What I wished I learned in school pt 2: how to fail

The Kontent - Scott Nguyen
4 min readAug 6, 2021


My gripe with public education

Public education has a major flaw that i’ve just come to realized: the harsh punishment and negative reinforcement of failing. All throughout school, whenever I had failed a test, or didn’t complete an assignment, or simply was not on time, the consequences were expected to come. What if instead of giving me a low grade and moving on, I was asked what gave me trouble and was given the opportunity or resources to improve my score. If I didn’t fear failing, would I be a better student? If I knew that even if I failed, I would be given a chance to redeem myself, would I enjoyed the process of education more?

Isn’t the point of education is to learn? Not just memorization pump-and-dump? I wonder how many kids simply give up because they believed they weren’t “smart enough” or they’re just “dumb”. I’m neither blaming the students nor the teacher, but the system of implementing education.

We should encourage our kids to fail. After all, it’s one of the few times left in their lives that total and complete failure doesn’t result in a permanent negative mark on their lives. If we have kids that are afraid to fail, they won’t be able to confident in trying new things or experimenting with different ways to get the solution. The curiosity in humans is what makes us such a unique species. Curiosity, or even the craving to try and learn new things is momentous for child’s growth. We should be ashamed of ourselves for trying to take that away from them.

My journey with failing

I don’t believe I was exceptional in academics; average at best with a slight deviation towards areas of interests like science. I was a terrible test taker with sub-par motivation to improve. I sound like your average student huh? But I was always curious to learn, and the best way that I learned was through trial and error.

I was fascinated with the scientific method and it blew my mind seeing such a system for the first time. Whenever I had an idea, I could simply run it through the scientific method “machine” and get my answer. For example: when I was learning how to run faster, I simply hypothesize about including strength training and increased frequency of sprints. Now I understand that my understanding of correlation and causation was lacking, and even though there are other factors at play (nutrition, rest, puberty, etc.), I felt that even if I failed, I could try again and learned from my previous attempts.

That was the beauty with this type of failing; failing with intent. I’ve always gained regardless of the result. However, the conformities of the public school setting quickly shut this process down in the classroom setting. In which my trial and error, or even exploration of ideas/topics would cause me to receive demerits, lower grades, and even a scolding. I firmly remembered a teacher telling me to “just be like other kids and not give her such a tough time”. Granted my curiosity and thirst to learn was not easy to handle, I just wished she would’ve supported someone that just wanted to learn, or guide me towards a resource or person that will help.

It’s frustrating to think about the thought of other students with the same drive being shut down like I did. I received an education but never learned. The times when I had to limit myself for the sake of others possibly stunted my growth. But I’m aware that building relationships is important too. It just felt like having this trait meant I was just another “troublesome kid”.

What can we do?

I believe we have to start and maintain our own fire. Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone else light a fire under us or to motivate us to take action. I also think we have to be selective in where and how we fail. There are times when failing can lead to irreversible outcomes. So setting up a system or having an outlet where we can fail safely and learn will set us up for success.

One of the ways I’ve set up this system is to find others who are also on the same journey to improve and learn. They will understand that failure is necessary. The people you surround yourself with will accelerate your progress or douse your fire. Another good way is to collaborate and have someone with a fresh point of view give you advice or critique. They have nothing to lose so their opinions tend to be honest.

Although easy to say, remembering not to take everything personally or letting your ego get in the way is crucial. We must realize that we are simply trying to learn regardless if we fail or not. The words or actions of others are not there to hurt us, nor should we amplify or twist them in order to believe that they’re suppressing us. Even if it is, then we must find a new reliable and trustworthy source to receive advice from. We do not want to get stuck in trying to convince ourselves that a solution is the right one when it’s clearly not. We are easily fooled. If it doesn’t work, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and ask why.

So start failing, and fail brilliantly my friends.

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Originally published at https://scottnguyen.substack.com.



The Kontent - Scott Nguyen

I write to get better at writing and to learn. IG: stayingkonnected Podcast: Staying Konnected