What if the Secret to Success is Failure?

It’s a rare thing that I am compelled to jump out of my seat, hunt down my computer and blog about something I’ve just read. Well, that is exactly what just happened.

I’ve read a number of articles on education over the years and I don’t usually react this way. To be perfectly honest, I find a great deal of articles on pedagogy to be a little pedantic––scratch that––a lot pedantic. Zzzzzzzz. However, I just read a very good article from the New York Times called, “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” (free account required). Before you click on this link (and I highly recommend that you do), I just wanted to highlight a couple of things:

The author has nicely and thoughtfully encapsulated a number of the educational issues that have been bouncing around in my head the past year––into one article. Examples of those are:

  • Failure (at something) should be re-imagined. Failure vis-à-vis making mistakes: Getting better at something often involves being challenged but sometimes that means failing (at something) in the process. Somewhere along the line, a neurosis has formed around making mistakes; the errant supposition is that it has to be avoided at all costs. When did we become afraid of fallibility? Making mistakes has never been the problem, it’s the willingness (or lack theirof) to correct them. It has become a vicious cycle. Maybe re-imagining failure may encourage more students to take chances and risks, or at the very least, explore their curiosity. This leads to the next point.
  • That IQ is not the only predictor of success. That persistence and determination is as important, if not more, in helping determine overall success. This belief that IQ is not the only indicator is also supported by authors like Carol Dweck (thanks Brooke); and, of course, this has implications in terms of growing the whole student. This leads to my next point.
  • That there is more to a student’s growth than just G.P.A. “Wouldn’t it be cool, he mused, if each student graduated from school with not only a G.P.A. but also a C.P.A., for character-point average?” A very interesting idea, and one that gets to the heart of many issues around character development of youth. This also connects with school goals focussed on social responsibility and academic integrity. As you would expect, this leads to my next point.
  • Evaluating students on a broader spectrum. When reading this article, I immediately thought of Kaser’s and Halbert’s Network of Performance Based Schools––the changing emphasis of numerical feedback. De-emphasising numerical feedback for written is in line with the de-emphasis of the G.P.A. as the sole indicator of achievement and growth. I hope you read the article as it will fill in the gaps left here.
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One thought on “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?

  1. Thought provoking title to your post, Chubb. And a great article for the same reason; thanks for bringing it to my attention. You’re right; the mindset aspect is huge: fixed versus growth mindset (Dweck). Grading everything certainly doesn’t encourage risk-taking (aka failing) – or a growth mindset. Reminds me of a poster I saw the other day: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” I think that the trend of education is moving towards encouraging failure a little more often (a dangerous statement to make should anyone take that out of context!).

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