The Internet Monk
A Dispatch From Our Correspondent in the Public Schools
The Perfection Syndrome
“Failure is not an option!” - Gene Kranz in “Apollo 13”
by Steve Mcfarland
found it amusing reading about a town that recently decided to take an
evening off and promote family time free of youth sports practices,
school activities and all other demands upon family time.
It has even crossed my mind to promote such an event in the city
where I live as my family finds itself often caught up in a whirlwind of
demands impossible to meet.
The impact of these demands placed upon children and their
“hyper-parents” will only be understood in years to
research ten to twenty years from now will be able to adequately explain
how this “over scheduling” of a child’s life is shaping our lives.
In the meantime the debate about how this practice benefits or
destroys childhood will continue.
the manic scheduling and demands placed upon today’s youth is a
symptom of another, far more serious problem.
We have refused to allow failure from not only our children, but
from adults as well.
There is what could be called a “Mary Poppins” mindset about
what we should expect from our children, our world and ourselves – we
must be “practically perfect in every way!”
‘perfection syndrome”, as I will call it, is evident everywhere we
am amazed at how many tanning bed salons, weight loss centers, health
clubs, plastic surgery clinics, private academic tutoring services, and
herbal medicine shops have sprung up in my part of the country in just
the past five years.
Equally alarming is the number of young people being allowed to
spend time and money in tanning beds, having that nose job at 16, breast implants
paid for by parents, and more, all to remove their so-called flaws and
Adults are expected to be thin, have thick hair, be financially
sound, and have happy, successful, "All-American" kids.
We can’t even walk our dog in my town without a pooper-scooper.
My problem is that I am not perfect and neither is my wife and
Even my dog has occasional accidents.
Can we stop the madness?
start with education.
America is one of the few countries on the planet that makes it
illegal to quit school before a child turns sixteen.
There is already legislation being proposed to increase that age
In many parts of the world, children are allowed to quit school
at the completion of their eighth grade year and in most of those places
low test scores will not allow them to continue anyway.
For the vast
majority of children across the world, education is a privilege to be
treasured, not a right to be expected.
Many young people that I have come to know and respect would be
happier and far more productive in our society if they could have the
option and dignity to quit school and begin working.
Teachers and administrators grow increasingly frustrated trying
to hold all children to a standard of excellence in academics that leave
many feeling like failures before they have a chance to succeed at
something they can do well.
few years ago I sponsored a program at my school to introduce our eighth
grade students to vocational school and its many opportunities.
The students that I selected for the program were mostly failing
classes, becoming behavior problems and topping the list of potential dropouts.
There were also other excellent students that were invited to
While visiting an Industrial Electronics class, the students were
asked to put together a simple circuit and make a light bulb turn on.
Not a single student could make the circuit work correctly,
including the better students in the class.
That was when I noticed Alex, a straight
“F" student in constant trouble, only
interested in working with his dad on his car at home, with poor attendance and few friends.
He was sitting with his arms crossed watching the other
student’s futile attempts, but making no attempts himself.
I noticed the smile on his face.
I knew that Alex could do it and so I asked him to try.
The other students laughed at my comment, but sat in stunned
silence when Alex, without any hesitation, connected the wires to make
that bulb glow.
Alex would probably never be successful as a student in the classroom, but
I will likely be paying him to repair my automobile someday.
He was trying to live up to a certain standard of excellence that
was not right for him.
In other words he was not perfect.
only are the academic standards impossible for many, so are the demands
for perfection in sports, music, social circles, and even within the
religious constructs of a family’s beliefs.
It is no surprise that often when I am in conversations with parents
desperate to help a failing child, I hear audible sighs of relief at
my suggestion that it is ok for a child to fail.
Failure is normal, it should be expected and it may, in fact, be
a good thing.
the dawn of time human beings have taken sinister delight in the
failures of others.
The headlines tell the story of daily mistakes people make.
We read the police reports, bankruptcy lists, and divorce
proceedings and scan the list of people with delinquent taxes.
I foresee the current Catholic Church scandal as being a headline
for years, as a gleeful society takes pleasure in the failures of those
who are supposed to be above such frailty.
What more welcoming news can be told to a mistake ridden people
than to hear about the lurid sins of the clergy?
I hear people in the Christian faith often being critical of
churches that lack numerical growth, evangelistic successes, and
I am witness to school systems comparing their success over and
against others, and political parties digging out each other’s flaws.
Ironically, though failure is not an option to this generation, when it comes
to other people, it is the most sought after news report, movie
screenplay and water-cooler conversation topic in America.
daughter is a delightful young lady who would make any father proud.
But she sometimes struggles in school, and on more than one
occasion I have met with her teachers about getting her extra
one meeting I described her school experience as being like that of
trying to hold onto a fast moving train- she simply cannot keep up.
That analogy seems to best describe the phenomenon of the
We cannot keep up or hang on and are at risk of being run down.
Perhaps it's time to let that train pass, and to catch a slower one
out of the station, one that will accept flawed people.