Sunday, September 2, 2012

Just try again

"Just try again."

These words of wisdom were offered up by Vivi, the two year old daughter of Russ and Anna, one day while I was in the backyard at their house. Among moments of great conversation and imagination, she wanted to play a game of catch with me. She had a big toy ball that she would throw to me; I would catch it and then lightly toss it back to her outstretched hands. Periodically Vivi would catch the ball. Other times it would bounce off of her little hands and she would go running after it saying, "Just keep trying" over and over again.

Whether Vivi learned this mantra from her parents or intuitively came up with it on her own while we were playing is irrelevant. What I loved about this moment with her was her unfailing determination to perfect the skill of catching the ball. Vivi was unwilling to let failure, or the fear of failure, to dissuade her.

Can we, as adults, honestly say that we operate in life with the same unabashed inhibitions? Or are we so afraid of potential results that we fear trying something that may not turn out well?

I'm dwelling on Vivi's two-year-old wise wisdom because I read an article about failure and our loss of creativity in the Lincoln Journal Star: Losing our creativity: Fear of failure makes us hold back from big ideas : The (402)/411.

Essentially, the article brought back my thinking from a course I took while working on my Master's degree. In the course we discussed aesthetic experiences, ideas regarding artistry and creative thinking, and the relation of those ideas to teaching and learning. Children are inherently creative but that decreases as one becomes older. Studies have shown that divergent thinking in children is high and then diminishes with age. One explanation for why this is relates to the way schools are structured. School treats people/children all the same. They must learn the same thing, at the same time, in the same mode/method. Then students demonstrate their knowledge at a predetermined time (whether a student is ready or not is irrelevant) and are graded according to their correct or incorrect "answers". Worse yet, students are given massive amounts of standardized tests and then compared upon the results. There is little room for questioning, creativity, or disparate ways of considering the world. Part of this is socialization among peers but it also is a function of teacher, curriculum, and student. This is oftentimes called the "factory model" of education. Students enter a class in school based on similar age and are expected to exit with certain knowledge for the correlated grade level. Never mind that some students are well below or above that level, or may need more time to master that level, or might require a different method to learn that level. All are the same. School is standardized. And a mistake in school can equal a bad grade or even failure.

Success doesn't always mean avoiding mistakes. Success can be accomplished in various ways. Oftentimes success can come through trial and error, exploration, and failure. Sometimes people become "good" at something after years of honing a skill, practicing, receiving feedback, and (yes) failing. Additionally, are we limiting ourselves when we restrict creativity and divergent thinking?

Some of these ideas are explained nicely in a 12-minute video on YouTube which is very thought-provoking. The speaker in the video makes an argument for changing the paradigm of public education. If you have time, consider watching it.

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