I have been reading, much to my delight, a series of addresses by Tad Roach, Head of St. Andrew’s School in Delaware, published in booklet form by the school under the title, Reflections from Our Headmaster, 2006-7. The publication of these addresses celebrated the tenth anniversary of Tad’s headship of the school, and all of the addresses—be they to parents, faculty, or on special school occasions—touch upon issues common to all of us in Episcopal schools. I am enjoying every one of these fine addresses, but none is more poignant or more appropriate for this time of year than one entitled, “On the Value of Errors.”
In this particular address, Tad makes an important distinction between correcting errors and learning from errors. When teachers and students merely correct errors, we get the answer right. But good teaching does not stop with mere correction. When we genuinely learn from our mistakes, we learn about something much more than the right answer, we learn about ourselves, particularly about our ability to grow from those errors, indeed that we have been blessed with the God-given opportunity to start over.
The notion of starting over is not one we can take for granted in this world. For too many people in our culture, a mistake is unforgiving and final. Make one, and it causes permanent harm. How often, for example, have all of us sat with parents who thought that their child’s mistake in school was going to be devastating, a permanent roadblock to moving forward and progressing in school and life? One blotch on the record and all is over. We, in turn, might offer to these parents hope and perspective, as well as stress of value of learning from errors that are so much a part of the growing-up years, but we leave the meeting feeling as if we have made little progress. For so many, the road to success is a very narrow and fragile one, and there is no place for, no recovery from mistakes, let alone learning from them.
A school community that understands the value of learning from mistakes, in whatever form they come, not only is helping to counteract an instinctive aversion to error in our culture. It is touching upon a deep need that all young people have: the hope of starting over again. With Episcopal schools, that hope is spoken about not just in terms of will power but as part of God’s plan for humanity.
Elie Wiesel once said that God’s greatest gift to us was not that God created us, but that God has given us the opportunity to begin again. What’s more, we in Episcopal schools have the benefit of liturgical seasons of the year that help us accentuate the wondrous reality of starting over. We are entering into such a time, Advent, when the year begins anew and the season is replete with images and references to new beginnings, new opportunities. It presents to us, in a seasonal form, the opportunity we have every day.
As the wonderful hymn begins, “New every morning is the love.” So, too, with Advent and the blessings we have in sharing with an all too unforgiving culture the miracle of starting anew and truly learning from our errors. Our students, their families, our faculty and staff, need to hear the good news of this season: we can indeed begin again, regardless of the mistake.