Failure is not an Option

My building decided that the needed a new “vision statement” for our school.  I was in the group that was discussing the possible phrases we would use.  The idea is that this will be a publicly posted sign that is clear and purposeful about what we as a school really want for our students.  The phrase “Failure is not an option” came up and many people really liked it.

I did not.

My wife has a marketing degree and we’ve discussed the importance of including positive words in slogans and how negative words can have the opposite effect in marketing.  Posting the word “Failure” all over the school could certainly be detrimental.  I argued this point…but I was the minority. The principal was sure that it was a short and clear statement that everyone would understand.

Do you agree with them, or with me?

I am the language lover and these are my thoughts.



  1. Josh said,

    April 22, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Gulp…that slogan sounds scary. I’m with you.

  2. patrice said,

    April 23, 2010 at 8:56 am

    With you, totally. I think that’s a bizarre vision statement. “Not failing”, while certainly desirable, is not exactly an inspirational goal. I have mixed feelings about “vision/mission statement” processes anyhow – the companies I’ve worked for get on those kicks once in awhile. I think management overestimates their power to motivate people. Though I can see it more in a school setting. But no – don’t post “failure” all over the place.

  3. Scott Erb said,

    April 23, 2010 at 10:23 am

    I agree with you. Not only is the term negative, but failure must be an option for success to mean anything. But the slogan provides no notion of what success is, or what students gain. You’re right, your principal is wrong!

  4. April 23, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Thanks for the support. 🙂 I should clarify our school’s recent focus: We are now all about the bottom line. What can we do to make sure that students pass. This is not exactly through lowering our standards, but it’s catching students before they drop too far and giving students additional chances to do assignments that they have missed.

    Now, instead of saying that an assignment is due on Friday or it’s a zero, you can let the student earn half credit by turning it in later. Things like that.

    It has raised our passing percentage by six or seven percent. Some worry that we are lowering our standards to do that. I mostly worry about the other end. We (The school I mean, not me) don’t worry about challenging our top students. We’re just happy they’re passing.

    As Scott said, though: If no one fails, success has no meaning. Right now, we’re failing about 10% of our students here. Is that the right amount? That’s my question.

  5. Scott Erb said,

    April 27, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    That’s similar to our university’s approach — expand student services, increase early deficiency notices, connect advisors to student support services, etc. Obviously it’s different for colleges since students are adults and often Professors don’t worry about attendance or noticing if students are falling behind — the goal is to change that mindset. I have no idea what “fail rate” is proper. I don’t fail many, but I also do a lot of stuff to give poor students chances to at least show effort. I tend to probably have lower standards than many for C and D grades, but I maintain challenging standards for “A” grades. You can get a C- in my classes if you expand effort, and I believe someone tried. But A’s are reserved for superb work (though some classes see a bump in A- grades. That’s sort of been my solution: no failure if there is effort, but no high grades if there isn’t outstanding work.

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