Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Failure v. feelings

In Tuesday's Wisconsin State Journal, Susan Lampert Smith has a piece lamenting the loss of 'no cut' policies in Madison high school sports. She trots out the tired old rhetoric that kids are being hurt by the loss of these 'no cut' policies due to budget cuts. Frankly, Smith's concern about the feelings of high school kids is an example of her tremendous blind spot as to how people learn.

No cut policies have come about because of two reasons. One is that schools are afraid of litigation from parents whose children are cut. The far larger reason is that liberal empathy leaves school boards and administrations distraught over the fact that failure may ding the self esteem of kids. That mindset is a problem. There may be no better learning experience in life than a good case of failure. Failure burns. It hurts. But it also teaches you that you need to give your 100% best at all times. If failure comes after 100% effort, then you have nothing to be ashamed of, and you reflect upon your strengths and weaknesses and move onto something that you can succeed at. You learn what you didn't do right, and also how to not repeat those mistakes. Failure is also a huge source of motivation. Once you've felt the burn of failure, you do not want to repeat it, and you find new resources within yourself to make sure that it never happens again. The only thing no cut policies teach is that it is okay to be mediocre because someone else will always be protecting you feelings. That lesson will not serve most kids in the real world, because once kids finally end there life as students, they will enter a dog eat dog world that does not easily tolerate mediocrity.

I'm sure this article by Smith, which ended with the words, "Sometimes, there's no real way to know the true cost of saving money," is just another political jab from the Madison newspapers to create public support for increasing funding for Wisconsin schools. That is something I'll address at a later date (believe me, I'm all for well funded schools in this state-if done wisely & efficiently). I also think that Smith actually believes we need to protect kids from failure while they are in school. In truth, we should be giving students every opportunity to fail at something while they are in school. It is better that they learn the lessons of failure during high school and not later on when it will have a much more negative impact on their lives.

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