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The Importance of Being Wrong

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” This is just one of many nuggets from Sir Ken Robinson’s marvelous presentation on education and creativity at TED 2006. Here's another nice moment: “We don’t grow in to creativity, we grow out of it…we get educated out of it.”

This was illustrated to me last year, when I had an opportunity to visit two different children's classes, each given the same lesson by the same teacher.

First was the younger children, ages 3-8. When asked a particular question, these children were replete with answers. The board quickly filled up with their responses and the children were still raising their hands. The teacher could not address the many ideas the children had. Not all of the responses appropriately answered the question, but they were addressed anyway.

An hour later was the class with the children aged 8-11, where the same question was asked. Here, the children did not respond much at all. Only a few answers were proffered. All were correct answers, but there were far less correct answers on the board, as compared to the younger children, simply because there were less answers given.

It seemed as though the older children were afraid to answer, for fear their answers would be wrong; it would be better to not say anything. There were probably children sitting there with correct answers, but were afraid to suggest it, for fear of being wrong.

Now, I'm not advocating that we should not correct the children's mistakes. On the contrary, it is important for them to learn what is correct. But it is our reaction to mistakes that we need to address.

In school, children are essentially punished for their wrong answers. They get bad grades. In most of these cases, they are not even given the opportunity to learn the correct answer, as by then the class has moved on. This is a hard way for anyone to learn effectively.

We should help our children appreciate all answers, right and wrong. Help them understand that each wrong answer helps us get closer to the right answer.

As a homeschool parent, when your child makes a mistake, you have the opportunity to remind your child how important mistakes are. As Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Then you have the chance to help them find the correct answer. What a wonderful opportunity!

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