One of the most powerful assignments I had as part of my Masters program was the one I received the worst grade on. I went into the assignment with my partners knowing that it was a risky assignment; an experiment, but felt that I knew the instructor well enough, and had faith that she would be able to see the intent of what we were trying to do, that she would appreciate the fact that we were taking a risk. She did and, even though the grade I received was the lowest of my Masters, it turned out to be one of the assignments where I learned the most.
I was thinking about this assignment as I read Failure is an Option, the latest article from Faculty Focus, and how failure is just not an option in our society – in school, at work, in anything we do.
But instead of using failure as a valuable teaching tool, education discourages it as, well, a sign of failure. A student is measured at various points along a course on how well they have mastered the material. Since each assignment is graded based on its proximity to success, and the final grade is determined by the aggregate of each individual grade, failure is preserved and carried with the student throughout the course. The result is that students become failure-adverse, demoralized by failure, and focused more on the grade than the education.
When failure is not an option, the stakes are high. And when the stakes are high, no one is willing to take a risk because, well, a risk means there is a chance you can fail. Hello attitude of “I-just-need-to-study-enough-to-pass-the-test”. Hello passionate argument about how that B+ NEEDS to be an A- because that B+ isn’t good enough and will bring down a GPA. Hello, mediocrity.
I was musing about this on Facebook when a friend of mine posted a link to this great little video – a video that reminds me that failure IS an option, and sometimes, it is actually the best option. Because if you have never failed, then you have never lived.