There’s a lot of ways to describe the education debate, and it just occurred to me that one of them is to examine the different understandings of the word failure.

Some people like failure and some people hate it. Let me explain:

Failure : the cons.
Success IS the American dream. it’s a tautology. Failure, the opposite of success, is to be avoided at all costs.
With centralized planning (large bureaucracy, large corporation, large governments) failure is a disaster. You have cascading failures. Network failure. Too big to fail. It’s hard to turn big enterprises around. Risks are too high. Consequences are disastrous and visited on successive generations. Our school system is failing children: it’s not living up to its promises. Families are failing. Marriages fail. Children fail tests, they fail out of school, then they fail in their lives.
Failing is humiliating. It’s unjust. “Failure is not an option.” Reject any excuses for failure.
Success means going from success to success, thus avoiding failure along the way.
Avoid failure=achieve success.

Failure: The pros.
In the most successful, innovative areas of our economy, “Fail fast” is the mantra. How can that be? Iteration. Big risk means big reward. Move quickly and slaughter the ideas that don’t work before they grow up into big, unwieldy bad ideas.

Same is true in education. Our brains can’t learn properly if we never fail. If I hold my baby daughter up and never let her fall, she then has no idea how gravity works and she can’t walk. You can’t learn to ski if you don’t fall. Children who are overparented never fail, they then lose all internal motivation and stop trying. Our schools aren’t failing enough children: they are too safe, too structured, and there’s grade inflation at the college levels–not enough Fs.
Never fail=never succeed.

What we have in the US is a misallocation of chances. A few people get a million chances and most people barely get one.  IF you get one chance or no chances, failure is not an option. If you get too many chances, you can’t learn from failure.

I’ve been busy writing as much as possible for and Co.exist, both excellent websites. Here’s a post on the emails back and forth from the City of Newark over the Mark Zuckerberg $100 million donation. Here’s one on brain scans of entrepreneurs. I’ve also been freelancing and some exciting stories will appear soon, in new places!

I had a chance to chat quite a bit with Mimi Ito this past Thursday and Friday on her important new report on Connected Learning. This report pretty much lays down the gauntlet on what 21st century learning is, could and should be: something that hooks in with young people’s interests, meets them where they are at, gets them involved with peers and mentors, draws them deeper into academic (and civic) engagement and forward into a professional calling, and uses digital skills and media to make it all possible.