Reason to Homeschool #9 – Fear of Failing

Another reason I homeschool is because I don’t want my daughter to have a fear of failing.  In addition, I don’t want her to adopt a poor definition of the word “failing”.  I want her to seek to take risks, learn to cope with uncertainty, and celebrate the learning that comes from mistakes.

In school, the word “failure” is used to mean that a student hasn’t met the expectations of an authority figure.  Students feel pressure to meet their expectations even when they don’t understand why the expectations exist, and even when they may disagree that the expectations are valid or necessary.  Expectations of school authority figures include things like walking quietly in the hallways, doing all assigned homework, studying for tests and getting passing grades, etc. Since failure is defined as not meeting expectations, students try to figure out how to meet those expectations.

When students are focused on meeting school expectations (to avoid failure), they are left with very little room to take risks.  They are left thinking mistakes are something to avoid. Taking risks lead to mistakes and mistakes are viewed as failure.  It makes sense that students try to always color within the lines because that is a path without uncertainty, risks, or exposure to mistakes and failure.

The definition of the word “failing” that school students adopt is not the true definition.  Students in school view mistakes as failing.  And, when they don’t satisfy school authority figures, that’s also considered failing.  To me, these things are not failure.  Mistakes are necessary for true learning to take place.  They shouldn’t be associated with failure.  And, satisfying authority figures by successfully jumping through a series of hoops isn’t really success, but schools define it that way.  If the hoops you have to jump through don’t reward risk taking, or encourage coping with uncertainty, or celebrate mistakes that lead to learning, then how can success be achieved by jumping through them and satisfying the authority figure?  Failure to satisfy the authority figures seems like much more of a success to me than a failure.

There are many times in life where we really and truly need to avoid mistakes, and we must seek to reduce risks and uncertainty.  But, if ever there’s a time when we should aggressively seek to take risks and encounter uncertainty in order to make mistakes that lead to great learning, childhood should be that time. In school though, children become risk adverse.  They’re conditioned to avoid uncertainty and risks because they lead to mistakes and “failure”.

In school, there’s a high cost attached to failure.  Getting good grades is stressed above all else.  Childhood should be a time when the cost of making mistakes is the lowest – when the cost of taking an uncalculated risk is the lowest. Childhood should be a time where kids feel free to try something new and see what happens, and if it doesn’t work out, then oh well, no big deal.

If kids spend their school years learning to fear mistakes and avoid failure, in an effort to please school authority figures, how will they respond to mistakes and failure as adults?  If they are conditioned to avoid uncertainty and risks, will they avoid taking risks to minimize mistakes, as well as minimize true learning?

One of the reasons I homeschool is because I want my daughter to view risk taking as appealing, and view mistakes as helpful.  I want there to be a very low cost associated with taking risks and making mistakes.  I want her to make mistakes over and over and over so that she can cope with what she may view as failure, and view mistakes as necessary and helpful.  I don’t want her to feel like she’s got to play within certain boundaries all in an effort to avoid mistakes and please authority figures – she needs to feel free to go way out of bounds and see what happens and learn from that.

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