Up until 1993, I had never failed at anything academically.
High school was a breeze. The only true homework I recall doing was about three hours for a term paper. An “A” student, university should have been a breeze. At least, that’s what everyone, myself included, predicted for me.
That Christmas, I got the shock of my life.
Obtaining my final marks from the computer over the phone, I found out that I had failed most of my first semester classes. Not by much – low and mid 40s, but I had failed.
It would lead to a string of failures. Eventually, I would fail my first year of engineering, and be advised by the college to discontinue. I threw that advice out the window, and repeated the first year.
Again, I failed. While I improved some of my marks, I still failed math. This time, I was required to discontinue.
I appealed, took a year off, took summer classes, and went into year two. Again, I failed. By the end of the year, I had collapsed academically. For my fluids final, instead of mathematical equations, I wrote an essay about why I shouldn’t be an engineer.
It was the lowest point in my life.
The fact is, I should not have been an engineer. It was important that I failed.
My weakness was math. I can trace it to grade 11, when I never truly mastered trig identities. I understood the concepts, and got partial marks for showing my work, but I simply could not come up with the final, correct answer in my engineering exams.
You would think it’s important that an engineer get the numbers right when designing things like bridges or cars. Showing your work just doesn’t cut it.
And therefore, I rightly, justifiably, failed, and am not designing those said bridges.
Yet every day, in nearly every school, we are telling students that they can’t fail. We want them to feel good about themselves, so it doesn’t matter if they actually know the subject material. They still pass.
The practice is called social passes, and it stinks.
Michael Zwaagstra is a close friend of mine who has recently co-written a public policy paper for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy entitled, “An ‘F’ for Social Promotion.” A teacher himself, he and two co-authors have a book slated for publication early next year called The Common Sense Our Schools Need: Practical Ways to Improve Public Education.
“It doesn’t make sense to have a complete disconnect between achievement, and promotion. Moving along from grade-to-grade should be the result of achievement, not simply putting in time in the building.”
“The consequences are we end up with students who don’t have the necessary skills to succeed in post-secondary education or the workforce.”
People fail. That is reality. If Ug the caveman did not kill a mammoth that day, his wife, Uglee, did not eat, nor did his kids. That is the human condition. You either succeed or you don’t. And if Ug’s son, Uglet, didn’t learn how to throw his spear, Uglet’s kids didn’t eat, either.
Educators need to wake up and get back to reality. By brainwashing kids into thinking they actually know things they don’t, they are dooming them to failure later in life.
Failure in school hurts feelings. Failure in life hurts more. It hurts for an entire lifetime.
This article first appeared on the pipeline news website.