Learning from Mistakes

Most of our learning in life comes from the mistakes we make. I look at what I’ve done, raise my eyebrows, and do it again (hopefully right). When asked about his failures to make a light bulb that worked, Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. All of us make mistakes, and the only failure is to become so paralyzed by the thought of making a mistake that we won’t try.

However, when it comes to formal learning, mistakes are unacceptable. They are pointed out, often in red, and are counted up to determine how much a person knows. It is the mistakes we make in education that determine where we stand in our knowledge acquisition – the more mistakes we make, the lower our standing in the community (grades). It is great that we should say “learning seems to be enhanced by social norms that value the search for understanding and allow students (and teachers) the freedom to make mistakes in order to learn (from How People Learn, 2000)”, but the reality is that the education system itself requires teachers to evaluate and quantify the number of mistakes that learners make in the form of a grade that determines how smart they are.

How could we allow our formal system of learning to become so far out of touch with reality? How could we allow one of the most powerful learning tools available to become synonymous with failure? How can we crush our children’s excitement about learning, and extinguish their curiosity about life through the incessant drive for efficiency, standardization, conformity, and measurement?

Although this is about formal education, I find that too many homeschoolers rely on educational traditions to teach their children. Engage with the Scholarship of Learning to find out how children really learn, and then teach – remembering that the Scholarship of Learning defines teaching as fostering learning. Stop trying to teach our children the way education would have you teach them, and start teach them the way that they learn. Change your focus from teaching to learning – where it should be.

Currently, teaching is an art, but we know that learning is a science. Since we know how children actually learn, why not teach them that way?

How could we take something as natural and enjoyable as learning and make it as oppressive as education?


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