a child’s self-perception in learning I guess I will have to make up something that sounds good. For myself, I am eternally grateful that my self-perception, self-concept, self-esteem and self-worth are not dependent on me but on the power and love of God.
I am His precious child and that is enough.