Paul Greenberg

Remember self-esteem? It was one of the sillier - and more dangerous - fads in educational circles, which keep going round and round. The theory was that promoting kids' self-esteem was going to convince them they were great. And it just might. But that's no guarantee they are great.

On the contrary, this kind of psychological scam could have the opposite effect. Having been told how well they're doing throughout their well-insulated school years, these kids could be in for the shock of their nice, cushioned lives when they're thrown into the real world. And discover that their education wasn't so great after all. Or that a better word for it might be shoddy. The realization might be so crushing they'd just give up.

Some of us had hoped this fad had come and gone. It had. But now it's come back. Bad ideas apparently never die; they just go underground for a while. There they lurk, like an infection, waiting to crop up again in the strangest places. As in a statement from Arkansas' new governor, Mike Beebe.

Governor Beebe came out against schools' sending reports home about overweight kids lest we hurt their "self-esteem." What kind of a report? It's called a body-mass index, which measures how fat or skinny a kid is-based on factors like height, weight, age and sex.

Why be concerned about kids' weight? Because obesity is a real problem in this country. It saps kids' mental and physical development, and can lead to serious problems down the road-like diabetes, stroke and heart attacks.

Overweight kids are also prime candidates for psychological disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Adolescents are notoriously sensitive about their appearance and their peers' opinion of it. The teasing that fatties get in school can be cruel - and lead them to do dangerous things.

A simple report from school about a child's weight might get parents' attention, or even move them to do something about their kid's dietary habits or lack of exercise. It's worth a try. We check kids' eyesight and hearing, don't we? Why not their physical fitness?

Because we're told it would hurt their self-esteem. Well, some kids have entirely too much self-esteem already. A geometry teacher I once knew had a phrase for it: climbing Fool's Hill. The tumble down can be painful. Are teachers even allowed to say such things any more? Or has it been decided that folk wisdom is psychologically impairing, too?

Some of these kids may be all et up with self-esteem, but they're woefully short on self-respect, which is quite another thing. Self-respect flows from self-discipline and the real achievement it leads to. It doesn't depend on psychological gamesmanship.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.