Mistakes – why our traditional educational approach may not be helpful

Mistakes – why our traditional educational approach may not be helpful

Mistakes – why our traditional educational approach may not be helpful

If you’re intrigued by the title, and want a “short walk” – scroll down to bold #3.  Enjoy it all when you have the time.

Our youngest grand baby is walking!  Everywhere!  We’ve seen it happen before – and it’s still such a celebration.

Together, Doug and I share five children and thirteen grandchildren.  Some of them started walking at nine or ten months; this one stared walking at about 16 months.  We’re so proud!

And they all learned the same way – Plan A:

  • they pulled up to standing first, and gained their balance.  Others cheered.
  • somebody held both of their hands – firmly at first, and then less firmly.  We kept cheering.
  • one step, then a few, finding support from here to there.  More cheering.
  • many steps strung together – without holding on.  The cheering is really enthusiastic!
  • an independent walker!  Exploring the world!  Cheering!  Cheering!  Cheering!

Some babies are born – and they won’t learn to walk.  Some are created with a neurology or physical nature that’s different – and doesn’t include walking.  Their lives include braces, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, and other ways of moving about.  This analogy respects this about these babies – and isn’t dismissing them, labeling them, or rejecting them.  They’ll learn other things by plan A.

For children who are born with the design that allows them to move through the world by walking, I haven’t met one of them who learned to walk this way – Plan B:

(Begin this program at about eight – ten months of age)

  • Show baby how to walk.  Hold his hand once or twice when he tries it on his own.  Baby is required to walk one step each day for one month, by himself.  It’s important to count mistakes so baby knows when he’s getting it wrong.  If he can’t walk one step independently today, he earns a failing grade.
  • Show baby how to walk, again.  Hold his hand once or twice when he tries it on his own. Baby is required to walk five steps each day this month, by himself.  It’s important to count mistakes so baby knows when he’s getting it wrong.  If he can’t walk five steps today independently, he earns a low grade.
  • Show baby how to walk, again.  Hold his hand once or twice when he tries it on his own. Baby is required to walk ten steps each day this month, by himself.  It’s important to count mistakes so baby knows when he’s is getting it wrong. If he can’t walk ten steps today by himself, he earns a low grade.
  • If you begin this program at an early age, you’ll have a walker sooner rather than later.
  • If baby struggles with step one, two, or three – repeating that step may be helpful.
  • If baby continues to struggle, he may need a prescription to increase his muscle strength.  Or he may benefit from a special class where he can receive more support, or where the standards can be lowered (two or three steps instead of five or ten).  For that he’ll need a label of “walking-disabled.”   Professional testing will be required to earn this label.  It’s important that you know, your child may always be “walking-disabled.”

If we look back in the “owner’s manual” for bringing up children, we recognize Plan A as God’s plan.

Here’s a brief summary of Plan A – for walking, and everything else:

  1. God exists to help us.  We’re created in His image – as helpers, too.
  2. We need help – by design, not default.  Help and love are synonyms.  
  3. Beginning in the New Covenant, He’s not counting our mistakes; mistakes are holes for love to fill.

What if school followed this plan?

  1. Teachers and others exist to help.  Children exist to help each other, too.
  2. Everyone needs help because the curriculum is life-sized and real – by design, not default.
  3. We don’t count off for mistakes.  Mistakes are opportunities to receive help.

1.”Teachers and others exist to help” is very different than “teachers show you how, help you do the first few problems, and then assign the rest of the work to be done independently.”  

Yes, learning to “do the problems” independently will eventually happen – by design – just like walking.  And that’s a good thing, because when a student learns to do a skill independently, then he’s able to help someone else who needs help.  It’s not a good thing just because he can then move faster through the curriculum to prove more of the skills he can do independently.

Helping others is another way to say what Jesus said:  “Love one another.”  There are a million reasons why His plan is brilliant, and one of those reasons is because He knows how we’re made and He knows what brings us deep satisfaction and real fulfillment.  He knows what heals us, too.

Achievement – outside of helpful relationships – does not provide lasting satisfaction and fulfillment – by design.  Achievement requires more achievement to get the feeling again; that feeling comes from dopamine.  Dopamine, unbonded to oxytocin, is the drug of addiction, not maturity.

The goal of isolated achievement views mistakes as a problem, instead of an opportunity to get help.  Mistakes become invitations to hide (blame, shame, make excuses…) instead of ask for help.  Sounds like Genesis 3, doesn’t it?

“Love one another” provides oxytocin; oxytocin is the fuel of maturity.  Maturity is evidenced by growth and healing.  Mature trees and vines – and people – bear good fruit.

We have oxytocin to give because someone gave it to us.  We love others because we experience being loved.  We help others because we experience being helped.  Because love matures us – we are deeply satisfied and fulfilled.  Our lives bear good fruit; the cycle repeats.

We find joy in being loved and loving others.

2.  “Everyone needs help because the curriculum is life-sized and real – by design, not default” is very different than leveled readers and grade-levels.  

When we design schools in pre-digested, bite-sized pieces, that require independent practice as daily evidence of learning, several unintentional consequences may result:

  • Children may begin to expect the world to operate on their level – and may experience increased anxiety when they realize it doesn’t.  Children may not learn to handle healthy stress in good ways.
  • Children may begin to need protection from reality – instead of the real need of protection from trauma.  Protection from trauma is protection from danger or protection from facing overwhelming circumstances by myself.  Protection from reality is protection from the truth.
  • Children may become addicted to pain relief – needed from frustration and failure working alone.  Children may not experience resolution of pain from failure outside of trusted relationships.
  • Children may hold on to (and demand) immature tastes and affections – instead of acquiring mature tastes and affections.
  • Because reality may become increasingly overwhelming, children may demand more immature pain relief.

When school is about learning to live life well in a real, beautiful, and risk-filled world, children grow to delight in vast horizons.  They’re intrigued and hunger to learn more about the immense details of theology, history, music, movement, design, literature, mathematics, science, and technology – and each other.

Children are accustomed and equipped to navigate a risk-filled world, and have learned the value and necessity of mature relationships that offer help, direction, and protection.  Because these relationships have helped them navigate small steps in the real world, they give trusted others permission to help them navigate big steps, too.

Mature relationships have offered children love – which helps resolve their pain, instead of just medicate it.  Children are not afraid to risk, because they know they don’t have to risk alone. They’ve experienced resolution of injury when they’ve skinned their knees in the past; skinned knees are a part of the journey – not a reason to sit on the couch, or avoid life by looking at a screen.  

Because affections are caught in relationship and not taught like skills in a program, children are comfortable “sitting at the feet of masters.”  They spend their time in the depths of real art, music, drama, literature, dance, and in other opportunities for creativity – and relationship.  Life is deeply satisfying.

3.  When schools don’t penalize for mistakes, students are free to learn – not just perform.  Mistakes are expected – unless we’re doing something we already know how to do.  If we’re doing something we already know how to do, we’re not really learning.

We even make mistakes doing things we already know how to do.  We hit the curb while turning a corner, we put too much salt in the recipe, and we wash the dark towels with the white t-shirts.

Mistakes happen.  Mistakes are not our identity.

But often, in school – our grades become our identity.  Our identity establishes our boundaries; grades do, too.  Our identity provides our integrity  (“skin”) which provides us immunity.  Poor grades offer little integrity, which offers little immunity.

When our grades are bad, we easily believe the lie that we are bad.  And our behavior is the echo of our beliefs.

Yes it’s important to respect the need for accuracy.  100% is often required.  Two plus two will never equal five.  Rules for spelling and grammar matter.  Laws of physics are real.  Standards are reality.

Plan A never lowers the standards or ignores the importance of accuracy.  God made the world and God made the laws and standards because He wants us to know how the world works – in a beautiful, fruitful way.  By design.

And plan A still never counts our mistakes because we’re created for relationship.  “It’s not good for man to be alone.”  Together we can make 100.  If you help me, I’ll get this right.  Unless you make a mistake.

Will I let you help me?  I will if I trust you.

It’ll be hard for me to trust you if you’re always counting my mistakes. I need you to:  help me and remind me of my true identity.

It’ll be really hard for me to trust you if you’re making a lot of mistakes.  When you make a mistake, I need you to:  own it instead of hide it (or blame, shame, make excuses…).  I need you to trust me when I remind you who you really are.

I need you to deal with your mistakes with God, so you can live a shame free life that doesn’t demand hiding or pain relief – or develop addictions.  I need you to ask forgiveness for the ways your mistakes impact and influence me in any ways that arenn’t good.  These are the ways that damage my trust – making me hesitant to let you help me.

I need you to teach me how to deal with God and others when I make mistakes, too.

Oh, the deep wisdom and beauty of plan A.

If you’re intrigued by what this might look like in education, please explore these other blogposts:

What if school – and life – could be different?

Trusting Grace in Education

Christian Education – as radical as the Gospel

Also, look for this book The Cure and Parents on my GOOD STUFF page.  Good stuff!

Your comments are always a blessing; thank you for your response.