We live in a world that is both overly harsh and overly enabling. The world can be an extremely beautiful and frightening place. There is a meme going around social media that goes something like, “Tell everyone that the world is beautiful…but scream it at them in German….because the world is also frightening.” I feel that this meme sums up our world on many levels.
I have noticed that, at least in the Canadian public school system, there has, over the last number of years…alright decades…developed a tendency that, although well-meaning, is inherently destructive. This is the tendency to stream children from one grade to the next, without them having learned or mastered what was in the curriculum in the previous grade. When this practice first came along, it was implemented so that children would not feel a loss of self-esteem by having to repeat a grade. The theory was that it damages the child to feel like they have failed.
There are a few issues that this encompasses. The first of which is…did the teacher do his or her job? And if a child is not getting the subject matter, perhaps it needs to be taught in a way in which that child can learn it. Not every child learns the identical same way. For example, I have a friend who struggled with geometry. He had difficulty seeing a one dimensional drawing and thinking of it in a three dimensional manner. But once he could see it in a three dimensional model he totally rocked that geometry like no one’s business! Some children are feeling oriented. If you can relate apples and oranges in a feeling manner, they can get the concept that they are different, even if they don’t see much difference in the appearance of the fruit. Now, if a child has not had the subject presented in a manner in which they can relate, they will struggle and most likely fail that subject.
I remember when I was in grade 3 I had an oral reading assignment given to me that I was trying to prepare for. I had dyslexia and reading out loud the text before my eyes created a short circuit. I would stammer one word at a time. A family friend overheard me practicing and came into the living room where I was doing my homework. He said to me, “What is it you are reading about?” and I told him the story that was being read and what it was about and that I was supposed to read this paragraph out loud the next day. He observed that when I just told him about the story I spoke smoothly and fluently and that when I was reading it out loud I was struggling. So he picked up the book, read the paragraph to me out loud, and had me repeat it. I did so word for word…but was still a bit robotic with my voice. So he then said, “I have an idea,” and took me to the music room. He said that he knew that I like to sing because he has heard me sing with my family band. So he played a tune on the piano and had me sing the paragraph along with the tune. I did it! He then had me sit there and listen to him read the paragraph while he mimicked his voice using the piano keys, going up during questions and down at the end of statements and lilting the middle of the sentences. I caught on very well. To this day, I use that technique when reading out loud. I read FAST so I read the sentence ahead of the one I am speaking and use the singing voice to speak the words. I remember what the previous sentence was while I repeat it in the singing voice as I am also reading the next line. That is how my brain works. It is not the wrong way. It is the way it works for me. But the public school system was failing me at that point because no one thought outside the box of how to teach me how to read out loud. And I do recognize that a teacher has upwards of 30 children in the classroom and therefore cannot afford the required one-on-one time to each student. That is a funding issue. We need either more teachers in the classroom, or more classrooms with smaller numbers of students. In my opinion we could do a great deal for the public school system if we actually used the bonuses for politicians and channelled that money straight into our youth education programs.
So back to the streaming from one grade to the next. What does this actually do for a child? I have noticed a number of things with people who have been stream lined through the grades. First off, there tends to be a lack of motivation. Why try if you are just going to be allowed to proceed anyway? Second, there comes a sense of entitlement. Of course I deserve a gold star! I did, after all, SHOW UP. Like that is something to view as an accomplishment. And then there is the undercurrent of self-shame that a person gets when they know that they have been rewarded for not actually doing anything. They know that they did not accomplish anything at all. And they know that those rewarding them know it as well. That creates shame. And if those rewarding them actually took them aside and said, “Look, you are not doing well with this and I can see that you are struggling, so let’s find a way together that will help you to understand this material and rock the hell out of it,” then the child would actually have a sense of accomplishment.
When I was in university if an assignment was 1 minute late I would get docked 10 marks immediately. Now in university students are told things like, “It really doesn’t matter what day you get it to me as long as you get it to me,” and being late with it doesn’t cost them a damn thing. I am sorry, but this is NOT how the world functions. In the outside world, if you snooze you lose. Period.
Do we really want our world to one day be run by a bunch of overly entitled under achievers? I think not. So sparing their feelings has, in my opinion, gone way too far. There are kind ways of helping those who are struggling. They don’t have to be belittled or condemned. They simply need help to find the way that works for them to master the material at hand. Yes, this takes time. And time is money. Well, the public school system is one that is funded through our tax dollars. We can and should start demanding much more excellence from the schools, and from our politicians to provide excellent funding so that the excellence can actually be achieved. To heck with the “everything should be beige so that the children are not over-stimulated” crap. Bring back colour and stimulation and something that will spark an interest in learning. There is a place for Zen practice in life…the elementary classroom is not that place. Perhaps as a separate room for any student to visit and sit and breathe with a meditation instruction, sure, but not as a way of stimulating a passion for learning in our world.
And this brings me to the actual title of this entry. You see, there is indeed a purpose behind failure. On a very basic level, it manages to naturally cull the herd. We could not have survived the last number of centuries since the Ice Age if we were all with our noses in our cell phones. We had to become intelligent and resourceful. We have lost that, sadly, and so we are now in a state of high risk of a rather large culling. Young people more often than not do not even know how to grow their own food. That, to me, is pathetic. And it is not their fault. It is the fault of every system that has been inflicted upon them that has been designed to create a co-dependency upon that very system for basic needs such as food and shelter. We wonder why they don’t know enough to pick up after themselves when they leave a room to go to bed at night. The truth is, if they have never been given reason to take responsibility for their own well-being and their living environment, we have only ourselves to blame. The cull will happen. And, thanks to us and a generation or three before us, they may not make the cut.
The other reason for failure is that of SUCCESS. This is the one that I really enjoy. You see, each time a person fails at something, they have learned something more. What they have learned is NOT that they are failures and should just give up. What they have actually learned is one more way in which to NOT do what they are trying to do. That gives them an edge over absolutely anyone who has never tried it. Trial and error is a very effective learning tool. We are not always in a position to “hire the task out” to those who know how. We often have to actually research, self-educate, and attempt whatever it is. And this brings a HUGE sense of accomplishment. This is how someone who achieves great things approaches everything. If I do not know how to, it is important to find out how it is done and make an attempt. Do we really think that our ancient ancestors always knew how to shoot a bow and arrow? That device for hunting had to be INVENTED, then it had to be TESTED, then it had to be MASTERED, and then it had to be SHARED. This meant that many people would more easily be fed and survive the harsh winters. And so it is with anything that will actually assist us in our survival.
Failure also enhances common sense. If, for example, we forget to put on winter gear when we go out in -30 degree weather, we are going to freeze. Oh, but my car is heated so I am ok. Then the car breaks down. Oh, but I have my cell phone, so that is ok. But then the cell battery dies. Now you are left underdressed in sub-zero weather having to walk somewhere to get help, or flag down some stranger who is hopefully a good Samaritan and will actually help and not just abduct you and kill you in their basement. Common sense, people. Common sense.
So failure is not a bad thing. It can be a very strong motivator for survival and success. And I think that we need to acknowledge failure more often in order to help ourselves and others to learn a more masterful way of accomplishing the task at hand.