Carol Craig

11th January 2013 at 00:00
The chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being discusses the respective roles of confidence, well-being and self-esteem in the education process, their place in Curriculum for Excellence and growing concerns over materialistic culture and internet pornography. Interview by Julia Belgutay. Photography James Glossop

How would you describe yourself?

First, as a mother. I think that is the most important role I have in life. Beyond that, I would say that I am an ideas person, a generalist and a communicator. Communicating ideas is what motivates me.

You set up the Centre for Confidence and Well-being - can you define well-being?

I would say it is about flourishing. It is leading a flourishing life.

What does the centre hope to achieve?

We see ourselves as a catalyst for change at individual, organisational and cultural levels. The thing I feel most proud of is that we have never put the maintenance of the organisation as our main objective. If we want to say something that is difficult, then we will say it, and so be it.

What are your concerns around children's self-esteem in an education context?

It is often assumed that there are all these benefits, particularly for youngsters, in having high self-esteem - whereas there aren't. It is overrated. There is no link between self-esteem and academic success, for example. Also, if you think self-esteem is the most important thing for kids, it is what you then do to artificially boost it that is the worrying thing.

What do you mean by 'artificially' boosting self-esteem?

If I think your self-esteem is really important and you are struggling with something and frustrated with yourself, I might give you easier work to do, or false feedback, and tell you that you are doing really well when you are not. I will hold back on critical feedback, I won't allow competition, and just be overly sympathetic.

How is that different from building someone's confidence?

Confidence is more about self-efficacy, which is a belief that you can do things, and you are better to see it as quite specific. It is based on something tangible; it is not just wishful thinking. If you try to protect kids' self-esteem by artificially boosting them, but you are not teaching them the skills they need, it is counterproductive.

What are your views on Curriculum for Excellence?

If you get teachers to define a "confident individual", they equate it with social confidence, but I think it is better to see it as something you have in a specific situation. Why are we privileging a certain type of social confidence? It is favouring a personality type. The terminology gives rise to that danger. To an extent, I think it is part of a marketing exercise. You have got "successful learners", "effective contributors", "responsible citizens" - you need it to be "confident" something. So you have this label, and having spoken to teachers a lot about it, I know they are seeing it as a personality trait.

What is the role of schools in instilling values in children?

They have an important role, but they can't do it in isolation. We have to involve parents, community organisations and so on.

What is your concern about the increasingly materialistic culture that we seem to live in?

It is in large part responsible for an erosion of well-being, because if you pursue these materialistic values of money - what it can buy, appearance, fame, popularity - if these are your values, you will skew your life to achieve these goals, which are not linked to well-being. For example, I might really like art, but I won't go to art school because I won't make much money if I do that, so I go to law school.

You have warned about the impact pornography is having on young people, especially young men - what is your concern?

It is the nature of what people are looking at. We are not talking about sexualised images or erotica. What we are talking about is images that are very graphic and usually violent and involving some kind of humiliation. That is the mainstay of internet porn. There is growing evidence that it is addictive, that it desensitises, leads to erectile dysfunction and an inability to communicate. It is the huge, unspoken issue. If we think there is a problem with family stability at the moment, this is nothing. We are talking about the survival of our species, our ability to form relationships.

What was your own school experience like?

Very negative in primary. I only discovered in my forties that I am dyslexic.

What impact did that have on you?

Before I knew, I would have said that I was a late developer. I found school quite difficult and challenging, but it got easier as I got to secondary. It was hard - I was putting a lot of effort in, but was not getting very good results a lot of the time. On the other hand, and this is a controversial point, I would say it was still better for me not to know that I was dyslexic.


It would have been too easy to have used it as a label, to have limited what I was capable of doing. I can see that for some people it may be enormously helpful to know they are dyslexic. It gives them an explanation and they get support, so I am not being black and white about it. All I am saying is that for me, while it was quite difficult when I was a child, ultimately it was more helpful not to find out until I was in my forties.


Born: Helensburgh, 1951

Education: Milngavie Primary and Bearsden Academy, East Dunbartonshire; Strathclyde University

Career: politics lecturer, University of Edinburgh; BBC Scotland researcher; BBC education officer; assertiveness trainer; chief executive, Centre for Confidence and Well-being.

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