Don’t be afraid to fail!

This.  In this brilliant article, Bloomberg columnist Megan McArdle writes about a conversation with a young girl in 10th grade.  This girl is so afraid of not getting an “A” that she is afraid to try anything new.  In our current system of education, kids almost have to get a 4.0 to feel like they will have success in life.

“I was 15 in 10th grade. If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time? When you’re ready to splash out on an edgy assisted-living facility?

Now is when this kid should be learning to dream big dreams and dare greatly. Now is when she should be making mistakes and figuring out how to recover from them. Instead, we’re telling one of our best and brightest to focus all her talent on coloring within the lines.”


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This girl’s fear resonates in me, and is one of the main reasons we have chosen to unschool.  I lived in constant stress for so, so many years of my life, because I had convinced myself that the only possibility of success and happiness for me would be found in getting a 4.0 GPA.  There are so many things I would have loved to have tried, but I didn’t dare and I didn’t have time because I had boxed myself in with this idea.

“At the time in her life when failure should have the lowest cost, she should be learning to try things that are great, and maybe a little crazy. And, also, learning how to identify when your great, crazy idea isn’t working so well. And to move on after the occasional embarrassing flop. Apparently, she can’t afford to do any of that, because it might jeopardize her perfect grade-point average.”

I see my children constantly trying new things…things they may never have even tried if they were busy getting all of their homework and worksheets done every day, not to mention several after-school activities.  The joy of unschooling is that new skills are tried constantly.  Failure is pretty common, but there is no reason of any kind to give up, or to continue forcing something that ends up being disliked.  The learning environment is safe, wide-open, and self-motivated.

I feel that often, we are so worried about college, that golden ticket, that we force our children through an exhausting and stressful youth in order to obtain entrance.

“But we have become crazy on the subject of college. Now, more than ever, we view a college degree as an absolute prerequisite for a minimally decent life. And if we’re in the upper middle class, it has to be a degree from an elite school. Kids who a generation or two ago would have gone to a local college, or the state university, are now applying to Harvard University. And since the number of slots at those elite colleges has barely budged, parents are essentially trying to push an ever-larger number of kids through a medium-sized funnel.

To keep their kids from falling off the side, they’re pushing them harder than ever — micromanaging their lives, orchestrating things so that their children have as little opportunity as possible to go astray. It’s totally understandable. But it’s bad for the kids, bad for the parents, and bad for the nation…

This is insane. It’s insane because everyone hates it — parents, kids, even college admissions officers. It’s insane because it is not producing better citizens, or more productive citizens, or happier citizens. Rather the opposite, in fact.”

It takes a lot of trust to break out of the system and to allow your children to learn what they want to and to pursue things that are important to them.  In our family, though, we have seen the incredible results: stress-free children, increased attention span, lower blood pressure (for everyone), time to process things, and joy.

All quotes from the article Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail, by Megan McArdle