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Learning to fail: Good advice for graduates

June 16. 2014 10:56PM

Of all the advice graduates across New Hampshire received in the last few weeks, the best bit of wisdom probably came from the 2014 class vice president of Bedford High School. “What is most important is how you react to (failure),” Katrina Munoz said. “We can either let it tear down our confidence or we can accept it and learn from it.”

There is value in failure, and children should be taught that. In school, kids are trained to get the right answer in the right way, often by memorizing concepts and methods. That is important, but it can also hinder intellectual growth. “Mounting research suggests students benefit from classes organized to encourage them to try challenging new tasks and bounce back from failure,” Education Week reports this week.

Studies in Singapore suggest that groups of children who are given a math problem to solve, but are not given the method, will find the right method themselves — and when they do they develop a better understanding of the concepts they need to master. Some U.S. schools are finding that focusing on content mastery rather than test proficiency is helping struggling students to thrive because they learn to take more risks, and they learn from their failures

There is no shame in failure. There is only shame in letting it defeat you.

“Never submit to failure,” wrote Winston Churchill, who should know. He failed at two schools before going to a military academy, then failed the Royal Military College exam thrice. He resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty after the disaster at Gallipoli. But he learned from his mistakes, persevered, and became one of the 20th century’s greatest leaders.

Never fear failure. Just remember, failure is not the same thing as defeat.

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