Crane Country Day School Established 1928

Crane School Blog: Focus on Learning

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Thomas Edison - I have not failed
Julia Collins

As children, we often simplified our experiences of learning into two categories: success and failure. We understood what we were "good at" and what we were "bad at." More than likely, this false dichotomy shaped our feelings about the entire school day.  So clearly, I can remember my feelings of dread just thinking about failing. Instead of feeling freedom through education, what I most remember feeling was fear. 

This default fearfulness all changed in my graduate program...

As children, we often simplified our experiences of learning into two categories: success and failure. We understood what we were "good at" and what we were "bad at." More than likely, this false dichotomy shaped our feelings about the entire school day.  So clearly, I can remember my feelings of dread just thinking about failing. Instead of feeling freedom through education, what I most remember feeling was fear. 

This default fearfulness all changed in my graduate program, where I studied educational theories and philosophies; these new ways of thinking challenged my notion of what constitutes learning. Instead of fear, Paulo Freire wrote about liberatory education. Ira Shor wrote about empowering education. John Dewey wrote about experiential education. These ideas were radical to me! Student voice was essential; assignments were projects instead of papers; discussion was as fundamental to learning as course readings. In liberatory education, the student and teacher work together to create a shared understanding. Failure is not only acceptable, but it is inescapable. Learning and failure go hand in hand. 

Los Angeles Times article reported that 31% of people in a study were afraid of failure, outranking fears of ghosts, spiders, and being home alone. Failure itself is inevitable; it's something that we all experience and something we will inevitably experience again. A recent example? When I asked Crane School students to raise their hands if they had ever experienced failure, almost every hand went up. 

Failure is often a precursor to success. Instead of imagining failure and success as mutually exclusive of one another, it's essential to recognize that a great many advances are the results of successive defeats. In a recent Bustle article on failure quoted Thomas Edison: "I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work." This is the iterative process.

Instead of shying away from failures, we need to embrace them. Failure benefits us in so many different ways. It helps us to innovate, like Thomas Edison. It challenges us and helps us to grow; it makes us resilient. Failure can tell us just a much as success (and sometimes even more). Lastly, failure connects us. While we may not have a shared experience of the same failure, we have a shared experience of the frustration, disappointment, and humility inherent in the ubiquitous nature of failure. Not only do we learn more about ourselves, but we connect more deeply through this universal experience.

Julia Collins 
Teaching Fellow, Third Grade

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