Let children fail or they’ll never succeed

You know, I really look forward to making y’all laugh every week. There is nothing that makes me happier than knowing someone out there in the world is hysterical because of me. However, as a woman, a teacher and an Italian, there are some days when I just get steamed up about something, and I simply must share it with you. Today is such a day.

I read two articles recently, one by Mike Adams, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and one in the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer, although I cannot recall the author’s name at this moment … (please, like I’m going to remember it at any other moment; sometimes I can’t remember to chew).

Adams did a wonderful piece on a meeting that was being held at the college to brainstorm possible actions to take when students don’t show up for their exams. He said that most college professors will make allowances for students who miss an exam, offering them a makeup test. But, increasingly, students aren’t showing up to the makeup exams, either, and professors are wringing their hands over what to do about that, because apparently the more allowances they make for the kids, the more the kids give them the proverbial one-finger salute!

And, they can’t flunk them, because what about their self-esteem, and what if they get mad and file a complaint, or heaven forbid, a lawsuit? And, the profs have worked so hard just to get them to finals without flunking them, and now they’re just going to blow all that forced-in knowledge right out the window? What can we do?! How can we save them?! Oh, the anguish!

In the other article, I learned that the Wake County School Board had the same kind of meeting, involving high-schoolers who were cheating, and how we should help them to "make better choices" without just failing them, even on that one project, because look how hard they’ve worked — rather, how hard their teachers have worked — to cram in all that learning.

And, what is cheating, really? Haven’t we all done it? By giving them an F, aren’t we "cheating" them? And, when he/she was caught, he/she did apologize and very politely asked us to disregard it, so really, I think we must have compassion for these kids, and realize that perhaps it is we — parents, teachers, society, life! — who are at fault.

In most school systems now, there is a conscious campaign to do away with the F. When children actually fail a subject — or even an assignment — teachers are consistently told to re-evaluate, call parents, offer re-tests, call parents again, recalculate, follow children home and tutor them while they eat dinner — whatever it takes to avoid giving an F.

It doesn’t matter if that child regularly cuts class, talks constantly, sleeps or plays games on his iPhone. It doesn’t matter that he has handed in only one out of 10 assignments, and has never handed in any homework. It doesn’t matter if he’s rude, a liar or uses profanity — at you! No, there still has to be a way to avoid the big F, so that the school will not suffer the disapproval of the state!

Well, if I had any money — which I don’t, so don’t call — I’d start a school of my own and tell every child who attended that they’d better work their tiny hineys off every single day, on every single assignment, or the big F would always be waiting. I would teach them that failing something doesn’t make them "failures," but it’s a huge wake-up call, and can almost always be avoided by good, hard work.

And, if any student chooses to do nothing, take advantage of nothing, give a rat’s rear about nothing, then he would get nothing in return. Welcome to the world, kiddo! Where bosses and customers and clients don’t give a rat’s rear about your self-esteem, which must be earned out here, not awarded just because you’re you.

So, folks, why, why, why are we enabling these kids, and just exactly who are we "helping" when we do? Because you and I both know it’s not the kids. It’s us. It makes us feel good about ourselves to make them feel good about themselves, whether they deserve to feel good or not! ‘Cause then they’ll like us better.

But, ultimately, it does them no favor. They’ll never understand when they get "out here" that they must accept, and usually cannot appeal, the ramifications of their behavior. If we do not "allow" them to fail in school, they will fail in life. And, that’s when they move back home, my friend, and still expect you to hold a parade every time they make their beds!

Vicki Wentz’s column, which appears here on Sundays, is published in newspapers across the country. She is a high school teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. Readers may contact her at vwentz@mindspring.com.

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