Perfect Isn't an Option, But Excellence Is!
What is perfection? The word itself comes from "perficere," a Latin word meaning to complete or finish. Over time, however, perfection has taken on a more pernicious meaning. In today's terms, perfection has come to mean without fault, which in turn assumes that there is one right way to function or be in the world, and that mistakes (faults) are to be avoided at all costs.
We see this definition of perfection played out in our industrialized classrooms, where all students are expected to learn the same things, in the same way, on the same schedule. This mindset is further reinforced by standardized testing, which delivers the demoralizing message that some are better than others, and encourages competition, conformity and self-blame.
Rather than risk failure, students shut down their curiosity and creativity, becoming passive recipients of information that they then regurgitate on tests. This approach flies in the face of how human beings learn (we are emotion-driven, trial-and-error learners) and fails to prepare students for a world in which creative collaboration, innovative thinking and flexibility are the most sought after qualities in the workplace.
Back in 2010, as I was beginning my journey as a children's book author, I had little or no conscious awareness of perfectionism. Like most of my peers, I was a byproduct of the skill, drill, test and repeat model that today's students are struggling with. While I understood intellectually that no one is perfect, that didn't stop me, or my peers, from judging me harshly for making mistakes. I joked that I was a recovering perfectionist, but jokes did nothing to alleviate my suspicions that I would never be "good enough."
Fast forward to 2013. I had been invited to read from my book, Lead with Your Heart, to a combined class of first, second and third graders in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Following the reading I planned to teach the kids how to draw the main character in the book, a big, black pit bull named Lance.
After the reading, the kids raced to their cubbies to get pencils, paper and Crayons so we could start drawing. Excited chatter filled the air as they voted on which dog to draw. When I asked if they were ready to get started, a resounding, "Yes!" shook the classroom walls.
Imagine my surprise when just a few minutes into the exercise the kids' expressions went from smiles to frowns, and I began to hear unhappy complaints. "Mine is ugly," said one little girl.
"This is stupid," said another, ripping a hole in his paper with his eraser.
"I can't do this," said a third.
"Whoa, time out," I said. "What's going on? Why don't you like your drawings?"
"Mine's not perfect like yours," lisped the little boy directly in front of me.
That's when I asked the mill