I returned home with an A- grade earned in an important exam. I shared the news with my father, and he then asked, “You got an A, good. What was the minus for?”. I suspect this scenario is familiar to many students today. A concept of perfectionism, which is an addiction to process and an unhealthy way to distract from other problems (Brown, 2010), affects the educational system in an important way.
When students focus on grades, not just grades, but excellent grades, the idea of learning is somewhat lost. Students develop the skills of memorization, and reverse engineering of exam questions, and hacking the assessment process to attain the goal of excellent marks. However, the learning and the love of the subject matter tend to be lost in the wind.
Grades are high stake rewards in today’s educational system. Scholarships depend on grades. The ability to join an academic program, parent expectations, admission to a school, they are all dependent on grades. This is partly why college courses are poorly designed games. What needs to be re-introduced to college courses is the idea of safe-failure and support of multiple attempts for mastery. Instead of having a single assignment and a graded critique, courses should support re-submission of the same assignment and tracking experience of the student in the process. Of course, computer automation helps in providing timely feedback and scaling this approach. Collaboration with some of the contemporary solutions from textbook publishers is helpful.
Success is just a byproduct or side-effect of failure. Design thinking teaches us that failing as a team on purpose and redeveloping the solution helps to solve “wicked problems” (Churchman, 1967). In games we pursue failure and perhaps even enjoy it. However, in life failure is villainized and often punished. While many innovative leaders encourage others to try, fail, and innovate, failure can be very expensive in terms of tangible consequences, emotional damage, and time.
The School of Life presentation on the history of common vies on failure is very helpful in noticing how the perception of failure impacts learning and culture.
People have failed throughout history but the way the failure has been interpreted has changed throughout the ages in fascinating ways.
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Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Hazelden. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=0bvm3UgSlQcC
Churchman, W. (1967). Management Science, 14(4), B–141–B–146. http://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.14.4.B141