Tag Archives: failure

“…accepting that our kids make mistakes and fail …

“We have a culture now where we have real trouble accepting that our kids make mistakes and fail, and when they do, we tend to blame someone else,” said Tricia Bertram Gallant, author of “Creating the Ethical Academy,” and director of the academic integrity office at the University of California at San Diego. “Thirty, 40 years ago, the parent would come in and grab the kid by the ear, yell at him and drag him home.”

One common cause that experts cite for increased academic cheating is the refusal to accept failure and the insistence that it’s someone else’s fault.  (The most common seems to be the increasing ease of plagiarism.)

Hopefully adopting Edward Burger’s strategy of giving “failure points” will counteract some of what seems to be an increasing reluctance to accept failure, and the lost of learning opportunities which that myopia entails.  So far, so good, in my fallacies class.

I congratulated several students on their failure (to distinguish observation from inference) this week.  It was great fun to watch their faces move from distrust (in being told they are wrong) to perplexity to amusement as they began to accept the learning opportunity.  My grad students also find the idea quite delightful, and so far there seems to be no insecurity or anxiety surrounding it, compared to that normally accompanying innovative pedagogy. They know about failure, and (so far) seem to find the chance to engage it straight on to be more exciting than scary.


Fallacies and failure

Why teach fallacies?  There is no universal way to get an argument wrong, many argue.  It’s derivative on some positive theory of argumentation.  We have positive theories to support fallacy theory (the three aspects of argument strength from Blair and Johnson, and Govier; argumentation schemes from Walton; or pragma-dialectical errors) so why concentrate on an archaic theory of failure?  Doesn’t that encourage an unhealthy emphasis on nay-saying?  knee-jerk scepticism?  Certainly it can.

For the exact same reasons teaching fallacies can be a serious opportunity for students to learn about the value of failure.  “Teaching students to fail” by Edward Burger in Inside Higher Ed recommends not only informing students about the value of taking risks and learning from their own failure, but making that part of the assessment.  He makes it sound pretty simple and very effective.

Combining this with fallacies seems perfect, as it encourages students to consider the epistemological (or in Douglas Walton‘s terms maieutic) qualities of fallacy analysis and criticism in general.  I’m teaching fallacies this term so I’ll let you know how it goes!


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