The difference between success and failure

Published 8:56 pm Monday, June 2, 2014

By Joseph Bass

During the last 50 years we have attempted to improve American society based on the “War on Poverty,” attempting to create a “Great Society.” In many ways we have made society worse. One area of failure involves the decline of the effectiveness of our educational system.

But can we improve our educational system by focusing our efforts only on schools? I think not.


Email newsletter signup

It is true that many aspects of our elementary and secondary schools have declined over the years. But is that because of what goes on in the schools or what goes on in the communities served by the schools? Of course, both have important influences on the education of students, but we cannot ignore one and attempt to fix only the other.

Nearly all efforts to improve educational results focus only on schools. Such an isolated focus ignores one important fact: Some students who attend the same school rank high in learning and achievement, while other students are unable to master even basic areas of learning. But all of these students have the same opportunities when they enter school.

What are the factors that make it possible for some students to do extremely well while other students fail in their educational efforts? It is clear that what goes on in schools isn’t what causes this difference.

Having taught students from pre-school though the university level and having lived in South Central Los Angeles for five years, I can tell you the differences: Students with high educational achievement come from stable families that support teachers and encourage (demand?) academic excellence from their children. Those families also support and involve their children in positive community activities such as Scouting and other such programs.

Students who do not do well will come from very different home and community backgrounds. A large percentage comes from areas where millions have been spent, and continue to be spent, on ineffective and destructive social welfare programs. They come from homes in which education, personal initiative, self-reliance, and accountability are not valued.

When their students do not do well in schools, the parents attribute this to outside influences beyond their control. That is to say, they attribute their children’s lack of success and learning to others.

I think it important to note that I have not found the patterns of good parenting and poor parenting to be associated with race or economic conditions. I have seen highly successful parents and students among all races. I have seen very poor families demonstrate the same positive characteristics, resulting in positive outcomes for their children.

Certainly there are many opportunities to improve schools and return them to the safe learning environments of the past. We will not truly begin to have effective educational outcomes until negative influences of parents and communities are successfully addressed.

We will not truly begin to have effective educational outcomes until ineffective, distractive welfare programs are transitioned into programs that will actually achieve desired results.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at