Date of Award

Spring 3-2016

Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

Antonia Darder

Second Advisor

Ani Shabazian

Third Advisor

William Parham


The concept of self-esteem has so thoroughly infiltrated American education that “most educators believe developing self-esteem to be one of the primary purposes of public education” (Stout, 2001, p. 119). That the available scholarship challenging the validity of self-esteem principles has had little to no impact on schooling and school policy demonstrates the need for more a comprehensive interrogation of a concept that has become so pervasive and commonsensical that many administrators and teachers do not even think to question its place in traditional pedagogy, let alone consider the possibility that self-esteem is a damaging ideological construct. The rhetorical (and impossible) promise of self-esteem as both a quantifiable and fixed human resource has proliferated in educational language as schools continue to promote self-esteem among racialized and poorly performing students, while the structural conditions that negatively impact these students’ performance in the first place remain intact.

The legacy of self-esteem in educational discourse requires a critical interpretation, or re-interpretation, by educators who wish to challenge oppressive commonsense assumptions and feel-good principles that covertly help to maintain “dominant cultural norms that do little more than preserve social inequality” (Darder, 2015, p. 1). This study takes a decolonizing approach that involves a substantive interrogation—historical, political, and philosophical—of the Eurocentric epistemological concept of self-esteem, in order to demonstrate the debilitating effects that self-esteem has on students from working-class communities of color. It then suggests an emancipatory understanding of the self and alternative critical pedagogical principles of social empowerment.