Struggle to Success

Thomas Edison, well-known as the innovative genius who: developed the first commercially viable incandescent lightbulb; invented the phonograph; created the motion picture camera; established the General Electric (GE) company; was one of the most productive inventors known and has more than a thousand patents registered, famously said: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Another statement (several variations of this quote have been attributed to Edison) refers to how often he has not failed but identified numerous ways in which he has discovered something doesn’t work. He claimed: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Success didn’t come easily to Edison; he struggled his way to success.

Xiaodong Lin-Siegler, Janet N. Ahn, Fu-Fen Anny Fang and Myra Luna-Lucero from Columbia University, together with their colleague, Jondou Chen from the University of Washington, proclaim that even Einstein struggled. They maintain it is critical that students understand that even accomplished scientists such as Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Michael Faraday struggled to overcome challenges associated with scientific endeavours, before finally achieving success. These researchers identified many students who believe that exceptional scientific achievement is dependent upon inborn ability and tend to give up before they have sufficient opportunity to develop their own talents and achieve success. Unfortunately such beliefs undermine students’ effort when most required.  Researchers found that when they struggle in science classes, students often perceive this struggle as evidence that they will never succeed at science.

Cambridge University researcher, Sir John Gurdon, awarded a Nobel Prize for his pioneering research on cloning, achieved earlier school reports that were regarded as ‘disastrous’; however he identified what he needed to do in order to achieve and persisted with his scientific research. By providing students with stories about how eminent scientists struggled to overcome personal difficulties and achieve, the Columbia and Washington University researchers emphasised that the most accomplished scientists are people who often failed and struggled through difficulty before achieving. Researchers identified that parents and educators need to support students to identify what adjustments should be made in order to improve.

Kyla Haimovitz, Professor of Psychology and her colleague at Stanford University, Carol Dweck explain that how a parent responds to a student’s academic results will influence how a student perceives their own ability to learn, stating, “Parents have this powerful effect really early on … to send messages about what is failure, how to respond to it.” Parental attitudes about failure are crucial in forming students’ beliefs. Parents who perceive failure as an opportunity to learn are more likely to support their students to identify what they can still learn, these researchers found.  The fear of failure can destroy a student’s love of learning. A student’s willingness to learn from failure; to be intellectually brave; to develop resilience and to struggle to achieve success develops attitudes towards learning that will benefit a student academically and throughout life.

© Michele Juratowitch