The purpose of this article is to make two points about my views of the education system:
- The system creates a very narrow path of ‘success’ that restricts creativity;
- The system unhealthily causes students to stick to that path because they are conditioned to fear ‘failure’.
With that clear, here is a snapshot of my time at school.
I was always pretty good at school. When I was in Grade 4 I was put in the ‘accelerated maths’ class. I was pretty chuffed to be put in the ‘accelerated maths’ class because it meant that I was a ‘success’. I don’t know why there was an ‘accelerated maths’ class for Grade 4. In that class I learned to memorise the 12 times table. I still remember it. 12, 24, 36… All the way up to 144. I was a ‘success’.
Then when I was in Year 7 I got selected for the ‘bilingual program’. The program was designed for the smart kids to learn all their other subjects, like science and maths, in Hebrew. I was pretty chuffed to be selected for the bilingual program because it meant that I was a ‘success’. In that class I learned what a Bunsen burner was in Hebrew. ‘Bak-book ko-ni’. Pretty good, huh? I was a ‘success’.
Then in Year 12 I did well in VCE. I was pretty chuffed to do well in VCE because it meant that I was a ‘success’. I then did biomedical science/law at university. I was pretty chuffed to do biomedical science/law at university because it meant that I was a ‘success’. Then I finished university and I realised that I didn’t actually want to work in biomedical science or in law. Uh oh.
It was only once I finished university and graduated with honours (which I was pretty chuffed about, because it meant that I was a ‘success’) that I realised that I had been put on a path to ‘success’ as early as Grade 4. Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I loved my time at school and I was fortunate enough to get an excellent education that has given me opportunities to do whatever I want in life. But, a big criticism that I have of my time at school, and of the education system more broadly, is that it demonises failure. At school, I was terrified of failure.
It was because of this fear of failure that I never deviated from that pre-determined path of ‘success’. I did the accelerated maths class, the bilingual program and biomedical science/law because I was afraid of failure. I was too afraid of doing something else in my life that was different to the ‘path to success’ that I was expected to follow. As soon as I strayed from that path, I was at risk of encountering failure. So I stuck to the path.
That’s why it took me so long to start doing comedy. I had wanted to start doing comedy when I was 16 and a teacher suggested that I try out for the Class Clowns competition. I didn’t because even though I really wanted to do it, it was something different and hard, and I didn’t want to fail. Everyone at school thought I was a ‘success’, why take the risk and ruin that?
Over the years, the desire to do comedy kept gnawing at me, but I kept ignoring it in the hope that it would go away and that I would find my other ‘successes’ fulfilling enough. They weren’t.
At the beginning of 2013, I started doing stand-up comedy at open mic nights because eventually the pain of not pursuing what I wanted overcame my fear of failure. I was terrible. Really, really terrible. I had some gigs where I could hear every cough in the audience and every time a person shuffled in their chair. Dead silence. I failed, repeatedly. It was painful. Very painful. But, strangely enough, it was also a little bit liberating, and it was less painful than the pain of not doing comedy.
What I’ve learned from doing comedy is that failure is totally fine. In fact, it should be encouraged. Schools are constantly telling their students that they must succeed to be worthwhile, and it just causes young people to not take risks, to not pursue what makes them happy for fear of being labeled a ‘failure’. Don’t get me wrong; failure is horrible. Driving home from a gig when you just couldn’t get the audience on your side is the loneliest I’ve ever felt. But, failure needs to be encouraged more.
I’m not offering any solutions here. I’m merely pointing out what I perceive to be a big problem in the way young people are educated. It’s important that schools teach students how to succeed. But, it’s equally important that schools teach students how to fail.