May 8, 2009
The fear of failure can be one of the most crippling things in life, perhaps never more so than in the educational environment. In a place where discovery and exploration are held in the highest regard, the opportunity to fail gracefully has been gradually weeded out in favor of a "pass/fail" mentality. Whether intentionally or not, we systematically condition our students to fear failure through a steady regimen of "proven strategies" (read scripts) that over-emphasize "standards" and "tests". Science fairs are eliminated, arts programs diminished, drama and dance are nearly non-existent, and technology is banished to the periphery because it doesn't fit neatly into a pass/fail model. Funny thing is, life doesn't fit this model either, which may explain why so many schools have settled on a goal of "preparing kids for college" (ie to pass tests), rather that preparing them for life.

What we must never forget, no matter what circumstances are forced upon us, is that without failure, there is no success. We learn when we fail. We grow when we fall. Science is all about learning from failure, and failure is a key component of innovation, without which nothing would ever be tried.

This is especially true when it comes to technology. While we may pretend that there is truly such a thing as a "digital native", the reality is that kids are not more familiar with or better with technology as a result of their proximity to it. What they possess is a complete lack of fear, a willingness to try, fail, and try again - to innovate, explore, and discover. Often they achieve their goals, sometimes, they don't, but that's OK because the value of the exercise is in the process, not the result. There is more critical thinking and problem solving in one failed experiment than a thousand standardized tests. As Arthur Ashe once said:

Success is a journey not a destination. The doing is usually more important than the outcome. Not everyone can be Number 1. --Arthur Ashe
Which is why I always enjoy videos like this one. They remind us of how important failure is in our lives, and why we should be creating environments where failure is always an option.


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