Failing Grades

Monday, January 14, 2013

What do they teach children in school these days?

This past Wednesday I crossed the state line into Illinois to talk to an eighth grade class about being successful. My main point was that successful people don't give up. They try and try and try until they reach their goals.

I used several examples, mostly famous writers who were buried under rejection slips but kept submitting their work anyway. The class seemed to know who Dr. Seuss was, and a few of the students recognized the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. One girl even said she checked one out of the library but hadn't read it yet.

None of the eighth graders had heard of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell or knew who Jack London was. That didn't surprise me. With all the good literature out there and so little time to read and teach it all, I understand how some of the works we thought of as classics can get lost in the crowd.

But one of my examples left me speechless.

Only one student knew who Thomas Edison was.

Thomas Edison, who invented the phonograph and perfected the light bulb. Thomas Edison, who saw every "failure" as a success even when it took him over 3,000 tries to find a filament that burned long enough to be commercially viable. Thomas Edison, who has been called the greatest inventor who ever lived.

Where have these children--and their teachers--been?

I realize there are other schools that do a better job of connecting children with their heritage. This was a suburban "inner-city" school and probably had more than its share of problems to distract teachers and administrators from their primary job of educating students.

Still, I have to give that school and its staff a failing grade.

I have high hopes for the student who knew who Thomas Edison was. As for the others, I pray the school's failures don't become theirs.

And that they don't give up.

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