To Learn We Must Fail

You failed.

You put in the effort, you tried, and now you feel horrible. Our community fosters the idea that says that as students, if we fail at pursuing academic endeavors, we ourselves are failures. But why is failure always perceived negatively, as something unwanted? Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed, I have simply found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” He is someone who society considers to be highly successful, despite the initial challenges he didn’t immediately overcome. Like Edison, rather than seeing failure as a sign of inadequacy, our community should regard it as a new beginning. However, schools often overlook the importance of failure.

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We have been primed from an early age to prioritize achieving academic success, receiving gold stars for doing well on tests and bribes of candy from our parents for good report cards. And what did we get for bad grades? Often a lecture that we aren’t trying hard enough. In a study conducted in 2014 by Bilkent University in Turkey, researchers found that students who developed a fear of failure at an early age were more likely to set academic goals that would stunt their intellectual growth. This shows that by only rewarding results, parents and teachers forget to emphasize the necessity of learning from your mistakes. Furthermore, this study is an indicator of how some choose their classes.

Some students choose to play it safe by taking an easy course and getting an inflated grade instead of challenging themselves. Other students channel their fear of failure by burdening themselves with many AP’s not due to their passion for these subjects, but due to the added boost to their GPAs. Through these examples, we can see students’ fear of failure driving them to only care about grades. We frequently see grades as the end all be all,rather than markers of progress. And when a grade doesn’t meet our standards, feelings of dejection and worthlessness engulf us and inhibit our ability to improve ourselves.

A bad grade shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of, provided that the student truly tried to understand the concept. This doesn’t mean that we should be complacent with bad grades simply because we put in the effort. Instead, we should see bad grades as a sign to change habits, whether that be our process of studying or our methods of understandinginformation. A bad grade can also be an opportunity to acknowledge personal factors that may be hindering performance. Grades should start positive conversations between parents, students, and teachers.

Rather than being critical, prominent adults in a student’s life must remind the student that a bad grade simply means they have room to improve. Too many times have we wasted our potential by giving up on something that we could master simply because we cringe at the idea of failing. The purpose of having schools and classrooms is to teach students how to explore and discover the world around them, and failure is a part of this process. The truly successful are those who are willing to take risks and possibly fail in order to test their skills and improve on them. Grades themselves shouldn’t determine our worth; how we deal with grades and work on ourselves says much more than a number ever will.