Callum Borchers' Blog

Sociologically significant sports (and class assignments)

Losing the freedom to be average, not the freedom to fail, is the real threat

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Rather than raise the bar of excellence, Americans seem content to lower it. (Photos from Wikimedia Commons)















The following essay is a response to Michael Goodwin’s video about the freedom to fail.

“I just have a lot on my mind,” Grant told me, which was sort of like an Olsen twin claiming to have a lot on her middle. Grant is the third of my seven younger siblings, and he has autism. On that disorder’s broad spectrum, he falls somewhere in the middle: Neither a savant nor a simpleton, Grant had long been enrolled in mainstream classes but always needed academic assistance.

Now in 11th grade, Grant worried he would not receive a high school diploma. He had failed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test, a prerequisite for graduation, a second time. My perpetually relaxed little bro was suddenly stressed to a degree I’d never seen.

Grant’s situation divided my sensibilities. I applauded the state’s effort to combat the culture of social promotion described by Michael Goodwin in “New Threats to Freedom.” No longer could compassionate, or exasperated, teachers dress unqualified students in caps and gowns; every kid in the state had to pass a standardized test. But was Grant — who worked harder than most of his peers — really the kind of student the Department of Education meant to target when it conceived the MCAS?

Goodwin argues that “losing the freedom to fail really takes away the opportunity to succeed.” But the real threat is not losing the freedom to fail but rather losing the freedom to be average.

A brilliant senior on graduation day doesn’t resent a handicapped classmate — or even a slacker — who collects the same scroll she does.  That they did not fail does not cheapen her accomplishment.

What she does resent, what does degrade her sense of achievement, is that so many of her ordinary contemporaries somehow finished high school with extraordinary grade point averages similar to her own. The boy beside her doesn’t know the difference between affect and effect, but he, too, earned an A in English class. The girl two rows back isn’t sure which Roosevelt held office during World War II and remains convinced that water occupies a square on the periodic table, but she, also, made the honor roll.

More often than they push through students who ought to fail, our schools artificially bolster the GPAs of students who ought to carry 2.0s. If the former is social promotion, the latter is social inflation. It is the bar of excellence, not the bar of passage, we have lowered too far.

Americans don’t need to revive failure to promote success. Overcrowded prisons and high unemployment rates testify to the robust health of failure in this country.

Instead, we need to defibrillate mediocrity. Our unwillingness to identify the middling members of society subverts our ability to celebrate the truly superb.

“Without failure, we can’t know what success is,” Goodwin contends. “There’s no way to measure it.”

Without mediocrity, there’s no way to measure either.

Grant passed the MCAS on his third try. He got his diploma but didn’t go to college. He works at The Home Depot.

Seems pretty average to me.


Written by callumborchers

March 26, 2011 at 10:19 am

One Response

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  1. Success? This can be defined as “an event that accomplishes its intended purpose or a level of fame or power”. Success can be gone about in many ways to be accomplished. To succeed is when one pushes them self’s to the highest level that they hold inside. It’s the intellectual confident that one holds deep beneath there will power. We can only have success if we push ourselves to our goal. Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of happiness is something that should keep our will holding strong till the end. Michael Goodwin spoke on “The Loss of Freedom to Fail” and said that “it is not happiness but the pursuit it therefore achieving it is up to you. This is my essay response for the short term student contest, “New Threats to Freedom” scholarship; on the video by “Michael Goodwin in The Loss of The Freedom to Fail’.
    When one constantly is told that they are perfect at what they do they end up having a egotistical personality. A person who finds them to rule over everyone else and look at themselves as better then all around them will only end up hating themselves in the end. By putting yourself on a pedestal and looking down on others you will in the long run be turning away ones that you have. By seeing our flaws we are giving you room for improvement. So by failing at some things we will grow will power in our heart to always try harder, to push you to our highest ability.
    “Social Promotion”. This defined as “the practice of promoting a student to the next grade despite their low achievement in order to keep them in with social peers. By doing this people are being told that they are right, they are being told that their way is the best way to go. But then once they get out there into the real world they are lost and confused. Why is that? Society comes out with new things every year; new cars, electronics, inventions, ideas, and economic decisions. If you are then into properly educated in them you will not be able to keep up. At that you will be then left behind because this system decided that by “helping” you through high school they gave you your education. Wrong; an education can only be successful if it benefits in the end the people it was given to. So if students are being taught by others who learned the same way as they did how is it that they will then learn more. They can’t; unless one takes it upon themselves to study more and push the horizon on their own. Asking question will always make you go further. Who, What, Where, When and Why. When learning we should always ask that so we have the full facts of what we are being taught.
    Without failure we then don’t have the will power to succeed. At that if no one fails then no one will further themselves to succeed. That is because no one will care about anything; it will no more matter what anyone thinks, opinion will not be heard and suggestions will then be forgotten. “We need Liberty to do that and we need freedom to fail and in that we will then Succeed.

    Nichole Franks

    March 30, 2011 at 8:20 am

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