Learning and Falling

Learning and Falling

Watching her baby take his first steps, falling, getting up, trying again, homeschooling mom, Sara ponders what we can learn from babies who are not afraid of failure:

What if you and I were graded on a daily basis, on each task laid out before us? Overcooking pasta might earn us a C, while forgetting to buy cat litter, yet again, would get a big fat F. Could you imagine living in that world? Two nights ago I finished knitting my first adult sweater. It took me months of agony, and it looks ok. It’s not perfect. But I’m proud of it. Who knew I could follow the directions and knit a sweater?! But if some knitting genius came along and gave me a grade on it. If they turned it inside-out and examined every seam I guarantee they would find plenty of mistakes. It would not hold up to that kind of scrutinty. Would I ever dare to knit a sweater, or anything, ever again? If someone graded my first row of stitches, I might not have even tried knitting a dishcloth, let alone a sweater.

Learning is hard work. Those first steps can be traumatizing if we let them be. If we fall off the horse and never get back on, we may never know what it’s like to gallop fearlessly on with the wind whipping through our hair. If we don’t learn how to overcome our own hurdles, how can we learn to teach?

This was the biggest problem I had as a teacher: I didn’t believe in grades and yet had to give them every semester. That first paragraph of hers hit home: how many students did I discourage from writing because I was too hard on one of their papers? Being a perfectionist, I had a hard time grading papers because I was always holding every paper up to the standard of the best one I’d seen. An impossible standard for most of my students to meet. And every semester i struggled to find some sort of compromise, some way of being encouraging to all my students, some way of motivating them that didn’t involve the grades, an impossible task when the majority of them had already been conditioned to work for grades rather than the sense of accomplishment they get from learning itself.

This is why homeschooling appeals to me. I am excited about teaching in a classroom where there are no grades, just learning. Where I will be free to set my perfectionist standards aside and just have fun. And I am excited about being able to give my children that experience of the joy of discovery.



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