Thoughts on the Use of Failure as a Teaching Technique
Failure as an educational procedure is a failure. Failure is useful in licensing or credentialing—I want assurance that drivers, pilots, contractors, and doctors are competent. But, failing students, while in the learning process, is totally unnecessary, detrimental, and deleterious.
The failure of kids as a motivational tool, diagnostic device, or reporting procedure is a failure itself. And, standardized test results are useless except for the companies profiting from selling and grading the tests. Our whole testing procedure reminds me of an autopsy process; but I have never known a patient to recover from an autopsy!
I intend to write a book on the subject. In the meantime, since most teachers have been successful in school and may not know how devastating failure is to those who suffer its lifelong effects, here are some random thoughts, ideas, and facts to reflect.
A young teacher asked me, “How do you feel about social promotions?” My answer: “Social promotions are unnecessary, why not teach students instead of retaining them? If retaining them works, why not teach them in the first place instead of the second attempt? If retention doesn’t work, why retain them?
Bad behavior does not cause failure; failure causes bad behavior. Does that surprise you?
Just because the cycle often begins at primary level doesn’t mean it’s not real.
Dropout problems don’t begin in high school. Dropping out begins before middle school but is exacerbated when coupled with tween social needs, hormones, and maturation.
Grades are the best predictors of grades, F’s predict F’s. Current behavior is the best predictor of future conduct. Behavior is learned and schools are for learning, aren’t they?
While students fear getting F’s, most students never get them. Those students who do get F’s get them on tests, in class work, on report cards. Failure is known to everyone.
F’s not only predict F’s they predict the byproducts of embarrassment, marginalization, degradation, stigma, defensiveness, hostility, violence, vandalism, and retaliation.
The shame of failure is debilitating. Shame and constant fear of failure require kids’ full effort, time, and attention for defending their egos, psyches, and dignity.
Without significant intervention by an authority figure, a student traumatized by a failure identity naturally finds solace, comfort, and acceptance only from other failing students.
Failure is painful, more painful than punishments administered by teachers. Pain-based behavior of students defies rational and reasonable behavior understood by teachers.
The pain of failure can be reduced by apathy, defeatism, bravado, withdrawal, and deviant behavior including vandalism, retaliatory actions, defiance, and misbehavior.
Bill Page, a farm boy, graduated from a one-room school. He forged a career in the classroom teaching middle school “troublemakers.” For the past 26 years, in addition to his classroom duties, he has taught teachers across the nation to teach the lowest achieving students successfully with his proven premise, “Failure is the choice and fault of schools, not the students.”
Bill Page is a classroom teacher. For 46 years, he has patrolled the halls, responded to the bells, and struggled with innovations. He has had his share of lunchroom duty, bus duty, and playground duty. For the past four years, Bill, who is now in his 50th year as a teacher, is also a full time writer. His book, At-Risk Students is available on Abebooks, Amazon, R.D. Dunn Publishing, and on Bill’s web site: http://www.teacherteacher.com/
In At-Risk Students, Page discusses problems facing failing students, “who can’t, don’t and won’t learn or cooperate.” “The solution,” he states, “is for teachers to recognize and accept student misbehavior as defense mechanisms used to hide embarrassment and incompetence, and to deal with causes rather than symptoms. By entering into a democratic, participatory relationship, where students assume responsibility for their own learning.” Through 30 vignettes, the book helps teachers see failing students through his eyes as a fellow teacher, whose classroom success with at-risk students made him a premier teacher-speaker in school districts across America.