Make it really hard for kids to fail in school

To prepare “difficult” students for the real world, make it “really hard to fail,” argues Dr. Allen Mendler, an education consultant, on Edutopia’s blog.

An effective practice is to “appreciate and focus on the student’s strengths rather than emphasizing and punishing shortcomings such as lateness, lack of productivity, and disruptive behavior,” Mendler writes.

But critics say that’s preparing students to be fired.

Grading for progress rather than achieving a “group-based standard” also doesn’t work in the real world, critics say.

School isn’t like the workplace, Mendler argues. Students have to go to school and take courses in subjects they may not like or be any good at. In the real world, workers can specialize.

“Make it really hard for students to fail school,” he writes. “Not impossible, just really hard!”

Do what you can to impart important life skills such as a solid work ethic, promptness, patience, and getting along with others. Have rules and, as much as possible, “logical” consequences for unacceptable behavior. (For example: “Work needs to be completed. You can do it in class with others, at home, or during recess.”)

. . . I am far more likely to motivate an uninterested student with poor attendance to show up, and therefore make it more likely that she will pass my class and graduate, by telling how much we missed her during her absence rather than by giving her a zero on missed assignments.

School success doesn’t always predict success in life, he concludes. Of course, school failure usually does predict future failure.

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  1. “Students have to go to school and take courses in subjects they may not like or be any good at. In the real world, workers can specialize.”

    Newsflash for Mr. Mendler:
    In the “real world,” workers may “specialize,” but there are still plenty of opportunities where they have to perform tasks that are outside their training and/or dealing with things they’re not interested in. I guarantee you the boss will not care one whit what the special snowflake thinks – if the special snowflake doesn’t perform, he can just waltz right down to HR and pick up his final paycheck.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    If it doesn’t matter how well students do in the course, why the hell are they being forced to take it in the first place? Dr. Mendler doesn’t follow his own argument to its logical conclusion.

  3. PhillipMarlowe says:

    “Of course, school failure usually does predict future failure.”

    How well does it predict getting into heaven?

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      I don’t think there’s any reliable data on that.

      • phillipMarlowe says:

        No, but in the end that what matters.
        You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
        You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
        You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
        They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

        But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
        You’re gonna have to serve somebody
        Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
        But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

        Read more:

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        Present interpretations of the First Amendment prohibit basing policy on that 🙂