My late mother used to say about fashion that if you had a washing basket big enough you would pile clothes on top of each other for 20 or 30 years. Then you would tip it upside down. At this point the clothes on the bottom would be new and fashionable again.
Whilst we associate clothes with fashion trends, the principal applies in many other aspects of human existence. I was reminded of this when plans by a school to stop praising everything that children did was described as being on the “cutting edge” of a new way of thinking.
Perhaps I am getting old but the washing basket analogy immediately sprung to mind. This is not new thinking but a return to a way of thinking that was fashionable up till about the 1980’s.
Most baby boomers will recall that in school you got a prize if you finished first and that you only were told you did something well if you actually had. If you didn’t get enough points to pass a test you failed and were told you needed to improve.
Obviously in sport there was a winning and losing team. It didn’t make you a “bad” person to lose. It was just part of life. You learned that in each aspect of life some people were better than others. You also learned what your strengths and weaknesses were. You could identify what you needed to do better at and seek help to do so.
Above all else you learned that if you failed a test or came last in a running race that the world kept spinning. Yes that is right, the earth did not open up and swallow you.
Somewhere along the line this got lost. We became obsessed with the fear that if we tell a child to do better their self-esteem will be irrevocably damaged. Whilst it is important for children to grow up with self-confidence and a strong sense of self, they need resilience to do this.
Resilience comes from being able to cope with setback, learn the lesson and have another go. It also comes from not attaching our sense of self worth to arbitrary outside events. In other words if I run last in the 100m dash it does not make me an inferior person. Likewise if I win the 100m freestyle swim it doesn’t make me the greatest. The same applies to academic pursuits.
The desire to shield children from “loss” leads some junior sports to not keep score. How ridiculous. The children themselves will intuitively know who scored more goals or runs. It does not matter who wins but someone has. The lesson is that you do your best.
Sometimes you win sometimes you do not. However you do not define yourself by whether or not you have won a particular event or got a particular grade in a test.
“Failing” is part of life. Seeking to protect children from this is like seeking to stop them falling. A child will never learn to walk without the lessons, which come from falling.
No child will reach their maximum potential in life without the lessons from “failing”.