As I watch my 8-month-old son learn to crawl, the notion that learning is about persistent, self-love, failure, and triumph resonates with me. Michael Wesch, provided a perspective that embraces the idea that learning doesn’t happen in one moment nor does it end once you succeed. Everyday, my son tries to get on all fours, unsuccessfully. One leg keeps getting stuck, just like Wesch’s son George kept falling on the last stair step. This failure doesn’t stop them from trying though. So why is it in academia we become so paralyzed by the fear of failure vs. celebrating the process of learning?
I have thought about this many times in my academic career. I think the consequences of not succeeding on the first try and being stuck with a bad grade are partly to blame. So while an “A” may mean mastery, it doesn’t mean that the learning experience sparked passion, curiosity, or deepened the exploration.
This notion that learning is based on a grade has lessened as I have continued into my graduate education, and especially now as a PhD student. My success has become about the development of my ideas and research, not a letter grade. As I progress through academic milestones, it drives me to learn more, not stop and find something new to study. My success is no longer based solely on a grade, but on scholarly contributions. In the article, “Twitter and Blogs are Not Just Add-ons to Academic Research” Tim Hitchcock said, “The best and most successful academics are the ones who are so caught up in the importance of their work, so caught up in their simple passion for a subject, that they publicize it with every breadth.” That passion for learning and sharing seems to get overshadowed by grades in many academic settings. And while grades aren’t going anywhere, we could benefit from incorporating the fearless learning style of children and the passion of researchers into more facets of academic learning.