Failure or Opportunity? The Benefits of Shifting Our Views on the Meaning of School

Posted by: Anna Coutts on April 10, 2015 10:44 am

Learn /lərn/: to gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught.learn

School is supposed be about learning. Unfortunately, it often seems our society is forgetting what learning is all about. In my practice, I’ve worked with increasing numbers of bright, talented and eager-to-learn youth who are unable to “succeed” at school. Many have become so overwhelmed by depression and anxiety about having to excel academically that they’ve ended up in hospital or have simply stopped attending.

For many kids, it isn’t this extreme. However, more and more youth are feeling the pressure to “get the grades.” Ask almost any teenager about what is more important, understanding the material or getting an A, and I guarantee you most would go with the latter. Yet it’s no wonder they feel so overwhelmed: all around them are frantic parents and teachers, instilling fear in youth that not getting the right grades will lead to failure in life. Failing a test, or worse, failing a class or a grade are seen as catastrophes that can destroy a person’s chance at a happy, prosperous life.

Yet sometimes taking a class a second time is what a child needs in order to truly absorb the information. Perhaps getting that C on the test helped them to recognize they are more of a hands-on learner and guides them toward choosing a career in a trade they love rather than in the office setting they hate. Not making the cut for university might lead them to take a college course that leads them to find a career they are passionate about. Yet we often forget the wonderful power of the learning process.

Someone once told me that the Chinese word for crisis means both danger and opportunity. I love this duality. It’s exactly how I view school “failures”: as difficult situations that can lead to some of the most powerful learning opportunities we have in life. This is the message I try to pass along to the youth and families I work with. What I’ve seen is that when parents and youth are able to shift their view about what education is about, it can drastically reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and make youth more creative and resilient. Once they stop focusing on learning and stop fixating on failure, you’d be surprised at just how much they prosper.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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