Opine I will

I am an elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

So, what is success?

We all know the line about success. It’s something we want, it’s something we work for, it’s something  we’re rewarded with, it’s something we measure by, and it’s something we judge by.  We all know of ‘successful’ people, ideas, programs, communities, schools, etc. that we can point to and proclaim success. So if we all know it, or think we know it when we see it, and we’re always supposed to be working towards it, what is it?  What is success?

I’ve been reading A Republic of Noise  by Diane Senechal . Her chapter “ The Cult of Success” really has me thinking about the whole concept of success. (I leave it up to you to read her fine work for yourself.) I’ve been wondering, do we really measure success accurately? Can we measure it ? Do we know it when we see it? Is there such a thing? Is failure and success polar opposites or are they really side by side?

Success seems to be the universal standard to which all in education seems to be measured by lately. Successful students, successfully achieve a certain percentage on a standardized test on specific day. Students must successfully communicate, successfully solve problems, successfully write, read and understand. We even have new schools touting ‘success’ in their actual names, “Success Academies”, “Schools for Success”, you get the idea.

So what is success? If we look at it in simple terms, is it as simple as answering a problem correctly? Is that success? We’ve solved a problem and then what happens? Are we done? Of course not, successful people move on, forge new frontiers, meet new challenges. Right?

What happens if we didn’t answer the problem correctly? Did we fail? Is that a failure? Do we stop? Of course not! In reality, we move on, learn from the mistake, forge new frontiers, meet new challenges. Don’t we?

We all have said, learn from your mistakes. Many advancements in every aspect of human history has been the direct result of mistakes or failures. Remember Columbus? Is failure and success opposites?

Who is more successful, the business tycoon or the hard working middle class father who toils in a factory day in and day out. Doesn’t that all depend on what we call success? The business tycoon may have more money, but may have a life with little personal interaction and spends most evenings battling loneliness. While the hard working factory worker, feeds his family pasta three days a week on a tight budget, yet is surrounded by a tight knit family and community that shares similar values. So who is the real successful person?

There are literally thousands of similar anecdotes that can be conjured up to poke holes in the misconception of success.

In education today the big push is to identify successful schools and teachers and quite simply get rid of all the others. The debate rages on how to measure success. Standardized testing has emerged as the miracle tool to measure success. One test on a specific day is suppose measure the success of a child, a teacher, a principal, a school, a school district, and a community. We have new “Common Core Standards” state that if followed, ”Students also acquire the habits of reading independently and closely, which are essential to their future success.” Ironically these new Common Core Standards recommend that students read The Fallacy of Success” by G. K. Chesterton (1909).

Chesterton states, “To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful ” He goes on near the end of his essay to state, ”At least, let us hope that we shall all live to see these absurd books about Success covered with a proper derision and neglect. They do not teach people to be successful, but they do teach people to be snobbish; they do spread a sort of evil poetry of worldliness.”  Pretty good!

President Obama in this year’s State of the Union even drew a correlation with effective teachers, increased income of students, and success.  That’s pretty bold considering, as a society, we have conflicting views of success.

Chesterton sums it all up nicely for us, “Nobody would dare to publish a book about electricity which literally told one nothing about electricity; no one would dare publish an article on botany which showed that the writer did not know which end of a plant grew in the earth. Yet our modern world is full of books about Success and successful people which literally contain no kind of idea, and scarcely and kind of verbal sense.”

Written in 1909, Chesterton effectively sums up the current debate in education. We have so called experts, that haven’t spent any time in a classroom dictating their definition and measure of success.  The only outcome that can be effectively measured so far is the millions of tax payer dollars being funneled to these so called experts and their cohorts.

I guess that’s why they think they’re successful.

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4 thoughts on “So, what is success?

  1. Aaron on said:

    Very interesting read.
    I saw this video a little while back and it discusses our need to “Redefine Success”
    This guy makes a pretty good point. Worth the watch.

  2. Long-overdue thanks for this review. I am delighted that you picked up on Chesterton’s essay “The Fallacy of Success.”

  3. I wrote a short story titled A Reasonable Man and would love for you to read it. The story explores the unforeseen reality of the American Dream as it depicts the conflict between sacrifice and success. It can be found here (http://www.scribd.com/OscarHughes)!

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