The Adolescent’s Perception of Failure by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

The Adolescent’s Perception of Failure by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

The following talk was delivered by William Allan Kritsonis during the summer of 1971 at Seattle Pacific University.  At the time, Kritsonis was completing the master’s degree in education and the talk was given before a live audience of graduate students and professors, thus satisfying one of the special requirements needed for the degree.  The talk influenced many people deeply and forced them to re-evaluate their own attitudes about success and failure.


                          The Adolescent’s Perception of Failure

 Upwards of a thousand students commit suicide every year. They had their whole lives ahead of them, and somehow, they lost hope.  No one cared, they thought; life was not worth living.  They asked themselves: Is that all there is? 

Suicide is certainly the ultimate self-punishment for having failed.  Life was no longer worth the struggle, the effort, the will. 

I would like to take a look with you at the concept of failure-at how adolescents in high school and college see it-and what we, as parents and teachers, have taught them about it.

We have all had a part in it, and we have all had to come to grips with it and to decide what failure actually means to each of us individually.

Success is important in our society, more important, surely, that the desire to live sanely and to enjoy the good things of life which one has worked for.  Success for its own sake is valued-valued, and I believed at any cost, and the road to success rationalized in the name of the great American competitive way, at the expense of honest and, perhaps, sanity.

The “F” for failure has become so feared that we in education have revamped our marking system in preference for U’s and E’s without revamping our attitudes -attitudes of those who should know.

We  are apt to  be very objective  when  we look  at our students-and  we give

them what they deserve and in doing so, feel very smug.  We have given out the material, we have given the examinations and now it follows, as night follows day, that we give out the marks.  Yet, we forget that there is much more that a teacher gives to his or students, willingly or unwillingly.  A teacher gives an example of how to look at life and at people.  And if failure is viewed as the worst fate, if it is something that is given the connotation of shame, unworthiness, and hopelessness, then indeed, we have taught much more than English or history or mathematics.

Adolescence marks the trying period of search which may have the significant effects on subsequent personality structure, on later adjustments in the years that lie ahead.  Probably, what brings the greatest amount of equalizing balance to the period of adolescence is the presence of significant people in the adolescent’s life.  Since people become so very important to him, it is the importance of some people who have that ingredient of compassion who can help the adolescent come through this unfolding, transitional period into the fullness of adult life.

The world is full of people who are fearful that they will fail at some tasks or goal and who usually manage to avoid trying for what they want because they construe failure as the worst of all possible crimes.

In a study, it was found that competitive situations around two major motives:  either to achieve success… or to avoid failure.  The strivers-for success were found more likely to be middle-of-the-roaders in their aspirations or ambitions, where as the failure-avoider will be either excessively cautious or extravagantly reckless in the things he tries. Because failure is painful, he will choose either extreme rather than take the 50-50 chance.

Feelings of adequacy and success may depend more on self-acceptance than on actual achievement.  Regardless of actual test performance, self-accepting students tend to be optimistic, non-anxious, and non-competitive.  Self-rejecting ones are anxious and unrealistic in goal-setting.

In another study, the subjects were asked to rate themselves on a list of traits as they thought they were, as they hoped they were, as they feared they were, and as they thought others regarded them.  The group had first been classified as stable and unstable on the basis of a personality inventory.  The stable group rated themselves higher and there was less discrepancy between their self-ratings and the way they thought others would rate them.  They were also better liked, better adjusted socially, less situation dominated, and showed less defensive behavior.

Approximately half of those who enter college drop out.  Many are in the highest levels of ability.  When students drop out, it usually is understood that they have failed.  At the college level, a great deal of attention has been given to the question: “What can we learn about those who have failed in the past that will enable us to reject similar persons who might apply for admission in the future?”  Little consideration is given to the question:  “What might the institution do to prevent failure, to help remedy shortcomings within the college and with the individual student, which produce failure?”

Reasons for coming to college are always multiple.  Stress is usually placed on one or another of these:

– to get a better paying job

– status of a degree

– social life-all my friends are going

– avoid work

– get married

– because of parents

Many are disillusioned with what is expected of them.  Many find that it’s the same old things as high school-all these things which aren’t practical.  Others who were eager to learn find that it is not the kind of challenge they had expected.

Many entering students are sorry about the time they wasted in high school.  They didn’t try hard enough; they didn’t apply themselves; they were more interested in athletics, social life, or other things.  If we go back a bit, we find that there were many things that they were concerned about during those days-some things which were, indeed, are more important to them at the time than geometry or American history, an which sometimes were far more necessary and pressing in order that they might grow up.  But, those who observe the adolescent in high school are very often unaware of what he is facing and are not able to understand why he can’t buckle down.  What they can’t understand is that the reason is…that there are many things the adolescent is trying to accomplish and school work often provides him with no stimulation, no incentive for interest or involvement.  School is just a bore!  And teachers are a bore! And adults, in general, are a bore!  Adults are forever talking, but what they say often doesn’t seem to mean anything.

A new interest can be sparked in school when there is a teacher who does mean something.  But it takes more than one teacher to make a school program relevant.  When competition and success are the significant ingredients of a program, then we are apt to be creating egocentric (or self-centered) intellectuals who gloat over their achievements as they look down on those who have successfully developed feelings of worthlessness because-they have lost and lost and lost, and fear that they will probably never win-and only those who win are important.

Our task ought to be to help the adolescent to see that failure is neither good nor bad.  It is, however, and inevitable fact of reality.  The way we use it in our lives will determine, ultimately, its goodness or badness for us.

Each of us must learn to live with certain limitations in ability.  It is only when an individual falls consistently below the norm areas that seem important to him that inferior ability constitutes a serious limitation.

From studies of both high and underachievers in high school, the pattern of the relationship between self-concept and achievement becomes clearer.  There is a relationship between positive self-concept and high achievement, negative self-concept and under-achievement.  The research does not indicate which is cause or effect.  Chances are we can see a circular pattern beginning earlier with perception or experiences.  Every experience contributes to the adolescent’s evolving picture of himself, which, in turn, becomes a guide to future action.

Parental pressure for success seems to arise naturally out of a parent’s desire that this child must have the best that the world has to offer, yet…in the same breath, it may be that many of them see the failure which their son or daughter may face as a failure for themselves.  Many parents want their children to be a credit to them, forgetting that if a child is a credit to itself, the other will follow naturally.

Likewise, it is not important to be better than the next guy so much as it is to try to do our best.  We should be our own chief and best competition.  We cannot always achieve our goal, but we ought to find satisfaction in knowing we did the best we could.  Too often, we are teaching the idea of striving for success in high school, in college, in athletics, in all the aspects of living, for the wrong reasons.  Let’s change our own attitude about success and failure.


William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

(Revised, January 2010)

William H. Parker Leadership Academy Hall of Honor

In 2008, Dr. Kritsonis was inducted into the William H. Parker Leadership Academy Hall of Honor, Graduate School, Prairie View A&M University – The Texas A&M University System. He was nominated by doctoral and master’s degree students.

Dr. Kritsonis Lectures at the University of Oxford, Oxford, England

In 2005, Dr. Kritsonis was an Invited Visiting Lecturer at the Oxford Round Table at Oriel College in the University of Oxford, Oxford, England.  His lecture was entitled theWays of Knowing Through the Realms of Meaning.

Dr. Kritsonis Recognized as Distinguished Alumnus

In 2004, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis was recognized as the Central Washington University Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus for the College of Education and Professional Studies.  Dr. Kritsonis was nominated by alumni, former students, friends, faculty, and staff.  Final selection was made by the Alumni Association Board of Directors.  Recipients are CWU graduates of 20 years or more and are recognized for achievement in their professional field and have made a positive contribution to society.  For the second consecutive year, U.S. News and World Report placed Central Washington University among the top elite public institutions in the west.  CWU was 12th on the list in the 2006 On-Line Education of “America’s Best Colleges.”

Educational Background

            Dr. William Allan Kritsonis earned his BA in 1969 from Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington.  In 1971, he earned his M.Ed. from Seattle Pacific University.  In 1976, he earned his PhD from the University of Iowa.  In 1981, he was a Visiting Scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, and in 1987 was a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.

Doctor of Humane Letters

             In June 2008, Dr. Kritsonis received the Doctor of Humane Letters, School of Graduate Studies from Southern Christian University. The ceremony was held at the Hilton Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Professional Experience

Dr. Kritsonis began his career as a teacher.  He has served education as a principal, superintendent of schools, director of student teaching and field experiences, invited guest professor, author, consultant, editor-in-chief, and publisher.  Dr. Kritsonis has earned tenure as a professor at the highest academic rank at two major universities.

Books – Articles – Lectures – Workshops

             Dr. Kritsonis lectures and conducts seminars and workshops on a variety of topics.  He is author of more than 600 articles in professional journals and several books.  His popular book SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: The Art of Survival is scheduled for its fourth edition.  He is the author of the textbook William Kritsonis, PhD on Schooling that is used by many professors at colleges and universities throughout the nation and abroad.

       In 2009, Dr. Kritsonis coauthored the textbook A Statistical Journey: Taming of the Skew.  The book has been adopted by professors in many colleges and universities throughout the nation.  It was published by the Alexis/Austin Group, Murrieta, California.

 In 2008-2009, Dr. Kritsonis coauthored the book Effective Teaching in the Elementary School. First year teachers, as well as seasoned educators will find the chapters of this book packed with practical and workable solutions to typical classroom problems.

 In 2007, Dr. Kritsonis’ version of the book of Ways of Knowing Through the Realms of Meaning (858 pages) was published in the United States of America in cooperation with partial financial support of Visiting Lecturers, Oxford Round Table (2005).  The book is the product of a collaborative twenty-four year effort started in 1978 with the late Dr. Philip H. Phenix.  Dr. Kritsonis was in continuous communication with Dr. Phenix until his death in 2002.

 In 2007, Dr. Kritsonis was the lead author of the textbook Practical Applications of Educational Research and Basic Statistics.  The text provides practical content knowledge in research for graduate students at the doctoral and master’s levels.

           Dr. Kritsonis’ seminar and workshop on Writing for Professional Publication has been very popular with both professors and practitioners.  Persons in attendance generate an article to be published in a refereed journal at the national or international levels.

           Dr. Kritsonis has traveled and lectured throughout the United States and world-wide.  Some recent international tours include Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Monte Carlo, England, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Poland, Germany, and many more.

Founder of National FORUM Journals – Over 4,000 Professors Published

          Dr. Kritsonis is founder of NATIONAL FORUM JOURNALS (since 1983).  These publications represent a group of highly respected scholarly academic periodicals.  Over 4,000 writers have been published in these refereed, peer-reviewed periodicals.  In 1983, he founded the National FORUM of Educational Administration and Supervision – now acclaimed by many as the United States’ leading recognized scholarly academic refereed journal in educational administration, leadership, and supervision.

          In 1987, Dr. Kritsonis founded the National FORUM of Applied Educational Research Journal whose aim is to conjoin the efforts of applied educational researchers world-wide with those of practitioners in education.  He founded the National FORUM of Teacher Education Journal, National FORUM of Special Education Journal, National FORUM of Multicultural Issues Journal, International Journal of Scholarly Academic Intellectual Diversity, International Journal of Management, Business, and Administration, and the DOCTORAL FORUM – National Journal for Publishing and Mentoring Doctoral Student Research. The DOCTORAL FORUM is the only refereed journal in America committed to publishing doctoral students while they are enrolled in course work in their doctoral programs. In 1997, he established the Online Journal Division of National FORUM Journals that publishes academic scholarly refereed articles daily on the website:  Over 500 professors have published online.  In January 2007, Dr. Kritsonis established Focus: On Colleges, Universities, and Schools.

Professorial Roles

          Dr. Kritsonis has served in professorial roles at Central Washington University, Washington; Salisbury State University, Maryland; Northwestern State University, Louisiana; McNeese State University, Louisiana; and Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge in the Department of Administrative and Foundational Services.                                          

     In 2006, Dr. Kritsonis published two articles in the Two-Volume Set of the Encyclopedia of Educational Leadership and Administration published by SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, California. He is a National Reviewer for the Journal of Research on Leadership, University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA).

     In 2007, Dr. Kritsonis was invited to write a history and philosophy of education for the ABC-CLIO Encyclopedia of World History.

           Currently, Dr. Kritsonis is Professor of Educational Leadership at Prairie View A&M University – Member of the Texas A&M University System.  He teaches in the PhD Program in Educational Leadership.  Dr. Kritsonis taught the Inaugural class session in the doctoral program at the start of the fall 2004 academic year. In October 2006, Dr. Kritsonis chaired the first doctoral student to earn a PhD in Educational Leadership at Prairie View A&M University. He has chaired over 18 doctoral dissertations. He lives in Houston, Texas.

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