The conversation that happens once we reach the front porch is always pretty much the same but here's the conversation from one particular afternoon:
WK: I'm here! I'm the winner! I was FIRST!
MR: You were first but you're NOT the winner!
WK: I'm the winner because I was first!
MR: No! Everyone is the winner! We all ran so we are all the winners.
WK: Well, I got here first so I'm the winner.
MR: That's not how it works! We ALL win!
Usually this is about where I step in...
Melinda: What I'm hearing is that WK really feels like she's the winner because she was here first. MR, you feel like everyone wins because they all participated.
WK and MR nod slowly.
Melinda: So one thing that's really interesting about our community is that we all get to choose what we think. MR feels really strongly that everyone wins and WK feels really strongly that she got there first and that's what makes her the winner. You both get to have your own truths.
This typically changes the tone of WK and MR's conversation and they begin talking instead about other truths that aren't the same for them. It's amazing work and it's something I'm so glad they are able to do together- but the entire exchange and how often we have it pushed me to think about something else all together: Are we really all winners? What does everyone being a winner teach our children? When did healthy competition become participation is winning? I don't disagree with this idea- and I fully believe what I told MR and WK: We all get to have our own truths. However, the other great thing about having our own truths is that we also all get to challenge each other to think deeply about our truths, to investigate them, and- when they no longer fit us- to discard them in favor of a new truth.
So my question is pretty basic: Are we forgetting to let our children fail when we always tell them they succeed? Yes, trying is its' own type of success but failure is a very real part of life and failure is not the horrific monster we make it out to be. It's painful. It's full of struggle. It's difficult. These are all things we should want children to feel comfortable in. We want our children to be able to sit in struggle and to know that they can come out of that struggle stronger. We want them to know that if they want the experience or the end goal bad enough to try, it will be okay if they fail. We want them to know how to face adversity.
Paul Tough writes on the differences between economical classes when it comes to facing adversity. One reflection I had after reading his article in the New York Times resonated with me as I was fairly poor growing up. The profile of Kewauna is full of hope. It doesn't matter how many obstacles stand in her way, how bad things seem on a certain day, or how many times she might fail or feel like she's drowning- she knows that the far away goal she's set for herself if bigger and more important than a few failures along the way. She can face the challenges because she trusts that she will- one day- succeed. This is a powerful thing for Kewauna to know and, as Paul Tough writes, it's not just that she is poor that creates this sense of resilience.
Allowing children to fail, to struggle, and to delay gratification allows them to build will power, resilience, hope, and all the other emotional tools we need to process and face failure. So as we all turn back to our classrooms, our own children, and our own lives I ask that you reflect on what ways you let yourself struggle, your children struggle, and your classroom struggle. How do you invite failure into not just the lives of the children around you, but into your own life? After all, we all know that practice