Failure IS an Option


As summer vacation ends, teachers observe the annual ritual of returning to school days ahead of their students, to be indoctrinated in the school district’s goals for the new year. The latest education fad is tossed out and replaced with newer education initiatives, which are usually older education initiatives spiffed up and redressed under new acronyms. After all, no matter how far we stray, we always return to the fact that improving reading, writing and arithmetic can cure most educational deficiencies.

A handful of years ago, while participating in one such “welcome back” ritual, I was introduced to our newly-adopted district-wide motto, “Failure is Not an Option.” A fitting corollary to No Child Left Behind, “Failure is Not an Option” was to inspire us to succeed with each and every student, so that no student would fail, literally. Of course, no one ever required or asked us to give all students a “passing” grade, but as teachers, we were expected to give each student unlimited opportunities to pass. And regardless of the district’s gentle shove, most teachers will do almost anything to get a student to show up, pay attention, do the work, struggle with the material, and learn, and pass.

But something funny happens when failure is taken off the table. Success falls right off the table with it, along with true and lasting learning. Watch any child learn to walk, and you see that child fail again and again. She first learns to pull herself up to her feet, using a table or the side of a chair or sofa. She lets go, and she falls. She tries again. She may cry. Yet she tries again. With a little practice, she gets good at —> Read More