Another case for seeing failure as a GOOD thing

Read Quote of Marcus Geduld’s answer to Why do we get frustrated when learning something? on Quora

“School trains us to get frustrated when we fail.

Failure is a very good thing. It’s one of the best — maybe the best — learning devices. Yet rather than capitalize on it, most schools work hard to turn failure into something distasteful. And by the time people graduate, having spent most of their formative years in an institution where failure is a sin, they have a huge aversion to failing.

In most schools, the major structural element is ranking. We’re wired to take ranking seriously. As soon as ranking exists, we care about it. A, B, C, D, F. Pass/Fail. And in the worst-case-scenario, you fail and are “kept back a grade,” which affects you socially.

I have many memories of teachers compounding the problem. The didn’t say, “How interesting: you got an F. Let’s examine the situation and see how that happened…” Instead, Fs came with stern lectures. When we got Fs, teachers (and parents) were very disappointed in us.

They didn’t tell us that failure was a natural part of the learning process. They told us we had let them and ourselves down. We were basically told, over and over, for years, that if we got Fs, it was because we were lazy or stupid. Laziness is a moral failing; stupidity is an innate deficit. Failure — school tells us — means we’re moral and physical cripples.

People (understandably) hate this so much, that as soon as they can, they put themselves in a position where they never have to fail again. (Or where the chances of failing are as small as possible.) They find jobs that aren’t all that challenging after an initial learning curve. The goal, conscious or not, is to coast for the rest of one’s life.

Which gives adults very little day-to-day experience with failure. Most people I know failed at certain subjects in school (maybe not by getting Fs, but by struggling with those subjects for years), and now have simply decided “I’m not a ______ person” or “I just don’t get _______”, e.g. “I’m not a Math person” or “I just don’t get Shakespeare.” That absolves them from trying. Which keeps them from failing.

This is not the way we start out. If infants decided, after many hundreds of failures, “I’m just not a walking person” or “I just don’t get talking,” we’d all be screwed. Luckily, those skills are acquired before school gets its clutches on us.”


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