Perfection, the unattainable dream of many, seems to drive much of what people do, or don’t do. It’s pervasive, especially in the ivory towers of education; at the vey least, its classrooms. Whether it comes from the students (I need to be perfect for daddy) or the parents (a B, no, you need to get an A), its malingering affect is seen in our interpretation of struggle as slow/dumb/stupid, choose your epithet.
This interpretation is not mine, rather it’s from an NPR interview with Jim Stigler our librarian shared with our staff a month or so ago, but it resounded with such clarity within me. In essence, there is a cultural difference between East & West that boils down to expectations about how students will perform in school. In the East, the expectation is that every student will struggle in school with something. Not so in the West. Our treatment of the non-struggling student is they must be smart, therefore, the struggling student isn’t. This expectation and interpretation, then, ultimately informs a student’s definition of ‘smart,’ simultaneously creating the grade-defined neurotic & the apathetic classroom-dropout (body present, mind elsewhere).
What are we doing!? Everyone knows failure happens, it’s part of learning, it’s part of living. Yet, everything we do as teachers is to make it easier, gamify it, make it fun, at all costs cover-up the struggle involved. Do not misunderstand me, if any student learns the content while gaining the lesson of perseverance, do it, gamify away. That’s not my point. We have lost sight of the importance of working at something and letting students puzzle through and struggle openly and for as long as it takes for them to achieve understanding.
Failure is success if we learn from it.
Because when they struggle openly, their achievement is sweeter and much more satisfying because it is publicly acknowledged. It is also far more likely that that student will persevere with each new challenge faced. Without developing this immeasurable skill, I believe we do a disservice to each student we come in contact with.
Of course, how to do this, that’s the million dollar question.