Back long ago when I was a wee undergraduate lass, there was a mathematics professor at my university, let's call him Smith. I have no idea what caliber of researcher Professor Smith was back then, looking now at his citation count in Google Scholar I'm not feeling impressed, but maybe those sorts of numbers are more common for Math.
We undergraduates knew Professor Smith not for his mathematical brilliance, but for his tendency to insult people when they came to his office hours and asked questions. I.e., "How could you not know that? You're stupid." To my knowledge he was completely gender-egalitarian in doling out insults, in fact I first heard about his behavior from a male student.
Yesterday when I read Amy Chau's WSJ article, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior", I thought back to Professor Smith. In those days we all though Professor Smith was a jerk with no social skills, a demotivator, and a poor excuse for an educator. But it occurs to me - maybe he was tough on us because he expected us to be top notch students, and thought we should be pushing ourselves harder. Maybe he came from a cultural background where calling people stupid is acceptable practice and he missed the memo that it is Not Okay in the US.
Growing up, I was lucky to have parents who did not flip out when I got a low grade, and teachers who were always respectful and kind towards me. I did hear tales of some people whose parents would flip out when they failed a test, and I do wonder what effect that has on the developing mind. Does it lead students to cheat? Commit acts of self-harm when they fail? Drop out of school entirely? (I have no doubt it is a major contributor to grade-grubbing).
We seem to stress measured, quantifiable success both in education and in science - receiving high scores, publishing positive results. But I really wish there was more room for (and encouragement of) failure. I wish more stories were told about how a lot of good science comes out of making mistakes, or how a lot of brilliant thinkers flunked out of school.
Once I gave a talk and a young student came up to me and said, "Thank you so much for telling us about the mistakes you made in your research. I've never seen anyone do that before." I was astonished. It just always seemed like the honest thing to do.