A Mistake Is Something From Which You Learn Nothing

Note: Due to issues with WordPress, some of you may not have received this post. So here it is again.

“A mistake is something from which you learn nothing,” says one of my best mentors for teaching, Keith King. “If you didn’t learn anything from a mistake, why did you bother to make it?”

The common measure for failing schools, and the cause of great hand-wringing over educational policy, is low test scores. Lost when the conversation stays at this level, are questions about adaptive learning (as opposed to training). How can schools help kids learn how to learn? How can schools prepare kids for a future of presently unforeseeable challenges/opportunities? How can schools prepare kids to be comfortable in situations where they do NOT know what to do, or in situations where the solution to a problem requires a wholly unusual response — in other words, to be unanxious in the face of the unknown?

Adaptability and creativity are the marks of highly functioning human systems: families, organizations, communities, polities, cultures. Rigidity and rote responses are the mark of deadness. There is no discovery without mistakes. Teachers need to be able to– and be allowed to– teach students how to make “mistakes” in such a way that they aren’t really mistakes at all, but opportunities to learn.

Theologically speaking, God is always doing something new. We are in tune with that ever renewing, ever life-creating God, when we are able to discern what is being born, and to respond accordingly, with deep and joyful freedom. Our mistakes need not be fearsome ogres.

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