How to Prepare Kids For a Lifetime of Failure

James Bowman writes in the Wall Street Journal today that, beginning next month, the College Board will allow high-school students who have taken the SATs multiple times to submit only their highest score to the colleges to which they are applying." Is that really a good idea?

It's called Score Choice, and, according to the Journal, it "brings the SAT into line with the ACT, the rival college-entrance examination, and it is supposedly designed to reduce the stress that this examination places on students worried about their futures."


Whether stress can actually be good for you is a subject of much debate. That aside, critics of Score Choice note that it gives an unfair advantage to those who can afford the time and the money to take the test more than once. Not only that, but since it makes the job of assessing applicants more difficult, it may contribute to colleges weighing the test less than in the past. Again, that's a subject of much debate.

Bowman blames the 1980s self-esteem movement for catalyzing a do-over culture that prevents schools from holding students to high standards. He recalls the days when school districts banned placing students in alphabetical order for fear that the self-esteem of those whose names began with the later letters of the alphabet would suffer. And in 1986, Bowman notes, self-esteem-based education in California rewarded feeble efforts and simply removed the incentive for kids to work hard."

Bowman writes that "while American students perform poorly compared with many foreigners of the same age, they are top of the charts when it comes to how well they think they have performed. Artificially pumping up their self-esteem produces only self-deception in the first instance and frustration and anger when -- or if -- the truth must be faced...We do children no favors by teaching them that they have a right to a favorable outcome in all that they do."

In a world where success is increasingly rare, Bowman says, schools should 'submit students to the same sorts of stresses and failures that adult life does, in order to teach them how to cope with such things."

Here is a recent Big Think interview with College Board president Gaston Caperton explaining the value of standardized testing. In this increasingly challenging global economic environment, schools must focus on what makes kids smarter. And everyone knows that competiton works.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less

The culprit of increased depression among teens? Smartphones, new research suggests.

A new study, led by psychologist Jean Twenge, points to the screen as the problem.

A teenager eyes her smartphone as people enjoy a warm day on the day of silence, one day prior to the presidential elections, when candidates and political parties are not allowed to voice their political meaning on April 14, 2018 in Kotor, Montenegro. Citizens from Montenegro, the youngest NATO member, will vote for a new president on Sunday 15 2018. (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
Surprising Science
  • In a new study, adolescents and young adults are experiencing increased rates of depression and suicide attempts.
  • The data cover the years 2005–2017, tracking perfectly with the introduction of the iPhone and widespread dissemination of smartphones.
  • Interestingly, the highest increase in depressive incidents was among individuals in the top income bracket.
Keep reading Show less

U.S. reacts to New Zealand's gun ban

On Thursday, New Zealand moved to ban an array of semi-automatic guns and firearms components following a mass shooting that killed 50 people.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Gun control supporters are pointing to the ban as an example of swift, decisive action that the U.S. desperately needs.
  • Others note the inherent differences between the two nations, arguing that it is a good thing that it is relatively hard to pass such legislation in such a short timeframe.
  • The ban will surely shape future conversations about gun control in the U.S.
Keep reading Show less