Friday, May 4, 2012

Year 2: Week 32 – Failure Is An Option

Everybody fails at some point in his or her life.

Sometimes it’s something big like not getting into college other times it’s something as simple as getting lost and showing up to a social event late. Failure is an inevitable part of life. So why are some teachers so afraid to let their kids fail?

Most people who work with kids do so because they like children. When you like kids you don’t enjoy seeing them be upset. Our nurture instinct is to protect kids and insulate them so that they are happy. There are certain times when this is necessary and appropriate. You should not let a three-year-old see a rated R film. A child that age can't process the content of this film in a healthy way. But if you never let that three-year-old step in a puddle, she’s never going to learn how not to get her feet wet.

I really dislike seeing my kids fail. But the thing is that the more they fail in small and safe ways the more opportunities they have to persevere and figure out how to recover from failure. That’s a beautiful thing to see happen and it really is one of the best ways for students to learn. Most of us are okay with this idea and as long as we tell kids in age-appropriate ways when they fail, things work out pretty well.

Things get complicated when you hit high school and the academic grades effect college admissions. There’s a sense that failure, getting a low grade simply is not an option because the consequence of not getting into a chosen college is too dire to comprehend. That’s just the thing, not getting into your top college choice will not determine the rest of your life. It's what you do with this failure that will.

If school prepares kids for life, it needs to prepare them to fail. They need to feel the sting of disappointment, regret and sadness of failure in school. In the classroom they will not loose their job if they make a mistake, and there are teachers around who are ready to help them learn to get out of that slump.

Fear of failure motivates people to work hard but it can also be petrifying. The “what if’s” can consume a young person trying to move ahead in life. If you only act out of fear of failure then each of your choices will constricted by fear. Fear stifles creativity, enjoyment and fun and if an endeavor lacks those things than any success is ultimately meaningless.

One of my favorite writers Neil Gaiman wrote in his story "Fear Of Falling" about a man having a dream in which he climbed a mountain. Early in the story he is presented with two options: climb to the top of the mountain or fall off. At the end of the story he learns a third alternative: sometimes when you fall, you fly.

Maybe our goal as educators is not to get kids to the top. Perhaps our goal should be to help our students fly so they can reach heights far beyond the summit to places beyond our imagination.

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