… the one not asked. Funny little sayings like that kept popping into mind throughout the readings – all three of them. I need time to process them, and really it’s too soon to blog on the content, but there are those few glaring ideas, under rumblings really, that want to hi-jack my line of thought and attention.
Mixed in all the chatter and noise about attributions, performance as a sign of success, etc. I keep wondering – why is there no mention, not one single time, of the value of failure? Why is it that only once, in my entire academic career, did an instructor state as fact that humans can only truly learn something by proving something false. It was a statistics class, mind bending, mental gymnastics that I enjoyed with great fervor, I relished statistics. I didn’t do well on every test, but I enjoyed stretching my brain to wrap around those concepts. Even so, none caught me as this one did. He extrapolated even further to say that we learn only by making mistakes, that getting something right on a test only showed what we already knew. The big win, according to him, was to get something wrong, and go back and understand why it was wrong.
I LOVED the notion. It got me through college, not once but twice and a half. It got me through receiving two semesters of F’s, partly due to illness, and partly because of my own false sense of pride. I loved, and still love, the idea because it’s a game changer. It’s not just the freedom, but the invitation to make mistakes, to acknowledge them as learning opportunities, and a way to use them to learn more about the world and how our minds work. It’s liberating in that it changes the goal of academics from doing it right to doing my best.
Every time I share this sentiment with my students, the idea that their job as students is to make mistakes, they respond with intense surprise and a good dose of relief. I make a pact with my students to celebrate the mistakes as well as the successes, and they enjoy the process of discovering where things went (not wrong, but) awry. They in turn help me when I make mistakes, and I make them – sometimes blaringly loud, off the wall mistakes, which I tell them proves I’m human and not some alien bent on world domination.
When we create a space that allows us to have fun with our mistakes, to see them as opportunities, it isn’t just a game changer. It changes the entire conversation about attributions. No longer do we react emotionally on the basis of success and failure, but on other aspects of learning and inquiry. Not only that, it opens the door to exploring our thinking, our reactions, our beliefs about ourselves, our peers, and the way we think others perceive us. It might even allow us to ask of ourselves and each other, “Now why exactly did I do that?” and come up with a plausible answer.