This was it. I stood, sweaty and exhausted, as my band director walked over to the group of potential drum major candidates standing at the center of the field. Six of us had just endured a grueling tryout for the past hour and a half, but only one would be selected to be drum major for the 2009 marching band season. Having held the position the previous year, I felt I had a leg up, but the competition was stiff and I knew I couldn’t expect anything. Thirty seconds later I was told that I would not be retaining my position as drum major, and that someone else would take on the role for the upcoming year.
Like it or not, we will all fail in our lives. I failed in my quest to become drum major. I’ve failed tests, job interviews, auditions, and, as a teacher, I fail more times a day than I care to admit. But I’m also a firm believer that failure can and should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a road block. When we fail, we have the opportunity to pick ourselves up and learn how to move past it.
Given my belief in the power of failure, however, I’m often disturbed by the current trend that refuses to allow students to fail and thereby deprives them of the important opportunity to learn how to fail successfully while they are still young. The pressure to refuse to allow students to fail comes from all sides—from school districts, administrators, parents, and even students themselves. Districts set artificial grade floors so that students cannot fall below a certain point. Parents turn on teachers if their child receives a low grade on the report card. Under fire from the districts, administrators pressure teachers to give extra credit and makeup work or, at worst, to change grades themselves. There’s even a movement now to opt out of testing across the country, and a part of their rational is because too many students will fail. And through all this we send our kids the last message we should be sending them: that you can’t and shouldn’t fail.