Humanity is an organic, however, increasingly synthetic, concept. Constantly, human innovation is furthering this process. As a species, we are constantly moving away from our primal nature – for the better and the worse.
An example of this is human guilt. Guilt, a natural quality to humans, has been manipulated into something foreign; we often call this alien “shame.” This new emotion, or pseudo-emotion, has been manipulated in many ways. A variety of different goals have been achieved through the use of shame, everything from marketing campaigns to education. The latter, however, often goes unnoticed.
We shame students everyday into complying with our educational goals, and subconsciously we recognize this. Teachers see it constantly. A student will answer a question in a way that the teacher did not intend, so the teacher will tell the student that he is wrong. This student will immediately feel the shame of his blunder and it will manifest as embarrassment.
This embarrassment is sharp, yet temporary; however, the shame is personal, and persisting. Further, the shame compounds itself and slowly increases in degree. Throughout the course of a student’s education this shame can build.
An interesting thing about this shame though, is that it is often misinterpreted. Instead, students are often labelled as being unintelligent or even stupid. And that is a terrible mistake.
The recognition of failure is one thing, but there is a great difference between building off of failure and being fearful of failure. An aversion to failure is not what we need to instill in our students, rather, an understanding of failure. Being wrong needs to shift from being a flaw that needs to be remedied, to being part of a process.
Students gain nothing of benefit from shame. Apart from instilling an aversion to failure, shame promotes conformity, inhibits creativity and even inspires cowardice. When a student is shamed into believing he is unintelligent, a terrible change occurs: the student’s desires and ambitions fade, the student’s individuality and confidence withers, and the student becomes fearful of not meeting the standard.
Yet, we persist. Failure-free environments continue to be the “ideal,” and, in our pursuit of this “ideal,” we have caused, and are still causing, unimaginable harm. It is clear, change is necessary.
To contrast this failure-free environment, an environment where students can fail freely is required. This toxic condition needs to be remedied and in order to do this, an inversion of mass education is needed.
The idea that a failure is a “wrong answer,” must be revolutionized; a failure needs to be recognized as a step towards a goal. From this change, shame can be eliminated. If students inaccuracies shift from being something to be ashamed of, to simply a progression towards an ultimate goal, then this pseudo-emotion of shame would no longer be necessary.
The wrongs committed by shame would be able to be reversed: students could regain the vibrance of their desires and ambitions, students’ individuality and confidence could flourish, and the students would no longer need to be afraid of meeting the grade – the students could set their own standards for themselves.
Let this be the new ideal for education, and let the question be asked, “Who, really, should be ashamed of themselves?”
Jake Frackson, October 26, 2012