Student success is mostly talked about in terms of achieving certain ends like getting a job, acing a test or winning a championship. Failure is seen as the opposite of success and something to avoid at all costs. But perhaps failure is the necessary fuel behind our success for without it, we could never achieve greatness in anything. The relationship between success and failure is a complicated one that students must sort out on their own.
Setting aside the 19th century gender-biased language and applying the wisdom to all students, Thoreau is saying something important about success and positive thinking. If students believe they can succeed, then they are halfway home. The power of positive thinking is undeniable. But failure is also crucial. Students must find a balance here between positive thinking and acceptance of their imperfections. Only then will they learn how to persevere.
Everybody experiences struggle. Sometimes the struggle ends up making the person more self-confident, stronger and better able to move forward to the next challenge. But other times adversity breeds fear and inaction. Every struggle is an opportunity for students to make an ethical choice on how to respond in a way that helps them cope with the challenges they will face.