Is contemporary life ignoring the value of failure?

I'm prompted to ask this question because of something that happened here where I live. I 'm involved with running a smallish arts festival, in an effort to be more inclusive to young people we suggested a competition, pupils might be interested in entering,  competitors were asked to design a poster for the festival. The winning poster to be printed and used, plus small monetary prizes for first, and runner-up. The schools were horrified, saying if there was a winner, there would be losers.   I replied that on the contrary all would have had the chance to compete and gain experience of taking part. I was told this would be damaging to 12-17year old children?? 

Well as a child I was well damaged then LOL. Way back in the pre-historical times of my childhood it was considered, that the honour was in taking part."Better to have taken part and failed than never take part". This was the credo we lived by. Since my dealings with the school board, I've noticed reports of sports days where races consist of three everyone can have a medal? I wonder if you have the same attitudes in your countries?

I truly believe that success is wonderful but failure is also important. I think that it is better a person learns how to cope with failure while young,  living at home, going to school where they will have lots of support in learning to cope with, learn from and use a failure.  A failure can be constructive in many ways. it may be a disappointment but a lot can be learnt from it. Most importantly you learn about yourself. I read recently that someone was thinking of publishing a scientific journal of failed studies. Think of the time and money that could be saved, preventing people from repeating exactly a previous study.

At our local university, there have been two suicides by first-year students this year. The pain and waste of that. Parents, no one knew of the student's distress. Both students had been high flyers in their schools, never getting less than 90% on a paper. Both had got mid-terms in the 45-50%range, these poor kids must have been shattered. could not share their sense of failure.  Perhaps if they had taken a few knocks in their young lives they would have been better prepared to cope. I fear we have come too far in protecting young people from life. What do you think?

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Published in Questions & Trivia


  1. starlette

    Hello Rock…..we appear to be living in a cotton wool society, wrap the kids up in it, dont let them ever know disappointment……oh Lordy that would never do….they must all think and feel alike, no one must ever feel inferior to a winner, so lets make them all winners even if they are total rubbish at athletics or whatever……..well through my life I have witnessed people who are physically disabled go that extra mile, they were more determined than ever to achieve their goal of feeling as good as the next…….and they did, very often surpassing the physically capable……if they had been mollycoddled and protected would they have ever achieved anything……..I very much doubt it……their parents wanted to make them as independent as possible because they knew life was always going to be harder for them…..

  2. Rockflower Post author

    Well Waylander and Starlette you will guess I totally agree with you…… If my old Mum ever came across a spoilt child, her comment was always……..that kid needs the corners knocked off. If we ever went home complaining about some other child we were told to sort it out. If we dared to complain about a teacher’s hard words……….And what were you doing miss? was the question. I remember the milk man’s son , he was older than me and he would prevent me walking home, blocking my way, just a bully. Tearfully explaining why I was home late, my dear Uncle Walt sat me on his knee… Lassie you’ve got to stand up to a bully or you’ll always be picked on. He folded my fingers into the palm of my hand, see this he said, you tell him to go away…..if he doesn’t hit him on the nose with it. The political correct police would be horrified but it worked for me. I really think this wrapping a child up in cotton wool id doing that child a disservice because they enter adult life with inability to cope with anything. The same school I approached about the poster contest does not allow the pupils to read out loud in class or do any performing / speaking before their peers. This because the children get nervous????? It is a great lesson to learn that you can have butterflies cramping in your tummy but still manage to function. It’s nuts I agree.

  3. rose1943

    My daughter teaches 5th grade in a Chicago Public School where most of her class are children of doctors, lawyers, restaurant owners, etc. Very few are disadvantaged and doing their best. Some of her most intelligent students disrupt the class and they have a good share of followers. When she’ll inform them that they may fail not doing their work or homework, their answer is simply “I don’t care” and when she’ll ask them what their parents will think..again it’s “I don’t care”. When she has the quarterly conferences with those parents…’s not the child’s fault, they say it’s her fault. She’s a terrific teacher, the children and parents prior to this time always raved about her teaching but a new breed has been coming through. This last class she had was the worse in all the many years she’s been teaching. She says she’ll try it one more year and if it stays the same, she will quit teaching. Amen.

  4. Rockflower Post author

    Rose your daughter has my sympathy, I know if I were a teacher I’d have parents protesting in a week LOL! I say that but you know wealthy parents in UK spend big bucks on private schools , so that their kids get old fashioned schooling with discipline.
    There was a “reality” show on the BBC last year.A group of today’s teenagers who had just taken their final school exam’s, volunteered to experience a month of schooling as it was in 1950. It was residential to ensure no electronic stuff was smuggled in. We saw little bits of each pupil’s real life, one stuck in my mind……teenager up in her bedroom with friends…….she phoned her mother in the kitchen downstairs……..Mum, we need some Pepsi, bring some up!!!!!!?
    When they got to the school, everyone wore the same uniform. They entered the class room and sat down, when teacher arrived they stood up and said good morning and sat down in silence. The hardest thing for them was to take their own notes, the actual physical writing tired them. When it came to exams’ the question were written and they had to answer in essay form. This means you must read the question and work out what it is asking you? They could not do this well. They also thought it very unfair that if you were answering questions on geography or history , you would loose marks for bad grammar and spelling etc LOL. The fact that you must put a hand up and wait to be acknowledged by the teacher before speaking in class was a problem. Plus no chatting in class with friends was unfair. Everyone every day did some exercise and there were no excuses. They had the meals provided and nothing else, so this cut out candy and fizzy drinks. When the students were interviewed after their ordeal…..75% of them said they had actually learnt more in one month then they usually did in a term? There were no distractions so you did homework.. It was lights out at 10pm. so you went to sleep. Three boys who were very over weight when they arrived were delighted to have lost weight and felt much better, they said they intended to keep up the exercise and the kind of eating they had done in this month. At the end of the month they had the exam’ papers for 1950, most of them did not get a passing grade, mainly because they had failed to read the questions correctly and answer what was asked. Or they did not time themselves to give equal time to the questions , some even running out of time and missing a question.

    I can see that the ability to write especially handwriting will disappear can’t you? Hand writing is so much more than words……you get a sense of a person’s personality, health, style. It is the same as for painting….reproductions can be good but not the same as the original. I think taking your own notes is a good exercise….it teaches you to hone in on the important elements, to collect data in a logical fashion and organize your thoughts. I suppose some people could do this typing on their laptop but I’d find that difficult. You know how you see a manuscript with an actual signature of some historical person , or a handwritten draft, musical score or such … feel the years melt and have a connection with that historical person. I wonder will reading an email or tweet….will it have the same power?

  5. rose1943

    Rockflower, for years I would help my daughter by correcting some of the papers. I enjoyed it, especially reading their essays. I can no longer do this as their writing and printing are not legible for me to read. They say they’re too used to using computers and all that writing is nonsense to them. That’s where we are.
    I attended Catholic schools throughout grammar school and high school. All 3 of my children attended the same one. We all wore our correct uniforms, kept our mouths closed tightly unless we answered the nun by first raising our hand to be chosen. Our hands were folded on our desks unless we were writing or reading. We were punished when need be. We left the building 3 abreast to the song Stars and Stripes playing over the PA system all the way to our prospective corners. Much time was spent on penmanship, it was a subject that was graded with the rest.
    In my daughter’s school no corrections may be made in red on their papers! Homework was done at home right after you changed out of your uniform. I’d say we were very disciplined. Rules at school, rules at home. Chose were done at home and we all had chores in school. Gosh, I’m old!

  6. Rockflower Post author

    Rose it was a different world LOL! I don’t know if you have seen the British series on TV….Foyle’s War…. it is spoke of as period piece, that was my childhood world LOL…so I guess we are old my friend. We had nothing compared to what kids have today. It was war time! Parents and adults must have lived in uncertainty and fear, but we felt safe. I too had some nuns as teachers, I remember doing needlework for the church in domestic science, we could hear bombs falling on the docks in Liverpool across the water. We asked if we should go to the shelter and were told…….don’t be silly, you will not get bombed doing God’s work!? We know that is not true but it worked at the time. We all had chores and they were expected to be well done. My brothers and I always washed the dishes after supper and there was no such thing as the nice smelling dish detergent or Brillo pads and such, we had to boil water and use bricks of hard soap….see what I mean ancient history. PS I saw the ex US ambassador for Panama interviewed on tv with Don Lemon. He resigned as he did not like working for Trump. It was refreshing to hear him speak, straight compassionate talk ,compared to what we hear out of political mouths these days.

  7. roseinbloom

    Do children need failure. I guess you cannot live without failure. Most children are involved in team sports and when two teams play, all members of one team do not win. Like Rockflower said, children and anyone needs to be reminded that failing to try is the worst kind of failure. Young people probably fail to get a consistent kind of parenting today. They may be given too much and have less desire to achieve a better life. Many young people fail when they go to school because they cannot handle all the freedom that they are given. I don’t think young people are coddled as much as they are just neglected. A lot isn’t taught to them like how to clean, cook, maintain a home, manage money and a whole lot more.

  8. Rockflower Post author

    I agree with you and I do my share of complaining and yes I do know there are many wonderful young folk out there. Yet we can’t help hearing about the other kind and there do seem to be a fair number. I’m not so much blaming the kids as the atmosphere they have grown up in. How did it happen? You and I don’t want brow beaten kids, we want them all to be the best they can be . Yet in efforts to make life good for them we have damaged them. Wrapping them up in cotton wool does not expand their lives it constricts them. Not extending loving discipline is denying them tools for life.It’s sad really.