Value of Mistakes

One of the greatest of life’s ironies is how hard it is for those of us in teaching to tolerate mistakes.  After all, if play is the training ground for war, then isn’t school the training ground for life?  Truly, who among us has NOT made a mistake?  If we’re lucky, our mistakes are small and easily dealt with.  If not, well consequences should come in degrees like black belts.

Mistakes are the best teachers EVER, if you analyze them.  However, given the limited time in a classroom, combined with an immensely large scope of material to cover,  there really isn’t time to look at each child’s work (or even ask them to) to see what happened.  We throw answers up on the board and then move on.  We need to get somewhere… and we’re late.  We’re all White Rabbits from Alice in Wonderland.

This process undermines what education should be working to accomplish.  With a one right answer algorithm as well as a one way to solve the problem, we’ve land-locked innovative and creative thinking.  We say we want a world of educated problem solvers.  We say we want a world of pattern seeking savants (you know, those who can head off disasters by PAYING ATTENTION).  We say we want confident analysts. Instead, we’ve worked to create a world of perfect little darlings who never make mistakes and who know “everything” — you know the people who procrastinate when they have no clue so they can “deny” the truth and blame time.

I think we’ve gone down the wrong rabbit hole by emphasizing complete perfection over problem solving.  We need to teach our students to be comfortable with frustration and ambiguity.  We need to teach them to apply prior knowledge and show them CAREFULLY how one thing leads to another.  We need to make sure they have the initiative to start and to see the beauty in challenge. In short, it needs to be more about the journey and less about the destination.

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