The Problem of the Failure Narrative

Definition of the Failure Narrative
In an endeavor as large as education, there will always be a significant number of successes and failures. The “failure narrative” perspective emphasizes the failures will little or no reference to the successes. The failure narrative is not unique to education although it does seem more prevalent here than in other enterprises.

Why We Fall Into It
In general, blemishes are more noticeable. Think of a scratch in a car, a flaw in a diamond, a bruise on an apple. Even when the blemish is a small part of the whole, it is apparent and when the failures constitute a much greater percentage, it is no wonder that they occupy a larger space in the mind.

Vested Interests
When someone is proposing solutions to a problem, they have additional reasons to employ the failure narrative. Solutions are more critical when they are correcting failure as opposed to when they are simply improving successes.

Problem With The Narrative
Failures require different solutions than mild successes. The solutions provided within the failure narrative may not be appropriate if the enterprise is not truly failing. In fact, “failure narrative” solutions can make things even worse when they’re misapplied to non-failing situations.

Determining The Reality
How can we determine the reality? Perhaps education is truly failing? If it is, we need to know that. To get to that truth, we have to closely examine the definitions of failure and determine whether the failure label really fits. When we get beyond the rhetoric, we will, more often than not, see that there are both successes and failures and that the percentages are dependent on definitions.

The failure narrative perspective clouds our thinking and prevents us from analyzing problems and proposed solutions properly. If we are able to take a more balanced and nuanced approach to education, we will be more likely to succeed in improving the entire enterprise.