Are you prepared for failure in your child’s education?

In an interview on the Tim Ferriss Show, Seth Godin said the two most important things we can teach our children are:

1) to become leaders, and

2) to work on solving interesting problems.

He also said that the next most important thing we can do is parents is to not criticize our kids for failing.

So, we help them learn to seek out these interesting problems, wrestle with them, and then give them the space and grace to fail in solving them, over and over again.

Godin has some very strong feelings about education which you can learn more about on his blog. He talked about how so much of school is following rules – basically obedience. And if our children grow up expecting to compete for scarce resources (jobs and income) through their skill at being obedient, well, there’s going to be lots of competition for that.

What exactly are we looking for in the education of our kids?

My son is beginning kindergarten in the fall, and I’ve been considering this. It’s safe to assume that most schools will claim to teach the basic things we expect our children to learn: how to read; how to spell and write; how to do math; how to locate Durban, South Africa on a map.

And yet we expect other things from school as well. We expect school to teach our children how to communicate, how to solve problems (whether interesting or not) and we typically expect our schools to teach values – things like justice, equality, curiosity and kindness.

These are tall orders, regardless of what kind of support is given at home by the parents.

Parents also tend to expect a certain type of environment to be provided at school. We expect our children to be safe, both physically and emotionally, and we expect them to be nurtured and encouraged.

All of these things make sense, and yet where in this mix have we made room for failure? Failure on the part of the child, and failure on the part of the school?

When we expect anything or anyone to be perfect (parent, child, teacher, school) it sends the message that SOME things (or people) are not allowed to fail.

Now I grant you: our level of tolerance for failure is (understandably) related to the specific level of risk associated with the outcome of that failure. For example, it makes sense that we have much lower tolerance for failure by an airline pilot or a surgeon than we do for someone who twists balloons up into animal shapes.

And yet there is danger inherent to any expectation of perfection.

What does this mean for our schools? And for the way we expect our children to be taught?

If we agree that it makes sense to teach our children to work on interesting problems, and to allow them to fail along the way, does it not also make sense to have that outlook for our schools?

I mean, isn’t the problem of how to raise creative, thoughtful and moral human beings one of the most interesting and valuable of them all?


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