Category Archives: Failure

What I REALLY Wanted to Say to Parents in that Playbill

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the nature of failure and the pitfalls of success. This hardly seems surprising as I spend my mornings teaching English and my afternoons teaching Theatre. But, I’ll tell you something: I have noticed some disturbing societal trends.

I don’t know when it happened, but we, as a society, seem to have forgotten that failure is a necessary component to success. Can you imagine what would happen to scientific advancement if failure was no longer an option? It would stagnate. Everyone would be too afraid to attempt anything unless they were 100% certain they were right.

So then, why do we place so much pressure on our children to succeed at all times and at all cost?
That already seems to be happening in the world of technology… I mean, how many products have been released before they were completely ready? Programmers seem to operate on the idea that something should be released first and then fixed after customer complaints start coming in. Nobody will even create a prototype unless it’s ready for commercial use! 

Maybe that’s alright for the working world, but that shouldn’t be the way schools work.
I don’t know whether it’s because of our government’s over-emphasis on testing, but it seems to me that school is no longer about learning, it’s about getting good grades. What good is a good grade if the material has not been truly learned? Who cares if your college admissions test scores are top notch and your essays sound like they were written by someone beyond teen years? As long as they get in to the college of their dreams, what does it matter? Right?
50% of all college freshmen nationwide are not prepared for college-level material and will not graduate from the same university in which they gained entrance as seniors in high school.
How can this be possible? If a high school transcript shows a 4.0 or better, then doesn’t that mean the student is college ready?
No, it does not.
Increasingly, I have noticed college-bound students cheating off of each other in pursuit of those perfect transcripts. I would hazard a guess that very few of those perfect transcript receivers really, truly earned those grades through hard work and proper study habits. Even fewer of them remember any of the content they supposedly learned in any of their classes.
Why do they cheat? The answer to this one is so simple, it’s embarrassing. All their parents care about is that they receive straight As.
I teach in a high school that is largely Asian in population. I cannot even count how many times I’ve heard students quoting their parents’ admonishment (with complete accent and tone), “You no Bsian o’ Csian, you Asian.” (sic) I have a student who has written her college admissions essay five times because her mother thinks she has no hope of getting accepted anywhere, despite her high SAT score. What’s wrong with this picture?
School is supposed to be about learning. We are supposed to be encouraging our students NOT to memorize factoids for test regurgitation, but to fully engage in the process of learning, which includes trial and error.
I was doing some research on famous failures throughout history, and I came across a quote that could have been spoken yesterday, or even this morning.
“Our schools are not teaching students to think. It is astonishing how many young people have difficulty in putting their brains definitely and systematically to work.” 
This quote is surprising because it was not spoken by someone who had any sort of formal schooling. In fact, he had no more than three months’ worth, but spent a lifetime pursuing scientific endeavors and is completely self-taught. The speaker is Thomas Alva Edison.

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