National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council Vol. 11, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2010).

ISSN 1559-0151 Copyright © 2010 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


Much has been written over the last several years about the increase in the number of students who come to our campuses with behavioral disorders and under medication. While honors students are certainly not immune to these conditions, the more frequent emotional trauma we see them suffer is their first encounter with failure. Luckily, we can address this trauma successfully if we are prepared to do so. As honors faculty, we encourage intellectual risk, knowing from our own experience that failure may very well result but confident in the fact that learning also happens despite other outcomes, good or bad. Armed with this knowledge, one of the most important lessons we can teach our students is how to fail.

Our high-achieving students, as they emerge from their pre-baccalaureate education and childhood experience, typically reach us ill-equipped to fail. They have always had cheerleaders, parachutes, ribbons, and rewards to the extent that they consider even good performance inadequate. The first “B” grade can send such students into a tailspin, leading them to question their abilities and their very identities, which are often wrapped up in their definitions of success. Along with teaching our disciplines, then, we need to teach students a few lessons on how and why to fail.