A few weeks ago I noticed a large sign hanging in a high school classroom that read “Failure is not an Option”. Since the poster had no obvious historical connection, to the Apollo program, for example, 1 I gathered it was supposed to be motivational for the kids.
But is that really a philosophy you want to teach students? That you want them to adopt?
Even if you go back to the space race example, no one working on that complex project actually believed everything would be completely error free. On the contrary, they knew that something was going to fail at some time. Which is why they prepared for failure, spending a relatively large amount of time and effort planning, modeling, practicing for what everyone would do when something went wrong.
In a few weeks, the students of our overly-large school district will be in the middle of testing season, and their teachers are already making clear (directly or by implication) that failing to pass the SOLs (or whatever the high stakes tests are called in your state) is not an option. Or at least one that will be very unpleasant for everyone concerned.
However, instead of telling kids that failure is not an option, that it’s something to be reviled and feared, we should helping them understand how best to cope with situations that don’t go according to plan. Creating a plan B (maybe even plan C). Find a new approach. Repurpose the pieces of a project that doesn’t work.
Learn that failure IS an option, and to think of it as a starting point, not the end of the line.