Family Magazine

Does Failure Drive Success?

By Twotimesthefun @slcs48n1
***Originally posted to the Chicago Moms blog***
At our daughters’ elementary school, there is a lot of talk about character education. Schools have latched on to the idea that being a good person is as important as being a smart person. I like the idea because I think anything that helps kids understand that hard-work, personal connections and good character are important for future success builds a solid foundation for a well-lived life. We talk about this at home, and it’s helpful that the school reinforces it.
A recent New York Times article What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? brought all my random thoughts into one nicely packaged story. The article tells the story of two very different high schools and how each principal is looking at using character education as a major component of education reform.
In a nutshell, the principals looked at their most successful students and found that grades don’t correlate to higher education success. We all can relate to this idea. We all knew people in high school who were supposed to change the world and didn’t quite meet expectations. We also know people who seemed above average, but no one predicted their future success.
There were many parts of the article that I really agreed with, but perhaps this statement is the one all parents need to consider: “Cohen and Fierst told me that they also see many Riverdale parents who, while pushing their children to excel, also inadvertently shield them from exactly the kind of experience that can lead to character growth.”
It’s an institutional challenge parents who agree with them — like us — face. When our daughters came home with paper after paper with “fantastic” or “perfect” on them, I asked for more challenging work. The teacher was a bit taken back. She said that most parents would be thrilled their children found school so easy. I explained that if it was so easy that they weren’t getting any questions wrong, they weren’t learning anything. She said she never had a parent with my attitude. She also stepped up the work to challenge them more.
We’re parents who try to shield our daughters from a lot of hardships. They don’t watch the news. They aren’t food insecure. They have a nice, middle-class house in a good school district with plenty of opportunities to participate in programs at the library, park district and school. Still, I do believe that there is something to the idea that they have to build character through struggle. When they struggle to learn a new piano piece, I secretly take pride in their frustrations. I don’t want to tell them that I think it’s good for them to become frustrated, but we do talk about how important it is to keep working on it until they finally figure out the music. When they have to ask me how to pronounce a word or what a word means, I know they are reading a book that challenges them to learn something new.
As the article points out, we have a biological need to protect our children. This hasn’t changed since we had to protect them from wild animals and harsh conditions. Now, though, our instincts to protect our children might just prevent them from creating what the authors describe as a good life that’s not just happy, but also meaningful and fulfilling. It’s a personal and cultural shift that requires all of us to look inside to see how we can balance our need to protect them with the need for them to build character — even if it means they suffer a little once in a while.

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