Set-Up: In Clay Shirky’s recent book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, the university instructor/economic consultant makes the following — slightly radical — statement (pg 236) about the evolution of collaboration & innovation on the Internet (and how it affects businesses and other traditional organizations):

“Failure is free, high-quality research, offering direct evidence of what works and what doesn’t.”

Challenge: React to this statement in terms of

  • how it is currently perceived (by teachers/students) in school
  • how it should be perceived in school (by teachers/students), and
  • how it might be perceived (by teachers/students) in school in the future

Feel free to consider reality and theory on this one, no matter how you answer.

Length: 7+ sentences (minimum).

Hint: Obviously the statement appears to be an contradiction in terms of how students typically believe school responds to their work.

That being said, you are free to explore why this might be a new way of looking at the being a life-long learner in/out of school.



  1. This statement is nothing more than a fancy way to say that it is good to learn from your mistakes. Most students do not like to make mistakes, refuse to acknowledge them, or never learn from them. Teachers on the otherhand believe that mistakes are essential for learning. Students should realize that mistakes are are their to show them what not to do and help them think what they should have done. Teachers have the right idea and should not change their mindset set. In the future it will stay the same. Students are kids after all. The will always make the same mistakes that have been made generations before them. Teachers are all grown up and mature and wise enough to know better. When you look back in retrospect you will realize that this is an occurence that has always been there and always will.


    from Mr. Long: Had to smile (the good kind) a bit at the “Students are kids after all” comment, esp. re: the “generations before them” element. BTW — small thing, but key — watch spelling, missing commas, etc. It’ll make a difference over time to ensure that your readers see a ‘clean’ copy. Never hesitate to write it first in a Word Doc, spell check it (etc) and then copy/paste it into the blog entry. Many students did this last year after a few weeks of getting used to the process.

  2. In the majority of schools, when asked, a student will claim that failure is a terrible occurrence and not their goal at all. This attitude is common among students due to all the praise and faith both parents and other students put into good grades and perfect papers. However when this same topic is brought to teachers they will most likely claim that failure is great and a chance for students to truly learn and mature. Teachers might even agree that failing is arguably just as important as making good grades while in school. Although teachers believe failure can be a great lesson for a student no teacher encourages failing grades. This is true because those who learn from their mistakes should also improve due to their increased knowledge. When a student fails and is devastated this is also an excellent opportunity to not only learn but become a stronger person and begin to mature. If teachers did not encourage students to fail sometimes then teachers would be encouraging students not to mature. Schools should let students know that mistakes are alright as long as a lesson is learned and the student’s knowledge of the situation is increased. And though schools in the future may be far advanced this simple truth will always be present and acted upon, failing is just a chance to learn and become a better person.


    from Mr. Long: Fascinating idea: “…common among students due to all the praise and faith both parents and other students put into good grades and perfect papers.” One is led to wonder if students (and ‘kids’, so to speak) are born with an innate sense of comfort with the idea of failure, through trial and error when playing (perhaps). Wouldn’t it be terribly/curiously ironic if well intentioned adults (and some teachers, too — smile) managed to turn students into failure-adverse/fearful individuals over time in an effort to give them confidence about the world around them and prepare them for the future (college, work, etc). Many businesses in the last few years are beginning to look at the ‘failure’ issue more closely, especially given the priority now being placed on creativity, innovation, and talented employees who tend to find novel (aka new) solutions for age-old problems by taking risks (rather than playing it safe). I’ll let others weigh in on this, but you open up a huge can of ideas with your comment.

  3. Failure is described as proving unsuccessful or a lack of success, and that is how it is perceived by students today. Whenever we see an “F”, we take it at face value, seeing it literally as a failure, instead of seeing at as more than just “a lack of success”. Failure should be perceived by students and teachers as a way to become stronger through our mistakes and if we take the time to recognize them, then we can be sure to ameliorate our weaker points. Everyone learns more from failure than from success, because when you succeed you’re not motivated to reach greater heights. I can’t help but be pessimistic about how students perceive failure in the future; I don’t think high school students fifty years from now will be more receptive to failure than the high school students of today. Being able to learn from failure comes from developing a more mature and intrepid outlook on life, and is not just “cured” as time passes. James Russell Lowell, an eighteenth century poet, once said, “Mishaps are like knives; that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.”


    from Mr. Long: Not sure you’re being pessimistic in your response, esp. with this follow-up statement: “Being able to learn from failure comes from developing a more mature and intrepid outlook on life, and is not just “cured” as time passes.” Full agree with you. Might be an arbitrary assumption that future schools/students will look at failure differently. My assumption — if there is one — lies in the idea that ‘school’ may be handled in so many different ways in the decades/centuries to come (esp. given what technology can/will do), that perhaps there will be more options to see ‘failure’ as a natural part of ‘getting to’ knowledge/expertise. BTW, great connection to Lowell. Impressive nudge to all of us — handle or blade? — as we push ourselves to look beyond the obvious this year in class, my friend!

  4. Shirky’s comment is an excellent example of what the quintessence view of failure should be. Though, learning from mistakes is one of the few ways we can truly learn, people in general are terrified to fail. In today’s educational system this comment would most likely appeal to teachers. Teachers today tell students “Don’t freak out about this quiz, it won’t keep you from going to Harvard…” and so on, implying for students to see beyond what is currently happening in their lives. However, students largely can’t think past the current quiz or test. They can’t see how doing poorly on one quiz may actually improve their study habits and help them in the long run, and students definitely can not think of life beyond high school. Teachers should continue with their current view, but should never tell a student failing is good, yes it can be beneficial, but to some students this might be an invitation never to study or concentrate, thus they would not learn from their mistakes, making failure pointless. Students on the other hand could stand to alter their views. Yes students should care about every quiz and test, but should also recognize that our race is human and failing is inevitable. In the future these views will probably remain quite constant. Teachers will continue to comfort students on the issue of failure and students will continue to resent and hate the dreaded “F” word. Nevertheless, failure will remain unavoidable and one of the best learning tools we have, and if people can learn to accept and imbibe from failure in the classroom and throughout the world, then in the end they will succeed in life.


    from Mr. Long: A very wise set of statements: “Teachers should continue with their current view, but should never tell a student failing is good, yes it can be beneficial, but to some students this might be an invitation never to study or concentrate, thus they would not learn from their mistakes, making failure pointless. Students on the other hand could stand to alter their views. Yes students should care about every quiz and test, but should also recognize that our race is human and failing is inevitable. In the future these views will probably remain quite constant.” Really appreciate how you took an ‘and/and’ approach, rather than assuming one or the other was right (or should change alone).

  5. Many students perceive failure as a bad thing. For example, if one were to receive a D on his/her daily paper, one would worry and fret in stead of seeking his/her mistakes out. But there also are many other students who will look for their mistakes and try to learn from them. However, most teachers will talk to students about their mistakes, not be angry at them. Students should look at school as a trial-and-error period of life. As for work in the real world, they should hope to have learnt from their mistakes and try to play it safe. A heart surgeon, for example, should NOT be out there experimenting. Although, if a mistake is accidentally made, why not learn from it? In the future it is hopeful that the perspective of failure will be looked at in a positive way by both teachers and students.

  6. To answer the question of how it is perceived by students and teachers will depend on what kind of person they are. If the student is a laid back, I-don’t-care person, he/she probably will not care what happens. If a student is an I-have-to-be-perfect person, then he/she probably does not like to fail. However, since children are often influenced by their surroundings, the student’s real reason of not wanting to fail may actually be because they are under pressure whether it is because of their parents expectations or he/she wants to go to a certain college like Harvard. Most students do not like to fail or admit it but teachers, who are more experienced, know it is sometimes better to fail so you can learn from mistakes. However, in general, you would probably find more teachers with that point of view in private schools. Public school teachers, from what I have heard, are not as friendly, do not like to admit they were wrong on any subject and from what I have been told they just do not seem to care whether you fail or not although they would probably get annoyed if they kept finding the same student in his/her class every year. Overall, more teachers probably know that failing often helps someone in succeeding by learning from their mistakes although they would still prefer their students to pass their tests rather than flunking them. However it is also up to the person to learn from their mistakes. If they choose not to learn, then it will not do them any good if they keep failing. This does not just apply to students but to everybody. For the most part, no one likes to be proven wrong or to fail at something, but the elders are better at being able to handle it and make it their advantage since they are more experienced and have lived longer.
    The good teachers should continue their good work but there are some bad teachers. For the bad teachers, they should be adaptive and learn from their mistakes like other people. Moreover, instead of making all the mistakes yourself, students and teachers should also try to learn from other people’s mistakes and ask questions so they will not have to go through the same process. To help the students, good teachers would and should tell students short stories about happened when another student did this so the rest of the class, if they are paying attention, will not go through the same mistake. Many say that it is the students who hates failing and needs to learn from their mistakes. This is mostly true, but it is sometimes the other way around. Teachers, particularly those who are not from a very good school, may have the failing problem more than a student who has already learned to learn from their mistakes. Besides, just because they know and say that one should learn from their mistakes actually do it or follow their own advice because it is like how John Heywood’s saying goes, “You can lead a horse to the water but you can’t make it drink.”
    Since Shirky’s statement is true throughout the past and is still occurring no matter who you are and what business you are in, it will be the same for the future even though we would be far more advanced.

  7. Failure is currently perceived as something that could potentially end your carrier, by students more than by teachers. Students have a lot to lose by failing at something. Like, for example, you’re a senior and you fail the SAT’s. You could lose a scholarship that would help you in getting in to a good college. For teachers it’s a little easier. A teacher could easily just accept, admit, and adjust his failure. Then he would go on with his life. My personal opinion on how students and teachers should perceive this statement is that you should accept your failure and learn from your mistakes. Like in the movie “Meet the Robinson’s”, the main little kid makes many mistakes in his inventions. But, he learns from them and keeps “moving forward”. You learn more from your mistakes then if you would have never made them. How students and teachers might perceive this statement is that when you fail, its like if you spent thirty minutes on the computer. Except that it’s free and you learn faster. That’s how I perceived it until I read it again.

  8. Every student has experienced failure. After seeing the grade, they feel horrible because many students don’t want to fail. They don’t want to accept the fact that they made mistakes. Some students do learn from their mistakes while others try to ignore that failure. Teachers, on the other hand, sometimes encourage failure so students can learn from their mistakes. Students should accept that that they made mistakes and work hard to fix them. By fixing their mistakes, they feel that they have conquered their mistakes and will never do them again. Teachers should retain the idea that learning from your mistakes benefits you. I think it would be different in the future. School could or would not change its processes of how it deals with failures. School is exactly like language; it will change over time depending on the situation.

  9. I believe that this phrase is saying that you learn from your mistakes and failures. Failure is often one of the most dreaded conditions in our society. For instance everyone in our society is terrified of failure. What we all must do is learn from our past failures. Students in the past as well as the foreseeable future see failure as something that must be avoided at all costs. Teachers, however, see it as a resource for learning. Through failure we can gain valuable knowledge through our past expierences.

  10. This statement really made me think. I agree that failure is a wonderful way to learn. But in a school setting where it can hurt your chances at having a future of your choice, in may not be the best way. Some teachers do think that failure is a good way to learn, but if they see a pattern they will do all they can to stop it. I think that it should be perceived as o.k. because it helps you learn what not to do. Teachers should also view it that way. I think that if it wouldn’t affect our futures so much then it would be much more widely accepted. Maybe in the future failure won’t be looked down upon so much and people won’t be afraid to think outside the box and try something new. I hope that in the future people will see failure as a learning experience instead of something bad.

  11. A student will feel terrible inside when they get a F on some important paper. Teachers say it is an important way for succeeding. You learn when you fail. Failure should be percieved as learning from your mistakes. Teachers should also think like this. In the future both students and teachers should think failing of a way to excel in the world.

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