Sunday, May 22, 2011

To Fail or Not to Fail

Parents know what is best for their kids and as all parents know, struggle is part of growing, learning and becoming an adult. Part of  being a parent is watching our kids fail, struggle and overcome their obstacles. Last week I read this piece about failure being cool from The Good Men Project. It got me thinking about the importance of failing and how our ideas of failure have gotten a little skewed.
Currently I'm not sure we really understand the importance of failure and this is strange because our cultural history is based in failure. A few brave men and women, after being persecuted and failing to thrive across the Atlantic, hopped a boat to find a place where they could build something better. Later we erected the Statue of Liberty to welcome those who, just like their American predecessors, needed a place to start fresh and put their failures behind them. The poem on The Statue of Liberty states,

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. 

We open our arms to those have failed before and want to start a new life.  It is this dream, whether realized or not, that has always moved our culture forward.  Our message has always been that one can find a unique and personal form of achievement here. Cookie cutter education and assembly line testing don't honor the power of failure and don't embrace the potential unique success of each person.
Let's pretend for a moment we talking about a woodland school for animals. The classroom and tests are set up for rabbits and they excel with learning and testing at school. If a rabbit falls behind they are motivated to succeed because they see other rabbits doing great. The frogs start to fall behind as do the birds.  It doesn't take long until the frogs and birds are dropping out, withdrawing from the educational community all together.  Soon there are birds joining gangs and frogs being picked up for petty larceny. So to curb the flight of failing students, the parents and educators who identify with the frogs and birds start wanting to educating them differently, taking them to different schools in hopes to find success. Does this analogy ring a bell?
Failure is either a catalyst for success or a catalyst for withdraw. The failure our culture was based upon motivated success. It didn't cause withdraw.
The struggle our kids encounter in school shouldn't cause them to withdraw from the system.   Educating a child is about giving them the tools to overcome failure and become successful. If we only educate the rabbits, soon the forest will be over run with  elite academically successful rabbits. There will be no bird song and we won't hear the frogs croaking in the twilight.

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