It has been two years of DJEC and the Ednium Alumni Collective trying to understand the concept of student success. We even created a full issue on the topic in which I encouraged people to reconsider how they define success and ask, what is the responsibility of a school in the creation and realization of this idea?

It is impossible to conceive of success apart from career achievements and financial stability, at least in the context of the United States. You’re welcome to have other definitions; however, your survival is dependent upon the definition your fellow Americans have provided for you. If you do not work, you indeed do not eat. Our research indicates that participants understand this. How could they not? Is the holy trinity work, earn, spend or father, son and holy ghost?

To be American is to live with dissonance, to be American is to be a contradiction. In order to have a family, and in order to experience social/emotional/mental health, you need money. More and more money all the time it seems. You must pursue America’s definition of success if you have any chance of experiencing your own definition. For many Americans, this incongruence brings heartache and pain, suffering and death. Rather than imply that schools can and should do something about it, maybe we are better off accepting it. Settle in. Exist in the contradiction. Pursue a pre-packaged, potentially hollow success to fund one that feels more valuable.

Asking how to define success is the wrong question. Asking how to endure the dissonance and reconcile yourself within the contradiction is the right one. It is possible to exist as an embodiment of your values: a subtle emanation of the type of success you believe in. Even if we choose to pursue a raise or promotion, we can do so while existing as an expression of love, family, community, and wellness. I imagine this is difficult to do but I also imagine it is worth it. As long as humans are willing to lie, cheat, and steal. As long as it remains true that “everyone has a price,” the personal definition of success will always be secondary to America’s definition. People are capable of a moral center, reclaiming our consciousness and attention, thinking critically and living creatively. Then, maybe how a school or a country defines success will matter less.

By Spencer Childress EdD
AKA The Knight of Infinite Resignation
AKA DC


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The Denver Journal of Education and Community welcomes you to @Issue. We have designed this platform for educators, scholars, parents, students, and community members to communicate and think together about public education. We hope that the conversation feels current, relevant, and responsive to what you’re seeing in school settings in the Denver metro area. To write an original post on a topic that’s important to you, send between 300 and 1000 words to our director, spencer@educationandcommunity.org. To respond to an existing post, do so in the comments. We ask that you write and respond in a thoughtful, civil way. @Issue is not about being correct but about thinking together. DJEC reserves the right to review, edit, and/or delete any comments it deems inappropriate and/or hateful. The opinions expressed in @Issue are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of DJEC or Education and Community.