I grew up in the 80’s. We had ribbons that were color coded (blue for first, red for second, green for third, there was NOT a participation ribbon), lists of students on the honor roll (read aloud and printed in the newspaper, again this was a small percentage of the entire class) and trophies for the winning team (again, not plural, no participation trophy for just showing up). Almost every event I remember there were winners and losers. I remember a very specific event in high school. It is an event I quite possibly learned the most from in my life. Cheerleading tryouts. I had cheered my freshman year and I was cut from the team my sophomore year. I failed!
Each day I tell my students there is always more to learn. The amazing thing about learning is there is never an end. You can always do more or find more or question more. And learning is an ugly process. Just as in sports where there are bruises, bumps and skinned up knees, you should have mistakes and failure along the way. But somewhere, someone stopped that.
Too many people have developed the idea that we are protecting our children by making everything “fair”, the same, equal. When did it become bad to be wrong? To fail? To not know? In our classroom answers and effort are celebrated. I am proudest of students who give the wrong answer or say they are not sure about something. I am also transparent with my students and tell them about things that are hard for me (spelling) and when I don’t reach my personal goals (run 3 days a week). We talk about progress and failure. Fair, the same, equal does not exist. They are a fabricated mirage which has nothing to do with learning.
I remember the pain and heartbreak of not making the cheer team. But I also remember the journey of self-reflection. I remember trying harder the next year. I remember the pride I felt when I made the squad my junior and senior year. That process would not have been the same if everyone had made the team. If it was fair. SO, why don’t we let our kids learn? Why do we hover above and around and correct them before they fail? Why do we steal that learning process from them?