Bernie’s Failure

“I refused to accept the fact, could not accept the fact, that for once in my life I failed. I couldn’t admit that failure, and that was a tragic mistake.”
Bernie Madoff

It’s possible that Bernie Madoff was simply rationalizing his behaviour when he made this statement Monday at his sentencing. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s been less than transparent. But if we give him the benefit of the doubt, what he said about failure should give all of us who work in schools – especially independent schools – reason to pause.

Most of us would agree that real success is about the growth that comes from the inevitable rotation of failure and success. The problem for those of us in private schools, though, is that that failure has become too pricey. Part of this is a result of our cost structure. I remember a particularly angry dad saying that he had paid too much for his son to get a C. “At $25 k a pop, satisfactory is not satisfactory!”

In The Blessing of A Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogul points out that it’s important for children to learn to deal with disappointments, failures, frustrations, and the bumps and bruises of ordinary life, and that sometimes, in our efforts to “love” them, we inadvertently undermine the feedback loop they’ll need to develop in order to grow. Sometimes schools sound a bit like Lake Wobegone, Garrison Keillor’s wonderland where “All the women are strong. All the men are good looking. And all the children are above average.”

An excerpt from “The Blessing of A Skinned Knee” is below:

I recently read a third-grade school newsletter that used the word special five times on two pages. The Thanksgiving Sing was special. So was the Spellathon. The Emerging Artists exhibition was special. Even the unassuming Pie Drive was, for reasons not clearly revealed by the newsletter coverage, special indeed. And, finally, this year’s third-grade class was in itself a very, very special group.
I wondered, Is it possible? So much specialness concentrated in one place? A cosmic coincidence?


One thought on “Bernie’s Failure

  1. The everything is special part reminded me of two things, both of which rattle around in my head whenever I read an indepedent school mission statement–

    “Always remember that you are unique. Just like everyone else.” –Uknown

    and this scene from “The Life of Brian”

    Look. You’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals!

    Yes, we’re all individuals!

    You’re all different!

    Yes, we are all different!

    I’m not.

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