I saw this tweet:
— john tyler (@mrjtyler) August 22, 2012
I have to admit…every time I see when others use the term “failure”, it makes me cringe. This has nothing to do with the intent of what people mean, but just the word itself and what it says.
Many of us come from a different time in schools where, if you “failed” a test, this was not looked at as something that was just a part of the learning process. This is was something that was looked down upon and often, the people that “failed” tests, didn’t necessarily do well in school after the fact. Many of us in education understand that mistakes and “bumps” are a part of the learning process, as they should be. If people didn’t struggle with what was being taught, why would we have to teach it?
But many people that have, and should have, an interest in education that aren’t necessarily educators. They can be parents, politicians, or anyone in the community, and when the term “failure” is used, it sometimes says something different.
You don’t think terminology is important? Look at the backlash that Edmonton Public had about their supposed “No-Zero Policy” at the end of the last school year. If you actually look at what the school was doing with assessment, the practices were totally focused on improving learning and helping students get better. It was not a way for students to “opt out”, but from my understanding, it was a way for students to not have the “opt out” option. The policy, whatever the name, was meant to higher expectations as opposed to lower them. But when you say “no zeros”, that takes people back to a time that they were in school and doesn’t necessarily focus the conversation on the right thing; improving student learning.
Just to reiterate…I get why people say that “failure is important to learning”, etc., but does a short sentence with that one little word invoke faith in what our schools are doing? Bill Gates failed. Steve Jobs failed. Tons of other failed. I get that. But schools are a place where all of us went and most didn’t go to school with Bill Gates. Many of them will have stories of the kid who “failed” and continued to “fail” often; that is where many minds will go.
We work in the public eye and I do believe we have to be aware of the terminology that we use. Even when we are doing something we could all agree upon is right, simple “words” may lead others to think different.