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Being Wrong Is So Right

I had to get away from our nation's public education system to discover how right it is to be wrong. That horrific system is set up to penalize and denigrate–even demonize–mistake makers. My mastery of mistake making irked my teachers, driving them to levels of disappointment they eagerly expressed in poor marks and snide remarks. Taking their cue from those horrid teachers, classmates (not all, but most) delighted in the mistakes I made and the mistakes of others with equal zeal. It's no wonder I developed a keen distaste for all things public education because when it finally dawned on me several years after escaping from school that my mistakes ultimately proved to be the finest learning experiences of all, I wondered why none of those worthless by-the-book teachers ever tried to help me understand this.

Until that epiphany, though, I strove mightily to measure up to expectations of perfection as specified, measured and meted out in the form of grades and GPAs by teachers. But no matter how hard I tried to reach the 4.0 GPA goal, it never happened throughout my entire time incarcerated in public schools. And by design of that system, I hated myself for being so stupid. In college, only a couple of professors ever managed to come close to helping me realize I really wasn't so stupid, one going to great pains patiently guiding me through a series of mistakes to find solution to a difficult project-oriented problem without making me feel like I was born to fail. I mistook his enthusiasm upon finding a solution for the usual excel-pass-or-fail reaction to my plodding, mistake-strewn learning technique. But that professor made a mistake by grading my work with a rare A+ score for the project and the class. It might have served me better to have been scored the usual C or occasional B but compliment me on a job well done as another professor had done. After reading a paper I had composed whose content struck a precise tone and pinpointed purpose superbly but was rife with punctuation and grammatical errors too numerous to discount, he had gone so far as to animatedly compliment and read a passage of my work aloud from his lectern in front of the entire class. Then he had handed the paper back to me clearly marked C+. Some of my classmates had bent over to look, expecting to see it gloriously marked with a big, fat A and had been as mystified as I was by its low mark. I recall looking at him as he gathered his things to go to his next class and he winked at me, the devilish old fart. My punctuation and grammar haven't improved much to this day, and yet he managed to instill a little self confidence–academically speaking–I seriously lacked in those days.

But I totally get what those two were up to, now. And whenever I undertake a project requiring acquisition of new knowledge and skills to produce solution, I giggle a little bit, wondering just what wonderful mistakes are in store.

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