by demanding that they be a success. Do I need to say more?
The past week has seen media overkill on the death of Ted Kennedy - a man who may well have achieved more if less pressure had been placed on him - and media overkill on the subjects of truancy, the woeful state of maths and science teaching, and the woeful state of the cricket team.
I blame the last three on demands for success.
Our education system has the curious philosophy that all children must aim for university. This is not all children with the ability but all children. There is a difference. It is never stated as such but it is the philosophy which underlies the school curriculum and encourages truancy.
There is visible truancy. Everyone knows that this is a problem. Media overkill was naturally about the visible truancy problem. If you are in school you must be learning something - right? Probably not. There is invisible truancy as well. You sit in the classroom. You switch off. You do not do the set preparation or homework. (Why in the heck should you do work at home when your parents do not take work home and may not even go to work?) You learn to succeed at failing.
Maths and science teaching is succeeding at failing too. Nobody denies there has been an explosion of knowledge, even since most younger teachers were at school. For me maths was the relatively simple affair of the four basic functions with a bit Euclidean geometry, trigonometry and the use of logarithmic tables. I have forgotten most of it although I can still manage the basic statistics I was taught to use at university. Now kids have to cope with set theory and quadratic equations (by another name) down in the primary school. Science is much the same. There is so much to learn that they get the smallest possible introduction to the widest possible range of topics. The result is often that they come away knowing very little. "You breathe bad air out and the trees take it and turn it into good air" I was told by an eleven year old. It was what he had been taught in school that week. I checked with his class mates and they believed the same thing. It was part of their study of global warming.
But, worse than any of this, is the failure of the cricket team. Australia did not win the Ashes series. It is, if the media is to be believed, a major national disaster. It means that we have to stop children "just playing" and get them to work harder on their batting, bowling and fielding skills. While we are at it we also have to make sure that they can kick a football - for a team.
There are eleven people on a cricket team. There are eighteen people on a football team. You are a failure if you are not on the team. If you win you can be a national hero. If you lose then it is because you did not do your best. You let us down. Failure is not an option.
"You might not succeed but that is not failure. Failure is not trying at all. It is also persisting when you come to understand that the task is beyond your capabilities. Try something different instead." What would happen if we said this?