Cultural Narcissism and Education Reform

Sep. 01, 2011

Source: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 9, 2011, p. 2018-2046.

Purpose of Study

This article represents a tentative step toward understanding the social and psychological underpinnings of education reform in the United States during the last quarter century. Psychoanalytic concepts are employed to illustrate how educators and the general public have become accomplices in their own subjugation.

A review of literature that addresses narcissistic parenting yielded eight characteristic behavioral patterns:
expectations of perfection in children, particularly with regard to intellect;
a grandiose sense of superiority and entitlement;
relentless fault-finding;
projection of personal fantasies onto children;
an absence of empathy for children and their needs; a preoccupation with control;
conditional approval; and
a well-intentioned view of their own self-centered motives and
insensitive actions as being beneficial for children.

These conceptual formulations provided a basis for examining proposals and policies found in the National Commission on Excellence in Education’s 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, and provisions of the more recent No Child Left Behind legislation.

Research Design
This analytic essay uses a review of the literature, including psychoanalytic research on narcissism and narcissistic parenting as well as contemporary critical theory related to education reform, to examine arguments and policies evidenced in A Nation at Risk and No Child Left Behind.

Conclusions and Recommendations

A prevailing “narcissistic education policy style” is posited, which denies the true learning needs of students; disempowers classroom teachers and schools by undermining trust in self and others; and reproduces narcissistic dynamics within the culture.
Elements of an alternative education policy more focused on the needs of students are proposed, along with a call to recognize the right of children to be treated with the respect accorded to fully formed human beings.

Updated: Oct. 27, 2011