Opinion: Teaching Failure in Newport-Mesa

Sandy Asper proposes a new K-12 curriculum for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

Failure is endemic in Newport-Mesa students, as it is with U.S. students everywhere.

Mark Spitz failed to win the gold in the 1968 Olympics and came back to win seven gold medals in 1972.

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper because he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.

Thomas Edison was called "too stupid to learn anything" and failed hundreds of times before he finally created the electric light.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team, "missed 9,000 shots, and lost 300 games. "I have failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Some children feel like failures by the time they are in kindergarten and it is confirmed for them repeatedly by the time they reach high school.

Just today, Bruce (the husband of the year and Olympic Dog Walker) met a long-ago ex-4th grade student from Newport Elementary of a friend of mine, who admitted that he excelled in 4th grade because the teacher liked and believed in him, but after 4th grade just gave up. Believe me, I'm suggesting just the opposite for a class in failure.

It's great that this kid had at least one good year in the 4th grade, but that would not be what this curriculum would be about. No one should depend on someone else for their self-esteem and that in the end is what we are talking about isn't it?

At our family reunion last week at Lake Nacimiento, I asked our 17 year-old British cousin what the essential difference was, between American kids and the British kids. After a very long pause, he said that in America, kids are encouraged all the time: "Good job! Great try! Awesome!"

But even after a terrific Rugby play, or a tennis win, the British reaction was, if anything, "Whatever". He preferred the British reaction.

So what happens if a kid goes out in the world and doesn't receive the approval that he/she is used to getting. Nope, it has to come from within. If it isn't constant approval by everyone and anyone, how do you avoid failure and how do you move on, and what should Newport-Mesa be teaching?

Failure should be taught from kindergarten on in some kind form. It's not enough to give kids all the platitudes about how they "will succeed later", or admonishments to keep trying. They have to know how. They have to know exactly how.

To overcome failure takes courage, understanding and strategy. The first thing to learn is not to be afraid to fail, that failure happens all the time to everyone. Failure is not the end, it's actually the beginning.

It begins with a clear and unafraid assessment of what actually happened to make it go wrong. To change it and imagine how it might have gone right with this change. To check it out with another procedural change or to perhaps completely redo it, and redo it, and redo it. The act of thinking it through and changing it time after time is skill that will change their lives.

Teaching failure (build, test, redo) means focusing on the rebuilding. Sure it takes courage, but more than that it takes strategies, understanding, ability to see what has happened, take the "failure" apart piece by piece, and not be afraid to try it again and again and again...

"Teaching Failure" means turning the word around to mean something completely different, a new start. To make "Teaching Failure" part of the k-12 curriculum would change...well, everything.

And if that doesn't work, we should  try try again.

Just Sayin....

Judy Taylor August 09, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Mindset is an excellent book on this topic. I recommend it enthusiastically


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