Do we fail ourselves?

Bird Droppings March 4, 2010
Do we fail ourselves?

“One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” John W. Gardner

A topic that continues to bother me is, why do new teachers after a semester stop being creative and imaginative and full of vitality. In my graduate classes we have discussed building community and seeking to build leadership and several others have voiced similar thoughts. As I went out today it was a one dog night, I should shout halleluiah it’s a miracle only had to take one dog out last night. As I was getting into my car as it has been the past few mornings it was almost a half moon and working on a beautiful smile of a moon for the weekend. Perhaps it is a premonition of a great day ahead or maybe a reminder that how we take the day which is often based on our own attitude and frame of mind. I kind of like the smile coming up for the weekend it has been a long two weeks of IEP’s and parent meetings and maybe I can make it through.
I began the morning looking through articles written by William Edelen, a former church pastor and fighter pilot, Arthur Schopenhauer, an 19th century philosopher, and Joseph Campbell, a leading writer on mythology. In looking at all o f these great writers and thinkers I some how I ended up back on John Gardner’s thought. I have been struggling with the idea of why students quit learning and why do teachers quit trying to learn and often trying to improve their own abilities. On a recent excursion to Wal-Mart I ran into several former students who had all quit school. One shook my hand and said he was working on his GED and working hard the other said he was working hard doing foundations for houses and raising his new baby. Still another was arguing with her boyfriend across the aisles at Wal-Mart.
I thought back in each of their lives. All failed in part or all of graduation tests in high school. One of them had failed at least one portion three times by a total of eight points. She did not graduate and she opted to get a GED she was tired of failing or risking failing again.

“I have always felt that although someone may defeat me, and I strike out in a ball game, the pitcher on the particular day was the best player. But I know when I see him again; I’m going to be ready for his curve ball. Failure is a part of success. There is no such thing as a bed of roses all your life. But failure will never stand in the way of success if you learn from it.” Hank Aaron

For so many of us we take defeat, setbacks, or failure in stride and move on, but for some students failure is a daily event and often becomes literally addicting.

“You win only if you aren’t afraid to lose.” Rocky Aoki

“No one ever won a chess game by betting on each move. Sometimes you have to move backward to get a step forward.” Amar Gopal Bose

Amazing as I think back on life to a fourth grade teacher who was grading me harder than those around me I think she thought I wouldn’t notice. My friend next to me had two wrong and an A, I had two wrong and a C. My mother on day asked the teacher about this when I brought it up at home and the teacher stated I wasn’t working up to my ability so she was grading harder. Guess what I quit trying in school for some time, it was about two years into college that real learning and desire to learn kicked back in and I still was passing most classes, mainly because I was a voracious reader and today’s youth have a tendency to not want to read far to easy to grab a portable video game, cell phone or turn on the computer. Playing with my Blackberry last night I found several voice recognition programs so I do not even need to use buttons or screen, talk about lazy.

“Failure does not count. If you accept this, you’ll be successful. What causes most people to fail is that after one failure, they’ll stop trying.” Frank Burford

“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” George Washington Carver

I Have been working with kids now the past nine years who often for most of their educational lives have been told they can not succeed. This particular test states you have a writing deficit or reading dysfunction. This test shows you have an inability to function in society as we normal people do. We set in motion at such very young ages the ability to succeed and or the ability to make excuses. I am working with a young man now who daily has excuses, some even perpetuated by his parents. Watching kids grow up and looking at where they learn, setting the example is the best teacher and they watch their parents. If we make excuses and choose to not succeed what are the odds our children will succeed.

“A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed — I well know. For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself.” Georges Clemenceau

“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” Edwin Louis Cole

I think back to walking through the Edison museum in Fort Myers Florida and one of the exhibits is a barrel of light bulbs all of TE’s failures and the plague reads it took over 10,00 failures to succeed, but it did work. As I went further and read Cole’s thought about drowning and was applying it to students I have seen many who have given up because the school and society has given up on them. As soon as you take statistics in college you gather data and sort and develop graphs and charts about who will succeed and who will fail, far too soon students know your thoughts and soon students live up to their graphs and charts.

“Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high- stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity.” Sen. Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)

I was introduced in a book club almost nine years ago to an educator and author Alfie Kohn. Many put Kohn on the outer fringe of education possibly even calling him a progressive revolutionary. Granted to traditionalists in education Kohn is a bit off the wall. Amazingly enough in that same book club I was reintroduced to John Dewey a seriously progressive educator who died in 1954 or so. Progressive is does not mean new in education. I am using from the first few lines of author and educator Alfie Kohn’s website:

“Rescuing our schools from tougher standards”

“Learning by doing, common shorthand for the idea that active participation helps students to understand ideas or acquire skills, is an established principle of progressive education. Much less attention, however, has been paid to the complementary possibility that teachers are most effective when they show rather than just tell. In fact, this idea doesn’t even seem to have a name — so let’s call it ‘teaching by doing.’”

“We need to learn from— and, fittingly, to challenge — one another’s ideas. But most important is a basic commitment to make sure that our students — future teachers, parents, and citizens — are able and willing to take a stand.” Alfie Kohn, Challenging Students . . . And How to Have More of Them

Alfie Kohn has been writing about issues in public school for the past fifteen years or so. He is a proponent of public schools and it is how we teach he is trying to address. Instilling a desire to learn rather than taking away that desire, promoting success rather than failure are keys to students making it successfully through school. Today two years ago was my eighteen day wearing school spirit shirts in a row on a world record effort ending with nearly two months straight of school spirit shorts and no short the same and I wore an old one in honor of a friend and former principal at our school. The front is just our name and logo. But on the back is what he considered the keys to success for education. Of course he read Alfie Kohn and as a matter of fact is the one I first heard of Kohn from. Celebrating Discovery, Encouraging Curiosity, Challenging minds and Applauding Academics were the four key thoughts on cards given out to each teacher and on the back of our teacher spirit shirts that year. I was always amazed at how many teachers and parents balked at those thoughts. Hopefully one day when I go to Wal-Mart the students approaching me will be all talking of success and their futures. Please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

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