Our Schools Should Teach Kids to Fail | Keith Peters | TEDxWestBrowardHigh
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Our Schools Should Teach Kids to Fail | Keith Peters | TEDxWestBrowardHigh


Translator: Tijana Mihajlović
Reviewer: Mile Živković I’m here tonight to share my sincere hope
for your complete and utter failure. I want you to fail,
and I want you to fail. And in the back row
– I didn’t forget about you – I want you to fail as well. I want everyone here tonight to fail. Now, as a dad
and an elementary school principal, I wish for the same thing
for all my kids. I not only hope that they fail,
I encourage them to do so. The reason for this is simple. I believe that the way
society views failures to be totally and completely wrong. Most people, they view failure as final,
as a conclusion, as a reflection of who and what they are. In a word, for most people,
they think failure sucks. But it’s not their fault. We’ve had this drilled into our heads
from our earliest days in school. Some of you might remember the time you came home
from kindergarten without a sticker because you didn’t master your ABCs. Or maybe it was an F
that you got on a homework assignment, or possibly a below-average score
on a standardized test. Failure has been seen as frightening,
and worst of all, defining. My position is these attitudes are sending
dangerous and destructive message that tells that the failure is bad,
and that we should avoid it at all cost. I’m here to tell you
that message is wrong, and our views of failure
are all wrong as well. After all, history is filled
with famous failures, from the student whose teacher said was too stupid to learn anything,
Thomas Edison, to the newspaper man
who was fired by his editor because he lacked imagination
and had no good ideas, Walt Disney. Of course, this gentleman,
perhaps the most famous failure of all, who was defeated when he ran
for state legislature, failed at business, who was defeated when he ran for Congress, and defeated twice
when he ran for U.S. Senate, but who overcame all that to change the world
as our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. Now, of course, not all failures
can be this famous. I failed many times in my life,
and I bet if I ask each of you, you would have your own story to tell. The story I’ll tell you here tonight
comes from my own education. You see, I breezed through elementary
and middle school, earning only As and Bs, always thought of as one
of the smartest kids in my grade. And then I hit high school. I can remember specifically
Mr. Malone’s calculus class because that’s when I earned my first C,
and then the Ds and the Fs followed. I hadn’t learned how to struggle
with school work, or really anything at all. So I started to pull away from the area
where I had previously excelled. I did finish high school, and I went on to Montclair State College
in New Jersey, and then I promptly quit after one month. Sorry mum and dad. Love you. I didn’t want
to be associated with something that made me feel worthless. It took eleven years of soul-searching,
bad decisions, and lots of struggle before I earned
my elementary education degree and ended up doing something that I’m passionate about
each and every day. It took those years of failure
to pave the way for my success. But I don’t want our children
to wait that long. Because these examples,
the famous and the not so famous, they teach us that there’s no reason
to fear failure. It is not a character trait;
it’s an event. It’s not an end; it’s an opportunity
to learn, explore and improve. And most importantly,
it’s not the opposite of success, as most people believe; it is a key component of it. Being able to fight through,
pick yourself up and get yourself back on track
in and of itself is success. And we must teach this to our children. In fact, I believe, out of all the things we should be teaching
in our schools right now, the most important thing of all
is teaching our children how to fail, showing them
there’s nothing wrong with failure. You know that famous phrase
about death and taxes? That’s all wrong. They are not the only certainties in life;
failure is also a certainty. Every single one of us will fail, but being able to accept it,
learn from it, and move on is the life lesson
that each of us must learn. And you’re never too young to start. Therefore, encouraging
and embracing failure is the single most important change
that we need in education today. What happens in schools
is previous failures, they add up to doom
a student to fail again. Or even worse, to get it lodged in here so they’re even afraid
to try again tomorrow, and what a shame that is, at the lost opportunities
because people felt labeled as failures. But just imagine if schools started
teaching failure for what it really is, a stop along the road of success, a moment to pause, rethink and re-imagine. Or how about this one? An event exploding with opportunity to acquire knowledge,
deepen understanding, and to emotionally and intellectually
prepare for life. Do you like the sound of that one? It happens to be the definition
of the word “education”. So, what I’m saying to you tonight is that education and failure
are synonymous. If we accept that as true,
schools have an unbelievable opportunity to not only change what happens
within their own walls, but to spill out into society
and affect change within all of us. So tonight I am advocating
for the express inclusion of failure into all schools curriculum
at each and every level. So what does that look like? It’s not as if I’m asking my teachers to give a test or material
they haven’t covered yet, but there are ways
we can intensely provide experiences for our students, to both know and grow from failure. Let me give you an example of a person
whom I think is on a right track. His name is Edward Burger. He’s a professor of mathematics
at Williams College. Professor Burger tells his students that if they want to earn an A,
they must fail regularly, because he bases 5% of the final grade
on the quality of their failure. They must disclose, accept, discuss,
and reflect upon each failure. I love this practice because it encourages
creativity and risk-taking. And don’t we need more of both of those
in the world in which we live in today? This world is aching
for innovators and innovations. When I think along those lines, I think about some aspects of our world that wouldn’t be here
without some form of failure, like the engineer at 3M, who was trying
to create a super strong adhesive, but instead got just the opposite, an adhesive that barely stuck
and could easily be lifted off, and post-it notes were born. Or Alexander Fleming, who was working
in his lab one night, and before he left, he forgot to properly clean
the bacteria that filled Petri dishes. He left town and in return,
he noticed there was mold that was blocking
the growth of the bacteria, and thereby discovered penicillin. Or how about Willson Greatbatch? He was trying to create
a heart rhythm recording device and he pulled the wrong part
out of a box of equipment. And he plugged it in a circuit, and he noticed he had created a sound that was remarkably similar
to a heartbeat, and the pacemaker was invented. Today, more than half a million pacemakers
are implanted each and every year. Not bad for a mistake. When I think along these lines, I wish I could snap my fingers and make the view of failure change
in all of our minds just like that. But I know we have to start small. Let me give you an example from my school that I hope illustrates this approach. It was our first school-wide STEM day, and the boys and girls in this
4th-grade class I’ll tell you about, they were trying to build a zip line
that would drop a marble onto a target using a paper cup, paper clips,
tape and string. I watched as the boys and girls
built their contraptions, and after each miss,
they would huddle together, make a change or two,
and then try again. When Sofia’s group failed
for the fourth time, she turned to me and said, “Mr. Peters, hashtag,
the struggle is real.” (Laughter) I love that sentiment because it shows me that Sofie and her classmates were never
at the end of a failed experiment. Rather, they went in the midst
of ongoing struggle. They never felt defeated or demeaned
because they couldn’t hit their target. They were motivated and inspired
to keep on going with the challenge. We need to be at the forefront of creating these types of opportunities
for our students. The sooner they experience
and learn from their own failures, the sooner we will have students and individuals capable of overcoming
any obstacle in their way and handling any adversity
that’s thrown in front of them. I wish I had a classic
Hollywood happy ending for you about Sofia and her group’s efforts, but that’s just not the case. Try as they might, they just couldn’t hit
that red and white target. I lost track of time, I lost track of how many attempts
they made that day, and through it all, they didn’t approach
anything near success. By every accepted definition,
they had failed. However, there is hope,
because before I left class that day, I watched as Sofia and her group
approached their teacher, begging to give up
the recess time the next day. These boys and girls were willing
to give up their own free time to give the challenge another shot. If that’s not the definition of success,
then I don’t know what is. There are many ways that we can provide these types of opportunities
for our students, but the most important aspect of all
is the attitude with which we, the adults and the educators
approach failure. At my school, I talk to my teachers
about this concept, and ask them to go back to the class,
and to celebrate, share, and learn from their failures
and their students’ failures. Our teachers and students need
the freedom to be fearless risk-takers. Too often, needed change in schools,
it’s hampered by a lack of money, supplies and resources
that are not always easily accessible. But this change
doesn’t require any of that. It simply requires to change
both here and here, how you think
and how you feel about failure. The other great thing
about this change is that, while we can celebrate failure
on a STEM day, it doesn’t matter
if you’re in a 3rd-grade math class, or a high-school history class, or at master’s level course
at the university, failure can and must be celebrated,
learned from, shared each and every day
in each and every class. And we start thinking along those lines. We need to start incorporating
the word “yet” into our vocabulary, both with our students and with ourselves, and with their goals and with our goals, as in, “You did not meet
that objective yet, but with effort and analysis,
thought and commitment, you can overcome any obstacle
and ultimately find success.” I wish I could stand up in front of you and say, “I really hope for your success, and I want to hand the world off to you.” But that’s just not the case,
because I want you to know struggle. I want you to experience the frustration
of not solving your problem, or creating your idea on the first try, or the second try, or even the fourteenth try. I want each and every one of you to fail. Fail magnificently. Fail spectacularly. Fail gloriously,
mind-blowingly, amazingly. Failure is not only an option; failure is a necessity
so that you may succeed. Thank you. (Applause)

About James Carlton

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16 thoughts on “Our Schools Should Teach Kids to Fail | Keith Peters | TEDxWestBrowardHigh

  1. Great Mr Peters, 100% agree. As Thomas A. Edison said "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

  2. I loved Keith Peters talk on Failure. So often I hear kids say I can't! As an Elementary Physical Educator, I tell the kids they CAN, maybe not today, but with time and practice they will. After listening to Keith today I am going to add the word YET. Kids will understand this. Instead of I can't, I will encourage I CAN'T YET!!

  3. im a failure.thats why i suceed in life.As a senior now, i still dread the word fail ever since kindergarten.Thanks to u, i realized that i am one if the breed of students that is actually pulling through repeated failures.I am a risktaker/ innovator.

  4. This guy is crazy! At my school, any grade below an A- is failing. I'm in 8th grade, and I didnt end up playing with the city Philharmonic by failing. I didn't get to the top of my class by failing. When you fail, stuff it deep down and pretend it didn't happen and PRAY no one noticed! I have faked being straight for 5 years so I don't fail in the eyes of my peers. That may sound sad, but I know that there's a privilege to not being gay. I use that to my advantage to get ahead. FAILING IS FAILING, AND FAILING IS LOSING

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