In keeping with our current assessment obsession, educators have unwisely borrowed the popular mantra “Failure is not an option” from the business community (where failures are forgiven, because they are “too big to fail,” but small children should pay a hefty emotional fine.) A deeper examination of this maxim reveals its glaring inaccuracy when applied to both how young brains learn and how inventors innovate.
Students may struggle in school with reading, they often fall short of a perfect score in mathematics, they will frequently misinterpret cause-and-effect relationships in science, it is not uncommon for them to repeatedly make the same spelling errors, and display developmentally-appropriate academic missteps. Occasionally, our students appear to be impervious to the best efforts of well-trained professionals.
The goal of academic “rigor” becomes almost rigor mortis for them. In nearly all cases, each learning difficulty is indicative of a naturally occurring neurological under-investment in the necessary brain wiring that is mandatory for successfully demonstrating a specific skill.
When we refer to a concept or skill that is not “developmentally-appropriate” to children of a given age, the reference we are making is to their brain development not our curriculum development. With this backdrop, certain academic shortcomings are highly anticipated outcomes.
However, these events foster teacher, parent and student frustrations in the meantime, since the child “doesn’t get it”. With time, maturation, and most important, the proper brain circuitry, he/she will surely "get it" quickly and with apparent ease.
When it comes to learning, failure is a predictable prerequisite during the lengthy course of converting new information into personal knowledge. This is particularly true when learners lack similar prior learning experiences, which prevents the new information from readily merging with neural pathways that don't yet exist. If there is nothing with which to integrate new knowledge, the conceptual development process must begin from an earlier starting point and new learning can be quite a lengthy process for some children, who are not “slow,” the brain-building process is frequently slow.
If learning occurred effortlessly, error-free, easily, and occurred without any naturally occurring obstacles, then wouldn't formal education from the pre-school years to graduate school fall somewhere between pointless and redundant?
In science, technology, engineering, mathematics, architecture, and the myriad other science-related fields, mistakes are not just prerequisites, they are nearly requirements for future success.
Most inventors and creative geniuses have a long history of failures leading to their ultimate triumph – the success that they were after from the beginning. Along the road to success, the greatest inventors looked into the face of failure for most of their journey to achievement.
Below are several famous failures, who are only known for their famous successes. Failure was an option, but they became icons for persistence and success, following their early failures.