Does failing teach?

I shouldn’t read the comments on Huffington Post articles (or almost any other opinion “newspaper” for that matter). But I’m addicted to it, so I doubt I’ll stop.

Today we have Alfie Kohn‘s article on HuffPo titled “What Do Kids Really Learn from Failure?” is provocative. His ideas are. If you aren’t familiar with Kohn I’ll give a summary. He believes that we should get rid of imposed consequences, rewards and punishments. He dislikes the idea of grades, especially when what is being graded is subjective.

I agree with Kohn’s ideas. I tried reading a book of his, but it’s kind of dry, psychology stuff so I didn’t do very well. I will try again because he has ideas worth learning about.

If he had his way he’d revamp the entire school system. OH YES PLEASE. It is broken.

So there was a comment from a user who said he/she wanted his children to fail. because this commenter didn’t fail in school, they didn’t learn how to survive in the world. I, too, found school very easy and I never learned to study. I did learn about the world from my parents. My dad ran his own business, my mom did the basic accounting.

I think failure is the wrong word here. We shouldn’t want our children to fail. Failure generally teaches children they are dumb and not to bother trying.

The word we want is “challenge”. We should want our children to be challenged. One big problem with school is that it’s not individualized. One child who can read at a very high level is put in the same class with a child who struggles with basics, because they are the same age. Some teachers are better than others at changing things up to challenge children. In second grade my daughter picked two bonus words to learn to spell because the basics were too easy.

When we are challenged at just the right level, we get excited about the work. And occasionally we get frustrated. And if parents and teachers do their job correctly, a challenged child who reaches an obstacle or problem, we can teach them how to problem solve.

Do you challenge your children? Do you challenge yourself?

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2 thoughts on “Does failing teach?

  1. My son just turned 18 months old today, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot. He gets very upset when things don’t work out the way he wants them to – the tower he is building collapses, or he can’t get a cap on a jar, or he can’t get a toy to do what he wants. I sit down next to him, hold him if he needs it, and tell him that yes, it’s hard when things don’t go your way, but you just build that tower over again, etc. I want him to learn that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way, as long as you learn from them and start building again. It’s a lesson I want him to learn because he already has perfectionist tendencies (inherited from me) and I don’t want him to get as stressed about grades or achievement as I was.

    School for me was learning how to manipulate the system and then learning a lot on my own. I valued maybe six teachers from kindergarten through high school, and maybe about the same number each in undergrad and grad school. But since I left school, it seems that the system has gotten progressively worse, and unless there is a vast improvement, we will probably look into homeschooling, precisely because I DO want my son challenged and not to just be a number or a statistic.

  2. Something I loved from the new Batman movies was when Alfred (and Bruce’s father) asked: Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.

    I remember as a kid in elementary school the teacher announcing the grades we got on our history tests. I got a 45/100. I was mortified. But I also knew I hadn’t bothered to study one little bit. I decided soon after I didn’t want a 45 announced to the class again, and studied for future tests. That failure gave me a lot of motivation. It was always the times I knew there would be no consequences for my laziness that I didn’t bother trying.

    In most Asian countries they post the grades out where everyone can see and it’s always a competition to see who can take the top spot. So it doesn’t really surprise me that we place well below Japan and Korea in math, science, and reading. I mostly blame an educational system concerned more with self-esteem than progress and parents who won’t let their kids take responsibility for not studying.

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