There Must Be A Better Way

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Here in Houston we have had a number of locally famous doctors. Among them was a bonafide Texan named Red Duke. Red worked on trauma cases in an emergency room where some of the most seriously injured arrived again and again in hopes of miracles. God only knows how many lives Dr. Duke saved during his career. I know for certain that he was responsible for rescuing the daughter of one of my dear friends from the brink of death. The young girl was brought to him from an horrific auto accident barely breathing. The family had been told that things looked grim and they were preparing themselves for the worst. Dr. Duke went to work on her broken and battered body, and she not only survived, but went on to lead a very normal and happy life.

The interesting thing about Red Duke is that he was also a kind of celebrity here in Houston because he regularly appeared on a health spot on one of the local television stations. He was appealing because he seemed to be the quintessential cowboy with his enormous mustache and unapologetic drawl. His advice was always spot on and his folksy ways only made him more endearing to those of us in the audience. Over the years he earned quite a name for himself and the whole city mourned his passing as if he had been a family friend. His memory lives on for those of us who admired him and his work and even schools have been named in his honor.  More than anything Dr. Red Duke was a brilliant physician who dedicated his life to helping the citizens of our city to overcome some of the worst possible injuries.

Red Duke was a graduate of Texas A&M University, and the story of how he became a student at that renowned institution tells a great deal about his character and how things used to be in a long ago time. Red wasn’t school in the ways of academia, but he was a bright fellow and he knew that he wanted a college degree so he found out when the fall classes would commence at A&M and simply showed up one day announcing that he wanted to study science. He had not filled out an application nor even taken any entrance exams because he didn’t realize that there was a formal admission process. Instead He simply visited one of the departments and announced that he was ready to tackle the curriculum. The professor with whom he spoke was so taken with Red that he immediately decided to allow the enterprising young man to register. Of course Dr. Duke proved to be more than qualified for the rigors of the college and went on to become the incredible doctor that we knew and loved.

I often think about this story and others like it whenever I hear of how difficult it has become for students to earn admission to universities. The days of the old college try are mostly gone. Admissions are competitive to the point of overlooking a great deal of talent, and certainly nobody like Red Duke would be taken seriously in today’s environment. It’s sad to think about all of the students who might actually do quite well if given the opportunity to be judged on something other than grades and test scores which are often affected by considerations having little to do with actual capabilities.

We all know those types who get nervous on high stakes standardized tests and rarely do as well as they might. I am one of those who seem to literally lose my mind when faced with a ticking clock and sets of questions that I must attack quickly, and yet my cumulative GPA in college was almost a perfect 4.0. I’m a very hard worker and someone who may take a day or so longer than others to master a concept, but I will do it every time because I am filled with nonstop determination. Such traits don’t always matter much in today’s world where everyone is just one of thousands of electronically submitted applications, essays, and scores. 

There is also the problem of with the subjectivity of grading that varies tremendously from one place to another, one teacher to the next. A very high grade may be easy to achieve in one school but unlikely in another. It’s almost impossible to judge the true worth of grades without closely studying the history of the courses and the types of measures used. It’s well known that some universities, for example grade hard, while others dole out A’s and B’s like water. Being in the top ten percent of a graduating class at Bellaire High School is much more difficult to achieve than doing the same thing at other Houston. Purdue University has a reputation for generally giving students lower marks than they would make with the same level of work at one of the Ivy League schools. Grades are a very subjective and complex measure and yet they mean everything when attempting to gain entrance to the best colleges and universities.

All of this reliance on data rather than the living breathing characteristics of individuals has created a kind of intense game that dedicated high schoolers must play in order to move to the next level. The stressors are unbelievable and today’s students are having to work at a continually fast pace just to stay in the race. In the meantimes classes are becoming ever more rigorous as the required knowledge and skills are advancing to levels that were once the domain of universities. It is little wonder that so many young people are burning out and even becoming ill. It is more and more difficult for them to just be carefree. Instead their lives are dominated by studying and activities from the moment they arise each morning until late into the night, and the pressure just appears to be getting worse, not to even mention the fears of violence that hang over their heads.

There is so much required material to cover that teachers are beginning to rely more and more on videos and supplemental readings for their students. Assignments are often long and complex, taking hours to complete with very short amounts of intervals allotted to do the work. There are projects and extra curricular activities that fight for inclusion on overloaded calendars. All too often parents only find moments to spend time with their children over assignments and as spectators at events. Family togetherness is being stolen to the point of ridiculousness and because of the demands those who rebel and refuse to play the game are unlikely to get acceptance letters from the universities that they most want to attend. Few are given a chance to just prove themselves if their bonafides are not up to speed. Qualifications have to be golden from the start.

I understand that universities are crowded and must somehow draw the line on how many admissions they may grant. Still I wonder how many Red Dukes are being turned away. How much potential is lost?  Why should the actions or lack of them from teenagers be used to determine futures? Surely brilliance and potential cannot possibly be measured in the same way for all people.

I’d love to see a bit more willingness from admissions panels to deviate from formulaic decision making. In using only certain guidelines we are surely missing some unique souls who might be the future change makers of our world. Perhaps it’s time to use a bit more common sense and be open to that individual who shows up with something so beguiling that it’s worth setting aside the formulas to see what he or she might do. We need to consider whether or not we are stealing the happy days from our youth by placing them in the kinds of stressful situations that presently exist. Somehow there must be a better way.

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Love Honor Cherish

15975072_10211601975865667_328586816067567646_oParenting is one of the most difficult tasks that we humans attempt to master. It pains us to see our children hurting, but we know that we will never be able to completely eliminate struggles from their lives, so we teach then how to effectively deal with both trials and tribulations. We hope that our foundation will help them when we launch them into the adult world. Mostly we pray that they will know how to surround themselves with good people who love and care about them as they begin their independent journeys without us. So it was with my two girls.

Like any other parent I did my best and hoped with all of my heart that my efforts would be enough. My eldest Maryellen had always made me proud, and she appeared to have a good head on her shoulders as she left our home to become educated by others at the University of Texas in Austin. There were some shaky moments in her early days there when I received phone calls and heard the strains of uncertainty in her voice, but she managed to make it through the rough patches and secured a place for herself among friends both new and old. Along the way she met a young man named Scott through the encouragement of one of her more gregarious friends.

At first Maryellen was tentative about being more than just a good pal to Scott, but before long she was drawn to his good nature and his intellect and they began to date. Her face would light up whenever she spoke of him and I could tell that her relationship with him was far more special than any that she had ever experienced. He had a way of understanding her and treating her as an equal that pleased her. Even his gifts to her at Christmastime were astutely thoughtful and romantic. I found myself believing that she had found the man of her dreams and when I finally met him I was pleased to sense that he was a truly good person who respected and cherished her as much as I did.

Maryellen and Scott enjoyed a delightful courtship at the university, peppered with serious study sessions and fun times with a group of remarkable friends. They cheered the Longhorns at football and basketball games and enjoyed the same music and movies. Mostly they talked and realized how neatly their hopes and dreams meshed with one another. They fell in love.

I was quite pleased when they announced that they were engaged. They were both mature and thoughtful individuals who had transitioned well into adulthood. They both were within striking distance of earning degrees in the respected fields of business and engineering. Their futures were promising and together they were certain to be a power couple, but more importantly they shared values that would help them to build a life of love and devotion.

Twenty five years ago today they exchanged their vows at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church. It was a beautiful service shared with a crowd of friends and relatives. Maryellen glowed with the flush of love and anticipation and Scott had “the look” in his eyes that assured me that he would be forever faithful and loving to my daughter. Our family priest John Perusina said the mass and Scott’s Lutheran minister assisted with the proceedings. The bridesmaids wore blue and one of Maryellen’s childhood friends sang Sunrise, Sunset like an angel, making everyone in attendance cry as we recalled how quickly the years had gone by since the bride and groom had been children. It was a gloriously happy day that bode well for the future.

Maryellen and Scott moved to Beaumont after a memorable honeymoon in Yosemite National Park, yet another idea of Scott’s that was so perfectly suited to Maryellen. They set up housekeeping in a cute apartment and began their careers. It was a fun time and it was wonderful to see how happy they were and how well things were going for them.

Eventually Scott received an offer that he couldn’t refuse from a firm in Indiana and so the two of them were on the move. They purchased a lovely house in Lafayette and began to explore the midwest during their free time. They were only two hours away from Chicago and so that exciting city became a frequent destination. It was a time filled with new adventures and new confidence for them when all of us realized that they had indeed become a powerful team.

Four years after they married their first child, Andrew, was born and our visits to Indiana became ever more frequent as we enjoyed visits with our grandchild. I always felt so intensely happy to see the relationship between Maryellen and Scott growing ever stronger and thus it would be as one year flowed into the next and three more children joined the family as they moved again to Beaumont and finally back to the Houston area.

Maryellen and Scott have been models of love and dedication. They are beloved pillars of of their community known for their dedication to being exceptional parents and generous neighbors. They inspire others with their devotion to each other and to their sons. Together they have weathered the rollercoaster ride that is life and managed to overcome every challenge that appeared on their horizon.

In a very troubled world where it almost seems old fashioned to hold tightly to values and traditions Maryellen and Scott Greene have proven that the power of love is still one of the most priceless treasures that any of us might possess. For twenty five years they have steadfastly honored one another and passed on their mutual love to their sons who are growing in the same wisdom and age and grace that they have so beautifully exhibited.

Somehow I am overwhelmed by the rapid passage of time. In my mind they are still the twenty something young adults with so much hope in their eyes and a whole lifetime ahead of them. They have done a remarkable job of cherishing the promise that they made on that day in the glow of tiny lights from the Christmas trees on the altar. They have fulfilled all of their vows and done the hard work of keeping the flame of their never ending love alive. It makes my heart burst with joy to know that they are such incredibly fine people.

Happy Twenty Fifth Anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. Greene. May you enjoy many more wonderful days together as you share a special love. You are a blessing to all of us.

The Number Line of Our Lives

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Last week I was at the University of Houston where I was planning to have lunch with a student who is considering returning to Texas from his out of state college. Our first stop was at the offices of transfer counseling services in the Cougar Village. I waited near the reception desk while he met with a representative to outline his needs and learn how to proceed in making the change. It was somewhat quiet in the office and my chair was right in front of the receptionist who was a tiny young woman who appeared to be quite businesslike but nonetheless polite and inviting. I thought of my own experiences with academic counseling at U of H in the long ago and remarked that I truly appreciated her kind demeanor, relaying a bit of my own experience when I too was little more than a slip of a woman.

My initial contact with the university had been quite a discouraging affair that almost sent me running. I sat for well over an hour before I was even seen by anyone. When my moment to garner information finally came I was greeted by a surly woman who literally barked the obvious fact that she was behind schedule and had very little time for conversation other than that related to the business at hand. There were no warm greetings, not even a tiny smile. Instead her angry demeanor set a tone for the interaction that left me flummoxed and almost as ignorant about policies and procedures as I had been before I came. My session ended on such a rushed note that I felt as though I was being pushed from the office. I somehow maintained my composure in spite of how I was feeling until I reached the ladies room down the hall where I found a stall and proceeded to cry for at least five minutes. Luckily once I got past the bureaucratic arm of the university it was smooth sailing. My classes were challenging and interesting, and my professors were always accommodating and determined to help me navigate through the years of my college life. I grew to love the University of Houston, but shuddered at the thought of having to deal with the business and paperwork associated with entering and exiting.

I joked a bit with the student with whom I had outlined my story and then she in turn relayed hers. She was from Asia and was majoring in mathematics. There were a number of career pathways that she was considering, but she was most interested in applying math in the business sector. She was excited about graduating in the spring and spoke of the many people at the university who had supported her when she first came and knew so little about the city or even our country. It was apparent that her efforts to be hospitable to those who visited the office had stemmed from her own experiences and the appreciation that she felt for those who come to the university attempting to make life changing decisions. She delights in the fact that she is now the one who greets so many of them. She wants their first impression to be be positive because she understands their fears.

I enjoyed my little talk with this stranger who now seemed a bit more like an acquaintance. I appreciated that she had taken the time to relate her own story with so much candor. I felt the kind of bond that two people enjoy in that brief moment when their worlds collide and they are willing to approach each other with mutual respect. It amazed me that even though our collegiate ties were separated by many decades we had both felt the same sense of apprehension and hopefulness as we imagined our lives stretched out before us. I was now viewing mine from the rearview mirror of nostalgia and she was just placing her foot on the accelerator to forge into unexplored territory full speed ahead. Both of us felt a kinship and gratitude for those who had helped us to reach our respective points in life. In particular I understood that her lovely demeanor toward everyone who walked into the office would set the tone for a wonderful experience that might encourage even those who felt lost to take the risks that most certainly would lie ahead.

Eventually the student with whom I had come for a lunch date finished his own appointment and we headed to a restaurant on campus. I saw in his eyes that his meeting had not given him the answers that he had hoped to hear. He felt a bit discouraged by all of the hoops through which he would have to jump if he decided to transfer his work from one university to another. It would be almost like starting over and losing all of the time that he had already invested. He was caught in a quandary that I too have faced, and so we began a quiet discussion of his options over a lunch of grilled cheese and tomato basil soup. The fact that it was a grey and cold day did little to help his mood, and I could see the wheels turning in his head as he calculated the cost of staying put in a place that made him miserable versus changing to a more positive environment where he has friends who care about him and encourage him to make the move as they have already done.

Time feels very different to me than it does to a young adult barely entering his twenties. I have the advantage of knowing how quickly it passes. i have experienced enough to know all too well the importance of being happy. Our minds tell us when something is wrong and while it may be challenging to extricate ourselves from certain situations in the long run we will always land on our feet and find the contentment that we seek. I have learned all too well that life rarely follows a straight line. Instead it is a series of curves looping back and forth often throwing us off balance. It is a high wire act that is both frightening and exciting. If we take a deep breath we learn that most of the platitudes that we hear have some merit. We won’t fail as long as we follow our hearts and keep trying. The clock will keep ticking but we soon learn to ignore it as well as the unsolicited advice and critiquing from well meaning people who think that they have a better understanding of what we need than we do. We almost always find the confidence that we need to be the person that we want to be regardless of what others may think, Our happiness comes from discovering a sense of purpose rather than pursuing a job and concerning ourselves with wealth. In the process we often find that we get exactly what we have needed all along.

I can’t help thinking about the continuum on which we all fall in a kind of curvy number line of life. As long as we are breathing the ray of hope shines ahead. There is always time for adjustments to our trajectory. I am at a far end, but still aware that unknown challenges and joys lie ahead. The young lady in the office is both ending one phase and beginning another. The student with whom I had hoped to convey some wisdom is stopping and starting and making circles as he attempts to come to the right conclusion that will work for him. None of us is a fortune teller capable of predicting exactly what will happen once we make a choice, but based on what lies behind I understand perhaps a bit better that the secret to a full and rewarding life begins with a little spark that tells us when we are heading in the right direction and when we are not. We learn to alter our course and adapt more and more quickly on our journey. We become like  race car drivers whose muscle memories react quickly to bumps and turns in the ever changing environment. Somewhere along the road we also become proficient in rejoicing in our uniqueness and gain confidence in the choices we have made. We ultimately realize that when all is said and done it is in the people we have loved and the lives that we have touched that we have found the keys to our puzzling searches. 

A Matter of the Heart

automaton.jpg.pngWhen I entered high school placing students in particular tracks had become all the rage. Based on grades and an entrance exam I ended up in what was known as the Honors group. Things were a bit nerve racking for me because the principal inserted a caveat to my designation in a face to face meeting in which he indicated that I would only be part of that cadre on a probationary status. In fact he suspected that I would be removed within the first grading period because I was barely qualified for the academic rigors to which I would be subjected. Through sheer determination I hung on for four years and graduated with an Honors designation. It would not be until I was an adult that one of my former teachers would reveal that my peers and I had been part of a grand experiment that did not work as well as the adults had hoped.

Educators have a tendency to be constantly searching for what I call a magic bullet, a way of doing things that will transform the way we teach our children and result in dramatic advances in knowledge and critical thinking. Sadly as such attempts take place there is always a risk that they will not bring the hoped for advantages and may actually do damage to the students who become living guinea pigs. Thus it was with me and many of the other people in my class. Each of us became known more by our labels and less as the individuals that we were. We tended to believe that sets of numbers defined us, and in my own case I worried that everyone would learn that I was a fraud. Because the principal had so clearly indicated that I did not have the intellectual acumen to be a member of the elite Honors class, I was constantly stressed and uncertain of my abilities. Little did I know until that fateful reunion with my teacher that I was not alone in the emotional trauma that the untested methodology unleashed. The fact that the plan that had driven the daily routines of my class was eventually changed to address its blatant problems was of little comfort. The damage had already been done and it bothered me even though most of us had managed to overcome the difficulties perpetrated by faulty methodology.

As a teacher I understand the need to find the best practices for reaching students. Still I have watched a parade of bandwagon theories that have ultimately been rejected long after they have had an ill effect on the youngsters who were used to determine effectiveness. I don’t suppose that we are able to tell whether or not something will be successful until we try it, but for the group that is subjected to massive changes it can be disastrous. We watched the new math of the seventies be rejected because it never really clicked with either the teachers or their pupils. We worry about that the constant standardized testing and the thirst for hard data has somehow ignored the heart and soul of each individual. We sense that numbers alone are incapable of measuring the content of a mind. We try different styles of note taking, tutoring and delivery of lessons, only to realize that there is no one size fits all way that works for everyone. We labor to individualize learning and teaching but then insist on scripting lessons. We’ve tried cooperative learning, behavioral modifications, and on and on. All are noble and well intentioned efforts but instead of taking an entire group and radically changing the way they are taught, why can’t we try such interventions in small doses until we are certain that they are effective?

There is a trend in many schools today to modernize teaching by using technology with a nod to B.F. Skinner. Students watch educational videos or read lessons at their own paces. If they fully understand the concept they are free to keep moving forward. If they are confused they ask questions of the teacher who becomes more of an interventionist and less of a direct instructor. Interactions between teachers and their pupils are thought to be more targeted and thus more effective, but for many it has become a frustrating venture leading them to confusion and a loss of self esteem. As someone who has always understood that there is never one best way, I have to wonder what proponents of such radically different systems were thinking when they decided to abandon all of the traditional ways in favor of a grand experiment. Why not instead insert such changes in small doses and then measure their effect on each student? It would make much more sense to see what happens in a trial run rather than simply accepting that all of the old ways should be left behind. It really is possible to teach in a number of different ways and still get phenomenal results.

I would like to propose that teachers select the methods that work best with a particular set of students rather than tossing out the baby with the bath water in favor of new ideas that are still untested. We should instead tread lightly with innovations, use them sparingly until it is evident that they truly are effective. It’s never a good idea to overuse any practices. They can become too routine and boring to students. Variety truly works well and provides opportunities to try the latest educational ideas. The most important thing is for teachers to still be teachers, not just conduits of information. In other words the goal is to help every student to attain mastery of concepts. That takes patience and creativity because sometimes the secret to unlocking a mind lies not in how information is presented but in how an educator touches a heart and turns on the magic that lives inside everyone. There are truly some aspects of learning that have little to do with data points.

We have rubrics and measurements for literally everything today, neglecting to take our differences into account. Students who don’t quite fit the mold often feel that something is wrong with them. Only a talented and sensitive teacher knows how to help them to find themselves in a world that seems so intent on judging their worth based on numbers. We really do have to move beyond the test scores and grades to encourage our youth to see learning as a magical and exciting experience rather than one that places daily stresses on them. If a student does all of the steps correctly to find the equation of a line when given two points but then accidentally multiplies wrong to reach an incorrect answer, we need to be willing to give that person credit for what they did right and use the mistake as a learning tool. All too often we instead slash a big red mark over the entire effort and leave the child feeling inept. That borders on educational malpractice.

There are those who speak of today’s students as snowflakes, kids who can’t handle conflict or difficulties. Nothing is farther from the truth. Today’s children are busy checking off boxes that indicate that they are moving steadily toward success. It is an almost robotic atmosphere in which they must complete so many requirements just to move from one phase of education to another. Square pegs have to fit into round holes no matter how painful the process of doing that may be. Universities make it more and more difficult to land an acceptance letter. Students must have resumes that include rigorous courses, leadership roles, extracurricular activities and even community service. They work from before dawn until well into the late hours of night attempting to accomplish all of the expectations. Many of them are enduring mental distress in the process and questioning their worth when they falter. It is as though we have embarked on a nationwide experiment with their very lives and souls. We have become Tiger Adults who push and push and push without thought of where all of this will lead. It is little wonder that so many young adults are pushing back on the system once they come of age to make their own decisions. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to demand that schools take a long hard look at the effects of what they are doing.

I made it through my high school and graduated as the Valedictorian in spite of the negativity and pressures that were placed on me by well meaning adults. Not everyone is so fortunate in such highly charged situations, and we have to take every person’s needs into account. There are indeed great teachers who have found the keys to reaching students without destroying their confidence and we should observe them and learn from them. Isaac Owoyemi teaches mathematics for mastery, providing students with multiple opportunities for learning concepts in an encouraging environment. Seng Dao Keo understands the necessity of starting from the point where students are on the learning curve rather than failing them for not being ready for a particular idea. Chrystal Hunter deconstructs the most difficult aspects of mathematics and simplifies them so that her students will comprehend and feel accomplished. Dickie Written reaches the imagination of his pupils by making literature relevant and exciting. Lisa Sandifer understands that many students need the arts to reach their full potential. Jenny Brunsell brings the heart of an angel to her kids and they always respond. Such educators realize that while there is an element of science in teaching it is in the execution of its art that the true miracles happen. They do not rely on scripts or preplanned lessons or the latest fads, but instead select what is needed in a specific time and place. This is the trend that we need to follow. Until our children feel the joy of learning all of our efforts will have been in vain. We reach them first through the heart and then the mind follows.

Facing Our Failures

Failure.jpgThere is a trite little platitude that goes something like this, “Failure is not an option.” In reality it is a very human trait to fail at something even after exerting great effort to succeed. We all find ourselves in the midst of a fiasco now and again. It is part of who we are as people. We may fail a class even though we thought we were prepared. A relationship may sour in spite of our efforts to save it. We find ourselves being fired from a job or unable to successfully complete an important project. We wreck our car in the split second of a careless moment. We say and do exactly the wrong thing in a situation with our children. We fudge on a diet or exercise program. We inevitably make mistakes in the course of living our lives.

Perhaps instead of suggesting that there is something innately wrong in failing, we should instead concentrate on how we will behave once the genie is out of the bottle, the milk is spilled, the horse is out of the barn. Our character is often defined more by how we react to failure than how we reach success. It really doesn’t matter how many times it may have taken us to achieve a goal as much as how resolved and persistent we have been in getting there. Our willingness to keep trying often determines the trajectory of our lives. Those who adapt optimistically to their circumstances are likely to ultimately overcome even the most challenging situations. In addition, we need to teach ourselves and others how to identify toxic situations and to recognize when to walk away from them.

I know a man who literally spent almost a decade attempting to earn a college degree. He had to work to pay his tuition and the coursework was sometimes quite difficult for him. He would joke that he was going to be the oldest graduate ever. Nonetheless, he kept his eye on the prize, never giving up, even when it seemed hopeless. The day came when he held his diploma in his hand. Ultimately it was his unstoppable tenacity that earned him a great job and his willingness to keep trying against all odds has become his hallmark. He has risen to the top of his profession, admired by peers and bosses alike as someone with a dogged willingness to get the job done. He is the go to man when the situation gets tough. Everyone knows that he will not take no for an answer.

Beethoven composed symphonies even after becoming deaf. Thomas Edison had to create hundreds of prototypes before finally finding a lightbulb that would work. Albert Einstein was thought to be a slow learner at school. Abraham Lincoln was initially seen as someone incapable of achieving much of merit. Walt Disney was told that he had no creative instincts. The list of so called failures who eventually became famous for their contributions to the world is long because the reality is that we all hit walls from time to time.

Too often we dwell on the things that we have done wrong rather than just picking ourselves up, deciding how to improve and then moving on. When we become captive to the negativity associated with failure we give up, run away. We assume that there is no reason to keep banging our heads against walls. We end up with regrets. We think of our might have beens. The go getters, instead, dust themselves off and get back in the saddle. They learn from each unsuccessful iteration and apply their new found knowledge to improving their lots. They remain unafraid to take risks.

I sometimes wonder if our society creates individuals who give in to failure because of the ways that we speak of it and react to it. In schools there is linear progression of learning with tests along to the way provide evidence of accumulated knowledge. Students mostly move in lock step from one skill to the next. For those who may take a bit longer to master concepts the process becomes a series of failures that all too often result in a feeling of hopelessness. I all too often heard the refrain, “I’m just not good in math.” The truth was that everyone of those who uttered such remarks was more than capable of becoming adept with numbers. They just took longer to grasp the ideas. With a bit of effort and encouragement they were eventually able to achieve a high level of comfort with very complex algorithms. They felt a sense of accomplishment that in turn lead to a greater willingness to explore even more difficult ideas.

When I was in middle school a gym teacher told me that I was the clumsiest, least athletic person that she had ever met. She ridiculed all of my efforts to please her. As a result I mostly traveled through life thinking of myself as a total klutz, unable to even catch a ball. It was not until I met a professor in college that my attitude changed. He convinced me that I too could be skilled if shown the proper techniques. He insisted that my old teacher had been remiss in expecting me to possess natural born abilities in sports. He taught me the fundamentals and my world as well as my attitude was transformed.

We certainly value the child who is capable of taking the school team to the championship. We send our finest debaters to the competition. Still we must be willing to provide opportunities to shine for those who are not as gifted. It is up to us to model behaviors that will teach them that improving is just as important as winning the prize. We have to let them know that they will ultimately find their pathways by participating in many different experiences.

I am particularly taken with the attitudes of my twin grandsons. They are incredible athletes but they do not measure success by the number of medals or trophies that they earn. Instead they focus on being their personal best. Their goals always involve moving just a bit closer to a better individual record. If doing so happens to give them a championship it is wonderful. If it only demonstrates that they are getting closer to their goals they are just as happy. They have already developed a way of thinking that is going to take them far. Would that we might be able to do the same for everyone.

Failure never feels good. It is a downer that we don’t want to experience but it sometimes happens. If we can analyze our situation and make improvements our mistakes will not have been for naught. We are all on a journey. How well we do depends on our ability to adapt and become stronger. That requires a positive willingness to keeping trying to find our way. If we keep the faith it will happen. Perhaps our new mantra should be, “Giving in to failure is not an option.” We would be wise to teach that to our children as well.