April 28, 2023

Striving for Mediocrity

Coddling children doesn’t help them grow; it keeps them children.

By Mark W. Fowler

“[If] you tolerate mediocrity, then that’s all you will ever achieve.” —Felicia Etienne

George Patton observed that all “Real Americans” love competition. They admire the fastest runner, the best marble shooter, the big-league ball players, and the toughest boxers. Patton understood what success required: perseverance, study, and eternal desire. With those tools any person could achieve success.

Sadly, there exists among the leadership of educators derived from progressive theory a despicable notion that children should not have to endure standardized tests; ought not be graded on the 100-point scale; ought not be penalized for turning in homework late (to the extent they do any); and should be able to retake tests. The purpose of this is to accommodate those who might have difficult home lives, or who might be stigmatized by poor grades, or something. Sadly, this is the path to mediocrity. Presently, American children rank 11th worldwide in reading and 31st in math skills.

All humans face this challenge: Shall I seek comfort and miss the mark intended for my life, or shall I engage and struggle to reach my potential? Stated another way: Will I live courageously, painfully if necessary, marching along life’s path with all its ups and downs and disappointments, or shall I cower in the false promise of safety letting life pass me by?

Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, a record that stood for 30 years. He hit 714 home runs, also a record. His batting record is attributable to his approach of hitting from a more aggressive stance, one dedicated not to protecting the plate and avoiding strikeouts but to hitting the ball harder. His risk paid off.

Thomas Edison tried about 1,000 materials before stumbling on cotton as a filament for a light bulb. When asked about this, he explained, “I was never myself discouraged, or inclined to be hopeless of success.” Had he listened to his associates, many of whom did despair, he might have received accolades for trying 975 times. But he would not have invented the light bulb, and no one would have remembered him.

Corporal Desmond Doss is the only conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Doss wished to be a medic in the Army, but refused to carry a weapon, for which he suffered significant harassment and calumny. His Medal of Honor citation is harrowing to read. My comments here will not do him justice, but in summary he saved between 50 and 100 men, while moving under fire close to enemy lines.

When ordered to retreat, he refused, knowing that 75 men remained in position, unable to move on their own. He was wounded by grenades and hit by sniper fire, which shattered his left arm. Multiple times he advanced to reach his comrades and return them to safety. The same comrades who had previously threatened and harassed him in basic training. Upon being wounded, he voluntarily surrendered his position on a litter to a man more injured than he.

He could have avoided all this by accepting a deferment due to his work in a shipyard.

This, kind reader, is courage. This kind of striving is the model that we should emulate. This ability to face mortal fire in pursuit of a goal is the perfect metaphor for success in life. We are all called to engage, to take risks, to succeed by overcoming failure, to persevere. Coddling children doesn’t help them grow; it keeps them children.

Mark W. Fowler is a former attorney and board-certified physician. He can be reached at [email protected].

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