By Jared Bean

In my previous blog post, I wrote briefly about how in coercive schooling environments, students, while certainly being exposed to some valuable lessons and material, will also have ample opportunity to learn counterproductive and even harmful habits and attitudes as a consequence of participating in the system of coercion. Our refusal to require classes and implement other coercive policies is one of the things that makes AVA so effective because our students are not exposed to and do not adopt these harmful attitudes. The lesson that we refuse to teach that I would like to discuss today is that failure should be avoided. 

I believe we have a real problem with how failure is handled in traditional public schools. Part of the issue stems from our ever-increasing focus on grades and performance. At a very young age, before many can read, children are placed in an environment in which “poor” performance will have a lasting and significant effect on their lives. Exuberant children can be labeled as having behavioral problems. Late readers will be put in remedial classes. A time of life that should be for exploration, play, and discovery becomes all about performance. And perhaps the worst part is the fact that the students are learning how to perform to meet someone else’s expectations at the expense of learning how to identify and satisfy their own personal needs. 

Of course, the focus on academic performance bleeds over into all other aspects of a student’s school life. The slow reader also has to worry about social ridicule when asked to read in front of the class. Students with high academic marks endure the pressures of being one of the “smart” kids. Genuine interest in hobbies is undermined by the pressure to use those hobbies as resume builders to boost one’s chances at getting into certain colleges. 

All of these added pressures distort a student’s natural relationship with failure. For certain students, failure becomes completely intolerable and experimentation and curiosity become risky. For others failure becomes a label from which they cannot escape. These attitudes can follow them throughout the rest of their lives. 

It is important to note that failure is rarely pleasant regardless of the circumstances. There is often disappointment and occasionally discouragement. This is true here at AVA as well. The difference is that we don’t have the artificial, extraneous pressures that exist in coercive schooling environments. You don’t know how to spell a word? It might be a small barrier in your effort to communicate but no big deal, you can ask someone how to spell it or people will just assume what you mean. Confused by a math concept? You might struggle in your engineering project or take a little longer to draft a budget, but you won’t fail a test over it. In the meantime, you can ask someone more experienced to help. At our school, failure has no lasting power, and it won’t follow you through your academic or social journey.  

Imagine the difference this can make! Instead of wading through anxiety, worry, and effort to avoid failure, students are free to follow their own natural educational path. This is what we see at AVA. Failure is simply a natural part of everyday. Our students use failure to grow, adapt, and learn, naturally and effectively.

Published April 19, 2021


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