My Family’s Guide to Failure


At a recent family gathering, someone whom I won’t name here recommended to my son, a high school senior, that he start looking for a community college to attend for a couple of years before transferring to a four-year school.

“That’s a good idea,” I said. “Do you have any more good ideas? Maybe he should punch himself in the face really hard.”

One of the things I love about my boy is that when he does something, he puts his heart into it. He takes on the risk of failure.

The safe approach — and historically the preferred method in my family — is to do things indifferently, fail, then announce that you weren’t really trying and that you could have succeeded if you’d wanted to.”

We have family members who — despite, to my knowledge, having never done or said an intelligent thing in their lives — never seem to lose their reputation as untapped geniuses who could have done great things if they’d ever set their mind to it.

“You apparently haven’t been paying attention the last 17 years,” I continued. “You’re not there every night when he’s up late working on honors classes and AP classes, trying to accomplish the goals that he’s set for himself, which as far as I know, don’t include community college. Why don’t you ask him if he wants to go to community college? Or is that not relevant to your recommendation?”

“Community college is a lot less expensive and he’ll take the same classes the first two years anyway.”

“They’re really not the same classes,” I said. “You have to teach a class to the level of the students.

“If you’re teaching a general ed class at a highly selective university where every kid came out of high school with a 4.3 GPA and 10 AP classes under their belt, then you can conduct the class at a very challenging level and expect that the kids will get it.

“If you’re teaching the ‘same’ class at a community college, where the only prerequisites for being there are opposable thumbs and a pulse, then you’re going to have to dumb it way, way down.

“Throw in the fact that the students will add no value to the teacher’s ideas, no one will ask an interesting question and no one will answer a question with an interesting answer and you’ll find that the ‘same’ classes are not the same classes at all.”

To summarize the Epps Family Guide to Failure:

  • Aim low.
  • Revel in mediocrity.
  • Hide your light under a bushel.
  • Hide it under a bushel of idiots at the local community college.

  1 comment for “My Family’s Guide to Failure

  1. MS
    6 Jan 2011 at 11:58 pm

    In theory, I agree with your idiot family member(s) and disagree completely with you. However, I’d be pretty pissed off at the family member trying to parent my kid.

    I have some idiots like that in my family too, except they’re the kind of idiots who would relay exactly your perspective to the boy who struggles with grades, making him feel dumb for considering community college at all, further discouraging him.

    Punch your idiot family members in the throat for being idiots, but don’t slam community college and people who attend because they aren’t smart enough for AP classes or can’t afford an expensive university. The fact that they’re pursuing a goal of higher education is to be commended. Your assessment of the people who attend community college is both offensive and incorrect.

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