Monday, July 23, 2007

Make Your Mistakes Today

I find making mistakes good for the soul (repeating them, on the other hand, is not). I think people should learn not to be afraid of failing. Because at one point or another, people will fall down and make mistakes. And the tricky part is that it's all too easy to stay down. When you fail a lot of times, it makes it easier to get back up (well, not all the time...). But isn't most of life that way? Trial and error, and a lot of the latter part.

What I like about school is that it's the best time to make mistakes. Sure, there'll be consequences for those mistakes (and I think that drives the lesson home), but at the end of the day, I'll only have a report card that says F. No broken bones, I still have my health, and the tuition I'm paying isn't any higher or lower. I think many people forget that the point of going to school is to learn, not to achieve perfection. And quite frankly, we humans learn best when we make mistakes. So for me, the best time to make those mistakes is when you're young and when you're in school.

Unfortunately, our preconceptions of education makes it difficult to make mistakes. Our parents expect the best from us. Our teachers certainly don't want us to fail. And the school system isn't tolerant of too many failures either... if your marks are too low, you might not proceed to the next year level or worse, get kicked out or transferred. That's not to say we shouldn't expel "stupid" students but rather I think the school environment should encourage curiosity, experimenting, and trying out new things even if the results might end in failure. Most of the scientific process ends up in failure but the beauty of science is that we contribute to the body of knowledge with the experiments that don't work as much as the experiments that do work.

When people meet me, they think I'm smart. I have the typical profile, from the large glasses too the shy, wallflower attitude. That's not to say I'm not smart--I think most people are intelligent (or have intelligence). It's just that I'm not smart in the way they assume I am. I don't know a lot of facts nor am I a genius at Math and Science. By the time I was in high school however, I did develop a strong motivation to learn, even if that came at the expense of failing a subject. That's why when everyone else in class was cheating, I wasn't, even if I ended up having the same grade as the laziest, stupidest classmate. At least I knew I'd retain more info if I didn't cheat. That same motivation also gave me the courage to fail various subjects if the need arose. My parents can be disappointed with my report card but I'll come out of it smarter and hopefully better. And like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I did fail various subjects, everything from Math to Science to Chinese (never failed English though, nor Christian Life Education). Of course these days, I know more about Math and Science than most of my peers (alas, the same isn't true for Chinese).

Having said that, here I think are five important things school should teach you:
  1. You don't need to know the facts, just know where and how to find them.
  2. Realize that no person is infallible and that whoever teaches us or writes our textbooks are human. History and science is riddled with mistakes so we should be open with regards to revision and change in the future.
  3. If you want something badly, you have to strive for it. You won't always get what you want, but you'll get something.
  4. Don't fear failing. In the event that you do, it's not the end of the world. You might end up losing a lot of money but life goes on. And at the end of the day, you can't predict whether you'll succeed or fail, only whether you'll do something or not.
  5. Get back up after you fail. If you've graduated from grade school or high school, you learned to stick it through. If you failed grade school or high school yet made a success out of yourself, you've also proven that you can survive after a "failure" and make the most out of your life. Don't give up, do something about it when you fall down or quit.

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