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Failure is the Only Option

February 24, 2012

Photo by Dagney Scott

Our schools have forgotten to teach kids how to fail.

They are too busy scaring our kids into getting A’s and keeping a 4.0 GPA that our kids aren’t willing to meet failure face to face.

I was a mediocre student in elementary school.  In junior high I figured out the system and started getting A’s.  By the time I was in high school, I could get by in class with hardly cracking a book.  And the classes that looked like they might be too challenging, I avoided.  What I found was that I didn’t really need to learn in order to get good grades and graduate.  All I had to do was be ready for the test and as long as I knew those answers, the rest was fluff.  What had happened was that I was conditioned to perform for a letter grade instead of performing for excellence.

The result of teaching our children to perform for a grade is a diminished quality of work over the long term.  Our kids come out of school with a sense of how to get by at work and not excel.  We teach our kids to be afraid of failure because if they get a bad grade, it will be reflected on their report card and those grades will stay with them the rest of their lives. They learn that risk taking is considered a bad thing because it may lead to failure.

I remember being told in 7th grade that all my grades would be in my academic record for  the rest of my life.  I was scared.  I was scared of failing. Yet to this day, I’m not aware of anyone examining my junior high transcript.

Sometimes the only way to find success is through failure.  Thomas Edison conceived of over 3000 lighting systems.  Lincoln lost bids for Vice President, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House before  becoming President.

How do we teach our children to be willing to fail?  It comes back to really allowing our children to be creative.  Our schools are stealing our children’s creativity when instead our schools need to be encouraging creativity and modeling a way of integrating art/creativity within all academic disciplines.  Math, Science, and English do not exist in a vacuum in the real world.  They are deeply connected with creative thoughts and practices.  So why are we rarely practicing this in our schools?

So again, how do we teach our children to be willing to fail?  We let them know that as humans we are creators and to fully excel at creating we have to be willing to fail.  And then we allow them to fail so they can see the reward in failing.  What is that reward?  Another step closer to success.  In fact, for anyone who wants  success, failure is the only option.

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