By Engager Hillary Murrell
When do we learn that failing is not an option?
This is a question that has been plaguing me over the last few years as a museum educator. I teach all grade levels in museums from kindergarten to senior adults.
Yesterday I toured a group of 3rd graders through the museum. In groups they looked at fiber art in the gallery and were able to touch the same object from the artist to discover textures and process. They wrote down what they saw, what they thought and what that made them wonder. I am always amazed by the number of hands that go up in the air the minute I ask to share as a large group.
“I saw lots of colors”
“I think it looks like mushrooms, and I have lots of mushrooms in my backyard that my mom tells me not to eat”
“I think it looks like pixels on a blurry TV screen”
Their answers are inquisitive and they are genuinely willing and interested in sharing their thoughts. They don’t feel restricted to have to say the “correct” answer.
Contrast that with a group of undergraduates I toured last week. My assumption was that because they were Latin American Studies majors and the exhibition was on a Cuban artist we would have deep stimulating conversations in the galleries.
I open the tour with a question.
Not one student was willing to talk through their thoughts or attempt to critically look and discuss a piece of art. I always joke with them that if the 3rd graders can answer questions, they definitely can. But really, it isn’t a joke and it makes me sad.
Why do we teach kids as they get older to stop exploring through conversation? There really is no wrong answer if you are able to back up your postulations through critical analysis. But all students hear is “keep your mouth shut so you don’t sound stupid.”
I think this is where Improv training can make a deep impact in how we educate. Improv skills help us learn that we are going to fail and when that happens we try again. There is no wrong answer in “yes…and”. It is about discovery and confidence and exploration to eventually get to a “correct” answer. I think we do students a disservice when we teach to tests and only “correct” answers when really the process of discovery, curiosity and failure is the greatest way to learn.
My goal as an educator in 2017 is to incorporate “yes…and” and confidence building in all my classes. I truly believe that teaching students (and adults!) how to fail is crucial in removing fear and opening a path to deeper learning that remains hidden when we teach that success is the only option.