Today I’ve been thinking a lot about this question. Here are my thoughts:
A student’s job is to learn. To try. To make mistakes. We are going to mess up. And that’s the point. A student needs to be given the space to think, to try, and to get it wrong. That’s how we learn.
However, of course, this isn’t an all-or-nothing game. Rather, there is a spectrum between perfection and failure on which each student can be found. Realize, though, that I’m not referring to grading or performance here. I’m talking about expectations. How often is the student expected to reach perfection, or near perfection? How often is the student allowed to miss the mark?
There is a balance to be sought in this. The student must be permitted to make mistakes, just not excessively. If the student is given too much latitude, they will miss out on needed correction and learning. But if the student is given too little freedom, and is too severely corrected for every error, then the only lesson learned is that of fear — the fear of trying.
The student will learn that the best way to avoid failure is to make no attempt in the first place. To prevent this, the student must be allowed to make an occasional mistake without the fear of failing an entire class, being held back, or expelled from school. Only an accumulation of mistakes, or the repetition of prior errors, justifies such drastic punishments.
To use a sports analogy, what would baseball be without three strikes? Who would (or could) play the game if one swing-and-a-miss was all it took to strike out? And what would the game be like if one strike was sufficient to eject you from the remainder of the game? That is why the game has three strikes: to accommodate less than perfection.
I feel like I’m rambling, but this is my point: students are students, and we will mess up. We’re supposed to. We need to be held accountable for our mistakes, but not to the same degree as the masters. Because we’re not masters. Not yet. And if we’re not provided an environment in which we can safely attempt to become masters, then we might as well not even try.
At least that’s the lesson we’ll learn.
(Maybe another day I’ll rant about my philosophies on what a teacher is. I’ll give you a clue: it’s not a simple holder or disseminator of information. That’s a book’s job.)