Do we structure school in such a way that we truly promote and achieve that intricate balance between: 1) wanting to know and to understand and 2) keeping perspective that we have to be wrong quite a bit in order to gain deep knowledge and understanding?
By the time you are 9 years old, you have already learned, first of all, that people who get stuff wrong are lazy, irresponsible dimwits, and, second of all, that the way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes. We learn these really bad lessons really well. And a lot of us…deal with them by just becoming perfect little A students…perfectionists…overachievers. – Kathryn Schulz, On being wrong TED Talk, near 7:00 mark, March 2011 (emphasis added)
Is the secret to great success never to be wrong? Of course not! I cannot imagine that even one teacher of children (or adults, for that matter) truly believes that we define “the successful” as those people who always get the right answer, or even as those who tend to get the right answer. Or do we? How do we view our “A students” versus our “C students? Perhaps I have my head in the sand. I don’t think so, though. Yet, I wonder if we people who help to structure the workings of school are ensuring that the fundamental pillars of school reflect this basic principle:
I thought this one thing was going to happen, and then something else happened instead. – Kathryn Schulz quoting Ira Glass of This American Life, On being wrong TED Talk, near 14:00 mark, March 2011
Do we overly penalize learners for their mistakes? Does the traditional, typical school currency – grades – serve best those at the core of the instructional-learning exchange? Do we allow for “returns” to be made after a transaction, or are “all sales final?” Do we allow for enough “do overs,” prototypes, iterative attempts, and second chances? Do we model our classrooms and learning spaces on the real-life tendency for all of us humans to be great mistake makers as we risk to know and to understand our world? Do we facilitate learners growing from “white belts” to “black belts” by awarding them with an average – “a grey belt?” As educators, do we understand the 10,000 hour theory? Are our scope and sequences reflectively cognizant of the 10,000 hour theory? Do we tend to sort and label, or do we tend to recognize that mistakes come with regret that should be embraced if we hope to grow from our errors?
If we have goals and dreams and we want to do our best and if we love people and we don’t want to hurt them or loose them, we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn’t to live without any regrets…the point it to not hate ourselves for having them….We need to learn to love the flawed imperfect things that we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly; it reminds us that we know we can do better. – Kathryn Schulz, Don’t regret regret TED Talk, near 16:00 mark, November 2011
An Intro at the Conclusion
This morning, I had planned to work on my resume. It needs some updating, and I need a job, so I thought this morning would provide me a good opportunity to revise and edit my curriculum vitae. As I awoke from sleep, I even seemed to have some revision ideas on my mind. But then another thing happened instead.
As I sat to enjoy those first sips of morning coffee, I decided to check my Feeddler app – my way of organizing and reading my Google RSS Reader. In the queue was a new TED talk from Kathryn Schulz, the “wrongologist.” I love her work, so I thought I would watch her latest published talk while waking up with my coffee. Then, I would get to “work” on my resume. But then another thing happened instead. I was reminded of this powerful blog post by friend, colleague, and former student Peyten Dobbs. And I remembered the This American Life episode that I listened to during my Saturday afternoon walk with my dog Lucy.
I felt I had important threads dangling loosely in the wind of my thinking. I wondered if writing a bit would help me ground and weave some of those threads together. I puzzled over Peyten’s feelings expressed in her blog post, and I empathized about my own similar feelings from being a perfectionist-bent student of old.
So…do I now have all of these mysteries about grades and being wrong “all figured out?” No. But I am further down the path than I was when I awoke. Do I have revisions completed for my resume? No. If I were to need to “turn in” my resume to a teacher for grading, I fear I would receive an F or an incomplete. Yet, I engaged in some lifelong learning this morning about the nature of being wrong, the nature of regrets, and the structure of schools. I learned. But for that I will receive no formal grade. I may later regret that I don’t have a revised copy of my resume ready on Sunday, December 4. That’s okay. My regrets remind me that I can do better. And I tend to engage in super efforts to learn and grow and get better. Where does that go on my resume?