Fail and learn

By Mathias Maurer, March 2012

Dear Reader,

It is a paradox: we live in uncertain times today as far as questions of education are concerned. Everyone has a different understanding of what is good for themselves and their children. There is not only a boom in guides about adult learning but also about how best to educate your children. The result: insecure parents and educators create even greater insecurity in their children.

In practice we experience the opposite: we see ourselves as if adults did not really need to continue educating themselves at all – and that is all the more so the higher the office (in education).  Adults are complete, they have a firm view of what needs to be done. Their biology alone might teach them something else. To fail, make mistakes or display a lack of certainty is considered blameworthy or funny. We do not seem to have a positive approach to making mistakes in which we can fail ourselves and others, learn from it and emerge strengthened. Only small children still have that privilege. They can fall over a hundred times because we know: they will manage eventually. The older we grow the more impatient we become with mistakes, something that starts as soon as school, and the methods become correspondingly more rigid. Zero marks mean: he has learnt nothing! In adults that is simply seen as an embarrassment although we know that making mistakes is part of learning at any age, only the tasks have changed.

We can be certain that the problems we have in bringing up our children are a reflection of our own educational mistakes. Be it in the family, in kindergarten and school or in our social environment: children copy these mistakes and deficiencies. In adolescence the circle of friends becomes the dominant educator. Here, too, role models have an effect – both bad and good. We assume that when we reach adulthood we take care of our education ourselves. But is it right to expect that we should cope with our mistakes by ourselves?

Everyone knows their mistakes, can recall situations in which they did something against their better judgement or simply failed. Everyone knows their dark sides. The normal coping strategy is to hush things up or ignore them. It mostly leads to our “inner” educational crisis deepening. If we can no longer extricate ourselves from progressing down this track because it has been too strongly inscribed into the structure of our personality or if it has become a compulsory psychological pattern, we need people who can help us. Asking for such help and learning from it would be the best service we can perform for our children. Because a person, and specifically a person who wishes to educate, does not primarily influence the soul of the child through his or her deeds or what he or she says but directly through the way he or she is. The child wants to know: “Are you, too, a person who makes mistakes and keeps learning?”

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