You are here

Failing Up: A Professor's Odyssey of Flunking, Determination, and Hope (Paperback)

Failing Up: A Professor's Odyssey of Flunking, Determination, and Hope By Barbara Hong Cover Image
Special Order



"An absorbing, eye-opening narrative about the value of grit and education, sure to inspire a wide audience."

In this stunning debut memoir, Hong recounts her exceptional transformation from floundering student to flourishing professor and Dean.

Born in Singapore to an uneducated mother and an alcoholic, abusive father, Hong grew up in severe poverty. She attended school against her parents' wishes. Despite her intellectual curiosity, she consistently failed her subjects because she couldn't keep up with the fast-paced, competitive, shame-inducing educational style.

Flunking her 10th-grade finals just about extinguished her academic hopes. But one act of kindness radically changed her trajectory when an inspired acquaintance convinced her to redo the grade. Her new teacher-who was passionate and caring-taught students instead of subjects. A friend from her church gave her the finest tutoring, much-needed friendship, and even an example of a loving home and family.

After completing 10th grade with top marks, she spent her remaining school years working tirelessly, eventually earning the Best All-Round Student award. Her passion for learning expanded into a passion for teaching; she pursued post-secondary degrees in America and began an influential career as a professor of education and international education consultant.

Hong's eloquent present-tense narration animates scenes of family strife and academic struggle and evokes an astounding range of emotions-commiseration, frustration, and eventually elation. Something is always developing, whether it's the narrator herself or the plot.

Though the memoir charts the author's intellectual growth, it also considers complex family relationships, poverty, Southeast Asian culture and education, disability, and determination. Hong demonstrates, through her own experiences, the pleasures and rewards of scholarship and effective teaching, and her account underscores how ordinary people can have life-changing effects on others.


Failing UP was recognized as one of only 2% of books reviewed to earn a Kirkus STAR--the most prestigious designation in the book industry in awarding books of exceptional merit.

When people first meet Barbara, they often conclude that her life must have always been enriched. They assume she had loving, successful parents to support her goals. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hong's path to an Ivy League university and beyond started in a filthy tenement in Singapore where she lived with an abusive father and an illiterate mother. At six, she worked in her sweatshop home to help with extra money, which her father often wasted on alcohol. As she endured his drinking and abuse, she feared that the pain she internalized could shatter her.

But instead of falling apart, Hong managed to face her challenges with determination and hope, thanks to a few caring friends and teachers who helped her feel a sense of belonging. She learned to embrace failures as a way to define who she is and what she is made of. Once she learned she wasn't the brainless " cabbage head" her mother called her, she began believing in herself, eventually finding the courage to discover her true purpose as a knowledge seeker, educator, and advocate.

Hong's journey from a sweatshop home upbringing to an influential dean and professor movingly illustrates the true strength of the human spirit and the power of caring teachers. To learn more, visit

About the Author

Barbara Hong received her doctorate from Columbia University in Special Education in addition to three master's degrees in Instructional Practices, Policy & Leadership, and as a Learning Specialist from the same institution. She was a three-time recipient of the prestigious Senior Fulbright Scholar award, and the First Honorable Visiting Scholar to Taiwan Municipal University of Education. Hong has been a professor for more than sixteen years at the time of this publication and has taught in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Hawaii. In 2014, Hong was appointed by the US State Department, Bureau of International and Information Programs, as a Speaker Specialist and Expert on Disability where she consults with governmental agencies around the globe. Hong's research examines the cognitive science of teaching and learning, particularly for students with disabilities, and the development of self-determination through the ethics of caring. Thus far, Hong's research has been cited in the Handbook of Adult Learning, Wiley Library of Higher Education, Vanderbilt University's Peabody Recommended Readings, British Library, and the Hong Kong Institute of Education Library. Hong is a recipient of the National Teacher-of-Honor award by the international honor society in education and her University Exemplary Faculty Award. She serves on the Advisory Council for Oxford Education Research Symposium, Board of Directors for the Council for Exceptional Children, President of BYU-Hawaii Honor Society, and is the Founder of PACE(TM)-Parents As Advocates for Change in Education. She is a licensed special educator, school principal, and district administrator. Currently, Hong is a Professor and Program Coordinator of Special Education at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. For more information, visit or email
Product Details
ISBN: 9780974653907
ISBN-10: 097465390X
Publisher: Learning Specialists
Publication Date: April 12th, 2018
Pages: 288
Language: English