Affective Education*

Danger of Self-Esteem Programs

The Affect

Psychological curricula deals with the AFFECT, or emotions. The movement has been labeled Affective Education by educators, and includes a wide range of programs and curricula which attempt to change the values and behavior of students. Public schools, and even some private schools, spend valuable classroom time engaged in "cooperative" learning (group learning) encounter sessions and discussion groups that employ pop psychology. These programs are designed for a very specific purpose -- to change the attitudes, values and beliefs of children in order to prepare them to be proper environmental citizens in the "sustainable" global village. Such behavior-modification programs are the very root of the destruction of America's public education system.

With the rise of whole-brain research in the 1950s and 1960s, and with the concurrent development of humanistic education, affective education got its start with a program called Quest. Quest was first marketed as a "humanistic values education curriculum" in 1975. The Quest program has been revised considerably since the first 400-page curriculum was published. A second version was released in 1982, and six versions of the program have been published since.

Program Goals

Some programs are specifically targeted at resolving social problems such as drug abuse, the reduction of teen pregnancy, the reduction of school dropout rates, crime, and other social ills.

Even though described as "value-free," most of the programs do deal with values, or their clarification. Almost all claim positive outcomes such as:

Almost without exception, the psychological curricula use a foundation of moral relativism and self-interest as the primary motivation for character development or behavior modification.

A lucrative market has been developed since their inception in the mid-1970s. Estimates of the number of affective education programs range up to 300 now being marketed in U.S. public schools. They are often funded by civic groups such as Lions Club or Kiwanis, or large companies.

Most are identified as "living or coping skills development" programs. Collectively they are called Affective Education Programs, dealing with the emotional content of a child's learning processes, as opposed to cognitive education programs, which deal with academics such as reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Most importantly, they attempt to change values, therefore coming into conflict with parents, because they influence the value systems of students exposed to them.


Affective education employs a number of psychological and pedagogic principles as primary to their success. The most significant of these principles includes beliefs such as:

One of the founders of value-free education, Dr. W.R. Coulson, now admits that he made a costly mistake in pushing affective education programs on the American school system:

"Youthful experimentation with sex, alcohol, marijuana, and a variety of other drugs -- whatever's popular at the time -- has been shown to follow value-free education quite predictably. We now know that after these classes, students become more prone to give into temptation than if they'd never been enrolled."

The following are some of the more popular Affective Education Programs:

Project Self-Esteem

Project Self-Esteem is an elementary level program which purports to enhance self-esteem, improve memory, improve communication skills, stress individuality, increase sensitivity to others, and improve self responsibility.

Project Self-Esteem is based upon a form of moral relativism (situation ethics), which uses self- interest as the primary motivator for character development. One example from the section on stealing -- The objectives state that the child will:

No judgment is made concerning the wrongness of stealing, and teachers are instructed to refrain from making judgments about the rightness or wrongness of the act or injecting their own moral values. Self-interest, not society, is the norm of behavior.

The child is asked to assess the short-term and long-term benefits, his feelings and the feelings of the people affected by his actions, and then to decide a course of action based upon what is best for him.

This is a sophisticated and mature line of reasoning for a child, requiring him to assess long-term over short-term benefits. For a child, at what the learning theorist Piaget called the "pre-operational stage of development," such reasoning power is highly questionable.

A substantial part of the Project Self-Esteem program focuses on personal feelings, beliefs, and attitudes, with the object of changing them. Such activities could be identified as a form of psychological testing and treatment.


Quest was originally published as a Humanistic Values Curriculum in 1975. The Quest program is divided into two main curricula: Skills for Living -- High school level; and Skills for Adolescence for grades 6-8. The program has undergone substantial modification, and at least seven different producers have marketed the program.

The promotion of Skills for Adolescence is a special project of the Lions Club International. Local Lions Clubs promote and often finance the adoption of the Quest program at the local level.

Its most serious fault is the use of values clarification techniques. The program places "overwhelming emphasis on students feelings, emotions, and private family information, compared to the much lesser significance given to facts about the danger of drugs and alcohol."

The most common question concerning Quest is: "Is it a drug education program or isn't it?" The Skills for Adolescence program is composed of seven instructional units, only one of which is about the facts and dangers of drugs and alcohol. The other "dimensions" of the program deal with thinking, feeling, decision-making, communication and action.

Since 1982, when the second edition of the program was published, it has been "used in more than 8,000 communities and schools throughout the world." One of the co-authors described the program as "... a humanistic education curriculum ... a curriculum designed to enhance students self-esteem ... It has lots of values clarification in it ... lots of communication skills ... lots of self-talk ... It's, I think, you know, a really fine synthesis of a live humanistic education" (Howard Kirschenbaum, ASCD Convention, 1984).

The program has come under considerable fire in its long history. Parents have objected to the program's intrusive nature and seeming lack of emphasis on its purported purpose. Prominent psychologist Joseph Adelson, Ph.D. Professor of psychology at the University of Michigan Psychological Clinic in Ann Arbor, has stated that "Certain parts of the syllabus qualify as personality testing."

100 Ways to Enhance Self-Esteem in the Classroom

The author of this manual is California psychologist, Jack Canfield. He recommends a variety of techniques, which include Eastern religions precepts like guided imagery, meditation, relaxation exercises, and yoga exercises.

Canfield's theory of self-esteem is based on a distinction between the left and right brain. He claims the brain has two hemispheres. The left hemisphere controls the logical thinking while the right hemisphere controls feelings and impulses. Canfield asserts that working with guided imagery stimulates the right brain and will help students solve all their problems -- not just academic ones, but physical ones as well. Guided imagery will help them to be smarter and more creative, will increase their memory capacity, allow them to answer any troubling questions they have, will increase their athletic performance, and even help to relieve headaches!

Guided Imagery exercises are usually introduced by asking students to discuss their dreams, nightmares, recurring dreams, and the importance of dreams to our physical and mental health. A typical guided imagery exercise is preceded with a brief period of relaxation. Then, students are told to notice how their stomach and chest rise and expand.

Parents in Stockton, California learned that a Canfield curriculum was being used in a 10th grade English class. Students told their parents they were practicing mind-relaxing exercises in the class. When parents checked with the teacher to find out what the purpose of these exercises was, he said he was teaching students to learn how to relax to reduce tensions before bedtime or to minimize stress in their lives. (This was supposed to help them do better work in their English class.) The curriculum used in the class was Canfield's 18-page manual on Introduction to Guided Imagery, which the teacher had obtained at a workshop on "self-esteem."

Over 600 concerned citizens protested the use of this curriculum, which was eventually removed after a dialogue with the school board and administration.

Workshop Way

This is supposedly a reading program for Grades 1-6. The emphasis, however, is on attitude changes and developing feelings of self-worth. Among the philosophical statements of Workshop Way are:

1) The foremost goal in Workshop Way is to protect each child's dignity.

2) Growing a positive self-concept is feasible for all students because the self-concept is never associated with knowledge, skills or right answers.

3) Obstacles to Workshop Way include report cards and morning recesses (which destroy any chance of developing concentration in most students) as well as parents demanding papers with work marked right or wrong.

Workshop Way uses a series of concentration tasks to develop self-esteem. There are ten motor coordination tasks that pupils perform daily. One exercise is called "Pouring." The pupil practices pouring water from one container into another without spilling it. He repeats this until he wishes to quit.

Parents in Jenks, Oklahoma describe Workshop Way as being anti-intellectual and anti-education, because academic skills are subordinated to the "self-actualization" of the child. The program clearly states that one of the major goals is to lead pupils toward "higher levels of consciousness and deepening awareness in students by leading them to self-discovery."

Skills for Adolescence

This program, produced by the Quest organization in Ohio, is very popular all over the country. It promises to improve communication skills and self-esteem by teaching students to make "responsible" decisions.

Students engage in rap sessions resembling group psychotherapy during which they discuss their private emotions and attitudes -- what makes them sad or happy, what worries them. They also participate in touchy-feely games which are supposed to make them feel good about themselves. Some of these games include: "Machine" (groups of students create machines using their bodies and sounds); "Open Fist Simulation" (attempt to open partner's fist); "Pretzel" (untwist body contortions); and imagination games like "Elevator" (pretend the floor is a certain year of your life and describe that year).

Six classroom sessions of the Skills for Adolescence curriculum are devoted to the topic of private emotions. In one assignment, students are supposed to fill in an "Emotional Clock" indicating what time of day they feel anger, happiness, frustration, nervousness, surprise, anxiety, or sadness, and then must write down the reason for the particular emotion.

PUMSY in Pursuit of Excellence

This is a very popular self-esteem program written by Jill Anderson and published by Timberline Press in Eugene, Oregon. Pumsy is a girl dragon who has three parts to her mind. These include her Sparkler Mind, her Clear Mind, and her Mud Mind. The author defines the Sparkler Mind as a mind that runs and plays like tiny pieces of happy lightning. Pumsy wishes the Sparkler Mind would last forever. The Clear Mind is defined as a pond, still and quiet, in the middle of a spring meadow. When Pumsy is in her Clear Mind, she feels good about herself and at peace. The Mud mind is defined as a puddle of mud that does not allow her to think clearly. When she is in her Mud Mind, she doesn't feel good about herself. All 39 pages of Pumsy are devoted to the self-analysis of the three parts of the mind.

In a school district in Sonoma, California which uses Pumsy, the children in a second-grade class (8-year-olds) were told to get rid of their "mud" mind by writing down their "mud" (negative) thoughts to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad." One little boy wrote the following illiterate ditty expressing self-hatred:

"I'v ben worken on my mud mind. I'v ben work en hard. I hate my self. I am no good. I wish I could kill my self."

When the boy brought this assignment home, his mother asked him whether he really felt this way. His answer was "No!" Then she asked why he wrote these things. His reply was, "Because I thought that's what the teacher wanted me to write."

The boy received the idea of hating himself directly from the "Pumsy Storybook." There are several pages about the Mud Mind. In one section, Pumsy lets her Mud Mind say, "I'm no good," 100 times. The phrase ,"I'm no good," written by the child came directly from the text. Because of the requirement that the children write their "mud" thoughts down on paper, this little boy was forced to write negative things about himself -- whether or not he really believed them.

An even more tragic event was reported in Beverly Eakman's book Educating for the New World Order. On March 24, 1990, an 8-year-old boy in Michigan, Stephen Nalepa, saw a film entitled "Nobody's Useless" as part of a self-esteem exercise in his second-grade class. One purpose was to encourage compassion for the physically handicapped. There was an explicit description in the film of how to hang oneself, showing how to apply a rope to the carotid artery and cut off air supply. Unlike the boy in the film, who was rescued from his suicide attempt, Stephen Nalepa was found dead in his bedroom, his feet a couple of inches off the ground.

The DUSO Program

This program, "DUSO--Developing Understanding of Self and Others," contains 42 guided imagery lessons in which children are ordered by teachers, the same way a hypnotist orders his subjects, to relax and close their eyes. Then the children are told to imagine they're traveling to strange planets, meeting friendly creatures. Former Las Vegas hypnotist Phil Potter (El Cajon, Calif.) reviewed DUSO and says that it is "exactly what we call hypnotism."

As a result of parental complaints about DUSO in New Mexico and other mind-altering programs, a resolution was passed in 1988 that the teaching of or counseling by certain mind-altering psychological techniques be entirely eliminated in New Mexico public schools.


Many parents have sought to protect their children from the behavior-modification programs (described above) that have taken the place of academic education in public schools. To escape the assault of Outcome-Based Education (OBE), multi-culturalism, and workforce training programs, parents in ever-increasing numbers are placing their children in private schools or are home-schooling. In spite of the "school wars," parents have felt safe taking their children to Sunday School to help build a solid moral foundation. But, your church's Sunday School curriculum may be as bad as that in the public schools -- tree-hugging, earth-worshipping paganism intermixed in the Christian lessons.

Many churches are now using a Sunday School curriculum created by an organization in Colorado called "Group." There is nothing in Group's publications that tells who they are, what they believe in, or anything about the backgrounds of the creators of the materials. Nevertheless, Group curriculum is now sold in most Christian bookstores. The Group material offers "Hands-on Bible curriculum" and advocates a "new approach to learning."

However, a close inspection of Group's materials and teaching methods shows it bears a close resemblance to the behavior-modification techniques of OBE. For example, under the sub-head "Successful Teaching: You can do it!," the teacher's manual asks the question: "What does active learning mean to you as a teacher? It takes a lot of pressure off because the spotlight shifts from you to the students. Instead of being the principle player, you become a guide and FACILITATOR." This is basic OBE classroom organization where students are not taught by a teacher, but are guided to learn on their own, as the class FACILITATOR simply suggests and gently directs toward a pre-programmed, psychology-driven lesson plan.

Just as in OBE behavior-modification exercises, the Group curriculum provides "Problem Cards" for student discussion of personal and family issues. Some examples from the Group workbook for fifth and sixth grade Sunday School classes:

1. PROBLEM CARD: "It seems like my parents fight all the time. I don't know what's going to happen. I'm afraid they're going to split up."
PROBLEM CARD: "The cool kids at school treat me like a total nothing. It's like I don't even exist."
PROBLEM CARD: "My dad is afraid he's going to lose his job, so we don't get to go anywhere on vacation this summer."
PROBLEM CARD: "I got in trouble for not cleaning up my room. Now I'm grounded for the weekend and can't go to my friend's birthday party. Doesn't that stink?"

Each of these examples are designed for group discussions in which the entire class takes on one child's personal problem. Personal family business is disclosed, parental authority is questioned, and student "self-esteem" becomes the central concern. This is Outcome-Based Education at work in the Sunday School class. Worse, all of it is done under the authority of the local church.

Then, there's  pagan earth-worshipping. In a Group lesson entitled "Hug a Tree," students are led outside to an area with trees. A child is blindfolded and led to a tree where he/she is to hug it, and then feel the tree very carefully: "Try to learn everything about the tree that you can without looking at it." The student is led back to the group, spun around three times, and the blindfold is removed. The Group tree-hugging lesson goes on to instruct the facilitator: "After everyone has hugged a tree, been spun around and sat down, remove the blindfolds and find out how many kids can identify the trees they hugged. If it's a nice day, sit down on the grass and discuss the experience." Questions for the "facilitator" to ask: (1) How did it feel to hug a tree?; (2) How did you feel when you recognized the tree you hugged?; and (3) What do you like about trees?

Another part of the lesson is called "Life Applications." Children are to be taken on a walk around the outdoor area of the church. Once back inside, "Ask about the natural surroundings and human-made sounds. Talk about natural beauty and human-made pollution. If you want, have the kids go back outside and pick up any trash they saw on the walk." Question for the "facilitator to ask: “How do you think God feels when He sees how people have messed up the beautiful world he created?" Children are then given a game to play to simulate pollution.

In a Group Workbook entitled, "Sunday School Specials," a chapter tells students that "real conservation means remembering to turn off lights, hiking or biking instead of hitching a car ride, and cooling off in the shade instead of in the air conditioning. Kids are often tempted to do things the easy way instead of the 'green' way. They need lots of encouragement and affirmation to develop and stick to an environment-conscious lifestyle ..." That one line demonstrates an important key to the purpose of Group's Sunday School curriculum -- to promote a political agenda based on pagan earth worship rather than Christian values.

A Typical Self-Esteem Questionnaire

In many self-esteem classes, confidential questionnaires are given to students in order to determine how students feel about themselves and their family. One questionnaire called "The Doctor is In" lists 20 statements and asks students in all grade levels to "put a check next to each statement that applies to you." A few of these statements follow:

After completing the questionnaire, students are instructed to select three statements that are true for them personally, and to write an essay discussing at least three of their choices and why they feel that way.

Criticisms of Self-Esteem Programs

There has been a barrage of criticism leveled against self-esteem programs:

1) They teach "New Age" and Eastern religious precepts which violate separation of church and state.

2) They violate the child's right of privacy by probing into private feelings and attitudes resembling group psychotherapy.

3) They have not been proven to be beneficial to the child either emotionally or academically. To the contrary, there are legitimate concerns that by probing into the child's psyche, there is a potential for emotional harm.

4) They waste valuable academic time.

A recent study published in the book entitled The Social Importance of Self-Esteem, and based on research by several University of California psychologists and sociologists, indicates that there is NO correlation between self-esteem and academic performance. In addition, these social "scientists" could find no conclusive evidence indicating a relationship between self-esteem and teen pregnancy rates; self-esteem and alcohol/drug use; and self-esteem and child abuse.

Edward Wynne, Professor of Education at the University of Illinois (Chicago Circle campus), and Kevin Ryan, Professor of Education at Boston University, question the benefits of the obsession with self-esteem in America's schools. In their recently published book Reclaiming Our Schools, they note:

"The self-esteem movement puts a false and infectious pressure on teachers. They are more and more expected to keep students feeling good about themselves. In other eras, teachers were expected to provide pupils with an environment and educational opportunity to grow and achieve."

A 1990 study contrasting the performance of American students in mathematics skills with five other countries revealed that the math scores of American 5th-graders were the lowest of the six countries. The Koreans were first. The test asked pupils to say whether they felt they would be "good at mathematics in high school." Of the Americans, 68% said "yes" while only 26% of the high-scoring Koreans gave that reply.

Commenting on Workshop Way, psychiatrist Twilah Fox (Tulsa, Oklahoma), says the methods used are definitely based on dangerous "New Age" ideas which are a prescription for mental chaos, rebellion, and degradation.

Dr. David Shaffer, M.D., Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical School (New York City), thinks total self-esteem may reduce motivation. He says, "We know that anxiety in small doses is a powerful, motivating force, and that a lack of concern and indifference to the opinion of others can actually be quite handicapping."

Parental Rights and Self-Esteem Programs

1) Under the Freedom of Information Act, parents have the right to examine all school curricula.

2) Parents have the right to exempt their children from any portion of or all of any psychological programs. Many of these programs are an invasion of child and family privacy and violate the moral and religious freedom of the student and his family.

* Most of this material has been excerpted from a June 1990 Citizens for Excellence in Education special report (Report #18--"Psychological Curriculum: An Overview ... With a Special Emphasis on Quest and Project Self-Esteem") [NACE/CEE, Costa Mesa, CA] and from an August 1993 National Monitor of Education pamphlet ("The dangers of Self-Esteem Programs"). The section on "Group" was adapted from a 1/05 article by Tom DeWeese: "Is Your Church Teaching Pagan Earth Worship in Sunday School?"

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 1/2005