Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sometimes it's good to fail

The BBC website has reported that the Professional Association of Teachers wants to discourage the use of the word "failure" in schools in favour of "deferred success". Thankfully, the Education secretary Secretary Ruth Kelly has dismissed the suggestions, saying she gave the idea - "nought out of 10".

The person putting forward the motion, Liz Beattie, argues that repeated failure, such as in exams, can damage pupils' interest in learning.

"We have made so much development in recent years in making examinations more flexible, doing them in modules so you can concentrate on different parts of them at different times," she said.

"What happens when an exam is failed but, for example, three-quarters of it is perfectly satisfactorily done? It should be possible to do the other bits as add-ons afterwards and to defer the success of the exam."

"Elsewhere we applaud those who persevere, like marathon contestants who take days to complete. It's time we made the word 'fail' redundant and replaced it with 'please do a bit more'," he said.

There are times when you hear such utter stupidity, you have to ask yourself whether it's even worth arguing with such people. But argue you must, as there are more than a few who take these cranks seriously.

The Professional Association of Teachers seem to be living in parallel universe to the rest of us: Failure is part of life, which doesn't mean you've failed in life. Take for example Winston Churchill, who spent four years at Harrow, one of England's finest public schools at the bottom of his class. Even when he decided to go to Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy, it took him three attempts to pass the entrance exam (An example of deferred success maybe?).

The fact is, not everyone finds themselves at a young age. It's only when you move into adulthood, free to choose your studies and your career, that you finally begin to grasp what your strengths and weakneseses are, and you find that out by occasionally failing. The Professional Association of Teachers have failed to understand what education is about, and worse, they suffer from that very British phobia, fear of failure, combined with an envy of those who succeed. Over the pond, there is a very different attitudes. You only have to look at the American business world. From Donald Trump to Steve Jobs there are numerous examples of entepreneurs whose initial failures have been a springboard for future success. There's an attitude over there that "if you don't at first succeed, try and try again", which goes to explain why so many more Americans are prepared to start their own businesses compared to Britons. They're prepared to take risks, and learn from their mistakes.

Whenever some daft organisation such as the Professional Association of Teachers comes up with a hare brained idea, you always hear the cliche: "it's political correctness gone mad!". That's an understatement. Political correctness IS mad. It not only holds back the very people it claims to be helping, but holds everyone else back too.