Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Risk-taking v. Risk-making

From James Delisle comes an excellent article on the difference between risk-taking (someone pushes you to take a risk) and risk-making (you push yourself). In the former, the student's success or failure is celebrated/blamed more on the person setting up the risk (e.g., the teacher or parent who encourages a student to enter a competition or take up a new hobby), while in the latter the student feels the brunt of the glory or defeat.

So which is better?

In risk-taking:

*You try what you might not normally;
*You generally have a ready-made mentor (hopefully the person who encouraged you!);
*You don't have full ownership of the result;
*There is a goal in mind so it is easy to set up steps to reach it.

In risk-making:

*You tend to stick with the somewhat familiar;
*You may have to locate your own cheerleaders (i.e., if no one in your circle knits, you need to look for someone with expertise);
*Your success is your own, as is your failure;
*Uncharted territory means a little more work on the front end to figure out what is involved in the activity.

These are simplified lists.

Which do you think is more rewarding in the long run? The goal someone else sets for you, or the goal you set for yourself? It seems very attractive to be able to have a fall guy to blame your failure on, but there is also the risk of "disappointing" the person who is encouraging you. In risk-taking, too, you are at the mercy of someone else's vision, whereas with risk-making you can dream as largely as you wish.

Which one of these is utilized in traditional education? No surprise to note that when it encourages risk at all, traditional schooling is teacher- and adult-centered risk-taking; when comments on a report card note that a student takes risks, it is understood that the risks being taken are school-sanctioned and approved (and thus a bit tame). A student who is seen as impulsive and off-task, or one that falls outside the norm of what is acceptable in a particular school is seen as a troublemaker, not for what they really are (a risk-maker with risks that are not approved). It should go without saying that there are certain behaviors that are in neither category (e.g., violence in any iteration).

I can say that students I have worked with initially don't even know how to begin to risk-make. They can't fathom a place where they can decide what they want to do and then work with guidance on doing it. Their dreams are small, squashed as they are by a system that does not encourage free thinking and innovation for the masses; when they do come up with an idea, they do not know how to structure their work around it, and they are quickly stymied by roadbloacks or failure. They see their first idea as their best one (cannot brainstorm), and they are limited by imaginations stunted by worksheets, videos and television. They submit to someone else's vision and don't create their own.

Education reform has to include our own version of risk-making; we need to ask ourselves this: what would we try if we knew we would succeed?

If you knew that, with persistence, practice and patience, you would ultimately be successful, what would you start today? This minute?

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