For every action there is a consequence. Educators have a propensity to rely heavily on this sentiment, though I suspect most forget that they can help shape the consequence. If a child decides to not do their work (working at a middle-level campus I can assure you this never happens), most teachers begin a series of tiered consequences. Some try discipline sentences, others use time-out, others try lunch detentions, and many will call home. Each of these responses by the teacher has its own consequence and, whether intended or not, will only develop at most three reactions: 1) Shameful compliance 2) further rebellion leading to escalating punishments or 3) an attitude of “failure avoidance.”
Failure avoidance is the most destructive force in education today. We have baked it in to our students, some of whom then grow up to be teachers that use the same strategy on their students. Some of these teachers become administrators and use this strategy on their subordinates. Some become legislators and craft laws of the same spirit. We have created an entire culture that is terrified of failing.
Have we forgotten that failing provides some of the best learning opportunities? Have we forgotten that all great successes were preceded by tremendous failures? Babe Ruth had over 1,300 strikeouts. Hall of Fame legend Reggie Jackson had nearly double that figure. They failed and failed often. Education reform seems to be shaping up much in the same manner. Legislators, bureaucrats, businessmen, and think-tanks alike are all designing their various strategies under the premise of failure avoidance. Think about it this way: what happens if you don’t meet AYP? What about Race to the Top? Has there ever been a program that so explicitly encouraged teachers to teach to a test? It isn’t about learning. It isn’t about a student’s success in life and career pursuits. It is simply about getting students to fill in answers that the test writers believe to be correct.
What would happen if we decided on “failure recovery” instead of avoidance? What if failure wasn’t viewed as the end, but the beginning? What if the goal was to learn from your mistakes, make changes, and try again? What would have happened to the Great Bambino if he had struck out a few times and decided he wasn’t any good; a failure? Isn’t it the fear of failing that keeps us from even trying?
How can you succeed if you don’t fail? How can you learn if you don’t try?