Sunday, September 9, 2007

Failure is not such a bad thing

I'm a creature of habit. One of the habitual things I do is read the Sunday papers. I especially like to read the opinions page. Usually I read it, sit in the chair and make silent comments about what the writer is focusing on. However, today as I read the opinion page, I found myself sitting up straighter and reading an article with a bit more concentration.

The article was written by an English teacher. He was writing about his annual apprehension regarding the beginning of the school year. He went on to say that every year he starts out with a bit of trepedation, not knowing who or what the upcoming year will be for him. He laments about a past event that seems to have tortured him for the last twenty years.

Apparently in one of his classes he had to fail a young woman. Since that time he has wondered if he did the right thing. The girl was, what today we would call learning disabled, in those days was classed as "slow". She was able to do her homework, but testing was a trial for her. In order to graduate she needed to pass the final exam. The teacher had two students he was concerned about; one was the typical "Jock" and the other the shy, timid girl. He offered both of them extra help and waited the next day for them to take advantage of his offer. Neither of the two showed for the additional help. The "Jock" barely passed, but the girl failed. Because of this failure she was not able to attend the graduation ceremony.

He still feels guilty over this. He wondered if by failing her he was somehow on some kind of "power trip". I was OK with the article up to that point. When I read how he thought that failing her was wrong I jumped up from my comfy seat and went to the computer and wrote a response to the newspaper.

See what I wrote and tell me what you think about this subject:

Reaction to a “Viewpoint” on Sunday, September 9, 2007

I haven’t finished reading the paper yet, but I felt compelled to write a response to one of the articles in the “opinion” section. The article I’m referring to is the Jack Rightmyer article titled, “Failure can stay with student and teacher for life”.

When I read the title I thought, “Yes, failure can stay with someone, no doubt”. I went on to read the article and as I neared the end I sat up straighter in my chair as I read the subtitle, “Right was Wrong”. Rightmyer wrote “What purpose did it serve to fail her” Was it some power thing?” At that point, I put the paper down and thought about the words he wrote. I jumped up from my chair and here I sit in front of my computer in response.

First of all, I think it is not “wrong” to fail, even in this case. As the article states, Rightmyer gave additional opportunity to the student for extra help in the subject matter. The fact that she was a “nervous, shy kid” is a factor, but none the less, she was given ample opportunity to get the help she needed. I applaud Mr. Rightmyer for maintaining the failing grade. It is my opinion that many students today are allowed to glide through when they should be failed, due to the feeling that failure is a permanent scarring on the emotional well-being of the child. Not everyone succeeds in the real world and I believe that should be learned from an early age. In that way, young people learn how to pick themselves up, brush themselves off and start anew. They learn how to become resilient. Yes, it’s hard but anything worth doing is usually hard to do. I think we’ve forgotten that in this society.

I realize I’m probably in the minority with these thoughts about failure, but I think it’s about time that all of us look around and see what’s happening in today’s society. I see folks on a daily basis who feel someone owes them something just because they’re breathing. I see people buying things they can ill afford because they feel they “deserve” it and they have some sub-prime lender offering them the loans to buy what ever it might be. Are you asking what this has to do with failing? If someone understands that it takes hard work and effort to succeed maybe there will be less of these folks that feel they’re “entitled” to things because they want it. Just say, “No”, shouldn’t be the mantra for drug use, say it when it’s necessary for everything. I don’t think we say it enough, for fear that someone will feel, slighted, unworthy or a failure.

Let’s go back and think about “Kris”. She may, as Rightmyer says, still be “living in that little New Hampshire town” and that may be fine, she may be happy as a clam. However, she may not be living in that town, she may have gone to summer school struggled through, gotten her diploma, decided she needed something more and moved away. Perhaps, she went to a community college and went on from there to become a teacher, like Mr. Rightmyer, knowing that hard decisions must be made, for a reason, for the good of all concerned.

What ever happened to “Kris”, I think Mr. Rightmyer made the only ethical and principled decision that could have been made given the circumstances. I only wish there were more teachers around like Mr. Rightmyer.

Just my opinion…