Failure’s a Tricky Word

by Brenden Overton

If you were a college student, at what lengths would you go to avoid failing a course? If you were a university professor, where would you draw the line in terms of failure of students? The answer is subjective, no doubt. This is undoubtedly an issue that people continuously face in the classroom and in many avenues of life. The connotations and definitions of failure vary but the end conclusion is that failure is BAD. We live in a society where failure is unacceptable and discouraged, and if something is difficult or painful we go to unruly lengths to avoid it. This inclination is particularly prevalent in the college classroom, where failure is denoted by a scathing “F” and a shameful demeanor that students will manipulate the system in any way possible to avoid.

In his brief article “Arrested for Writing,” Bob Blaisdell provides a narrative of the series of events leading to the eventual failure of one of his students, and the outrageous lengths this student went to avoid the stigma of a failing grade. As I remained on the edge of my seat, anxious to read what would happen next, it dawned on me that this story is not so uncommon. Our nations children and students are raised on the principles that failure should be avoided at all costs. If you were to ask ten people on the street: “What is the opposite of success?” My guess is the most prominent answer would be in fact, failure. I contend, in agreement with a speech I once heard, that failure is not the opposite of success, but rather the sister to success. As humans, we learn much more from our failures then we ever will from our victories. Isn’t it ironic that in our classrooms, on our sports teams, and just in life in general that these learning experiences through shortcomings are violently discouraged? Although this article may have just been a story to the author, it provides an excellent underlying message. Perhaps it is time to address the manner in which we evaluate the success of the young adults in our society, and this process begins in the classroom. Why is this important? It is critical because the most successful people in American history, such as Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, and Thomas Edison to name a few, learned through their failure and struggle to eventually become some of the most admired men to  ever walk the face of the earth.

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