What's wrong with a little bit of failure?
PUBLISHED: 17:13 18 December 2012
Several years ago, the Professional Association of Teachers suggested that the word ‘failure’ was a dirty word and should be replaced with ‘deferred success’.
Now, new research shows that so-called “Tiger Mothers” (new-age speak for “that pushy woman in the playground whose kids are better than yours even though they’re patently not because your kids are better than anyone else’s”) who push their children to achieve at all costs might actually be harming their children’s chances.
Children perform best, we are told, when they are informed that failure – and trying again – is a normal part of learning. Take that, the Professional Association of Teachers, your claim that failure is bad for children has been a total deferred success.
Retired primary school teacher Liz Beattie and her colleague Wesley Paxton said that removing the word ‘fail’ from the classroom would enthuse young ASBOs-in-waiting and encourage them to stop texting and start studying Chaucer.
“If children at an early age decide ‘I can’t do school, I can’t learn to read or do this maths stuff’, they are losing an enormous part of their lives,” said Mrs Beattie. “Some children who have a problem are being turned off the whole education process almost before they’ve embarked on it simply because failure is a thing they see quite a lot of. We need to stop using failure as a dirty word.”
Absolutely. Let’s force the bright kids to slow down in class to make sure everyone else doesn’t feel threatened and let’s hobble young athletes with potential in case they upset obese youngsters who need an iron lung for the walk from the changing rooms to the playing fields.
Of course if you took examinations in the olden days, when deferred success meant a career spent in the turkey tickling department at Bernard Matthews, all this talk of banning failure may come as a bit of a blow.
On the one hand, it’s marvellous news because it means I achieved deferred success in my biology O-level as opposed to failing it miserably because I didn’t bother to revise (although it does raise the ogre of when I have deferred my success in a biology examination to – I don’t want to take it again).
On the other hand, it’s a load of politically-correct, organic cous-cous eating, fairtrade joss stick burning, hemp playsuit wearing, hanging basket banning clap-trap.
It’s a bit like saying that we’ll ban the word ‘cancer’ because, frankly, no one likes it and we could all live without it – or a fair few more of us might live without it – so that’s it, rubber-stamped, no more cancer. While we’re at it, let’s ban hangovers and mosquitoes, too.
The bad news is that banning the word ‘failure’ isn’t going to prevent the educational system churning out thousands of them every single year. If it didn’t, we’d be served our drive-through takeaways by lawyers and surgeons – we need people to fail educationally and, of course, just because you fail examinations doesn’t mean you’re going to fail at everything. Although you might not become a rocket scientist – I’ll break that one to you right now.
Without failure, what, precisely, are our precious Princesses and Princes going to do when they reach the real world and discover that out here we never hold hands and cross the finishing line together? Sue us?
The last time I looked, failure was an inevitable and essential part of life (or that’s what the driving test examiner told me as I wept uncontrollably in my BSM Mini Metro) which connects actions with consequences and teaches us boring but necessary life skills such as commitment, patience, determination, decision-making and problem-solving.
We’ve taken the competition out of sports day, the conkers out of playtime, the peanut butter out of lunchtime, the plasters out of the first aid kit, the hideous, perilous danger out of school trips – they even make bread without crusts these days because our little darlings can’t even succeed at chewing.
The least we can let them do is fail at things: just look at me – failed biology, still managed to have two kids. If that’s not an inspiration to the adults of tomorrow, I have no idea what is.