What price failure?

Last night I had the pleasure to stay with a teachery type, Barry. As well as the food, watering and sheltering combo we found ourselves engrossed in a bit of modern day debate.

He tells me that there is a new system that’s being implemented in Scottish schools that effectively does away with failure – or, more importantly, the feeling and appearance of failure for children, up until it’s time to take their standard grades at 15.

Isn’t that lovely? A world where nobody feels the pressure, the stigma, the rejection of failure?

Up until recently, young Scottish folk remained pretty much unfailed until secondary school. It was found that the failure that they found when they got to the nasty old school compounded many of the negative fears they’d had about the place already.

So, let’s do away with that then.

So, we effectively have folk failing for the first time in their life just before they go off and meet the big bad world.

When I was a boy, the education system was quite kind to me – I could remember tonnes of irrelevant facts to regurgitate at a requested point. I didn’t really care that others couldn’t.

Recently, some American psychologists popped over to Japan. They were worried that the lowest maths classes in Japan were proving to be better than the best in the states.

What were these crafty blighters up to?

They describe a situation where the went to observe a Japanese infant class. A young boy had been asked to draw a three dimensional cube on the blackboard. Time and again he failed – taking up a full half hour of class time. The American psychologists reported their astonishing discomfort at watching this young boy struggle on.
When the boy finally managed it, after gentle prompting and encouragement, to the cheers of his peers, the psychologists recognised that the anxiety had been theirs. The boy was happy, his teacher was happy and his friends seemed delighted for him.

This way failure was seen as a positive learning tool.

Most of us have experienced this gentle teaching style.

I’m so glad that when I was a toddler just learning to walk my mum never said, “This is useless, he keeps falling over, he’ll never walk…”

Yet failure, in the context of these Scottish schools at any rate, has become a bad word.

Barry was pretty clear in his mind – what’s wrong with looking at a task from a different angle; what’s wrong with being better at some things than others; and, very importantly for me, what’s wrong with believing that there are people in your society who can do the things that you can’t? And knowing that there are things you can contribute to the world that others struggle with.

Failure’s ok really. It might be beneficial to experience it earlier in a supportive way than to be slapped I’m the face when you fail the most important exams of your life.

Marx wrote,”To each according to need; from each according to ability.”

Not a bad start.

Walk a mile chums.

Chris

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