Even typing that gives me a little shiver. It goes against everything that American education - private, public or otherwise - teaches us, and yet failure is the most instructive part of learning.
Just ask these guys:
I didn't fail the test; I just found 100 ways to do it wrong. ~Ben Franklin~
The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure. ~Sven Goran~
Failures are fingerposts on the road to achievement. ~C.S. Lewis~
Failure is not falling down; it is in refusing to get up. ~Chinese proverb
We are so concerned in education with making kids feel good that we forget that hollow praise does nothing, and reward (and punish) extrinsically. In school,
"...mistakes result in punishment in the form of bad grades. Because we've been trained to believe that mistakes must be avoided, many of us don't want to attempt to make or fix things, or we quit soon after we start, because our initial attempts ended in failure."
~Mark Frauenfelder, Made by Hand~
This quote speaks to both fear of failure and a crippling inability to even try. This is utterly wrong-minded.
"Mistakes are synonymous with learning. Failing is unavoidable...the act of failing again and again...gives you the mental tools with which to solve problems when they come up."
We handicap our kids when we don't let them fail. Failure should be an option at every step; a first idea is generally not the best idea, but it can lead to a deeper explanation or understanding. This does not mean kids should not have a plan when facing a problem (whether it is building a house or writing a paper), but developing the plan should not take the place of pure action, and developing the plan should not hold action back.
We need to let our kids dive in and fail. We need to teach them that learning is in the doing, and mistakes make us smarter.
fail is a natural consequence of trying. To succeed takes time and prolonged
effort in the face of unfriendly odds. To think it will be any other way, no
matter what you do, is to invite yourself to be hurt and to limit your
enthusiasm for trying.”
This approach does not translate into grades but instead focuses on the intrinsic rewards of persevering and problem solving; it is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those who are more concerned with GPA than learning.
So get out there and fail. Fail early and often. Fail boldly. As William Saroyan writes, "Good people are good because they have come to wisdom through failure." Let's all of us get a little smarter today.