Today, Zay N. Smith notes in passing:
A primary school in Whitminster, England, has stopped giving its students a spelling list to learn each week because when the students don't spell the words correctly in class it can lead to a "sense of failure."(Ellee Seymour, if this really isn't as mind-numbingly stupid as it seems to be, please advise.)
I am not out to pick on the Brits: Our American schools have more than enough of this muddle-headed lunatic behavior.
And, even when it does not come out sounding quite this bad, probably-well-meaning efforts to shield kids from their own mistakes have horrific consequences for our society.
Let me give you one real-life example:
Go to any college graduation in the States these days and you'll see all sorts of graduate engineers... most of them from places other than the United States. We produce history majors (like me) or English majors (like Older Daughter) but we are not producing a lot of our own, home-grown engineers and scientists.
Do you know why this is?
It's because our kids don't get algebra until high school.
And if you don't take Algebra I in 8th grade, unless you are very lucky, you won't be able to reach Calculus in high school. You need Geometry, Algebra II, College Algebra and Trigonometry before you can take Calculus.
Strangely enough, there was a time in my life when I would have been able to explain at least parts of the above equation. (Yes, I find it hard to believe, too, but it's true.) I took Calculus in high school. I did not have Algebra I in junior high. I was lucky because I was allowed to double up on Geometry and Algebra II my sophomore year and get on the calculus track.
I did not become an engineer. The college I attended didn't even have an engineering program. I did, however, flirt with being a math major in college -- until my ambitions foundered on the shoals of probability and statistics. But at least I had a chance to learn some of the intellectual rigor that math can provide: Emotion doesn't solve equations; logic does. Learning to think logically makes everyone a better citizen, even those like me who lacked the ability to perform better at higher mathematics.
My children have not been as fortunate as I was: They weren't allowed to double up on math. All were exposed to algebra in 8th grade, but the subject was not taught with sufficient rigor to enable any of them (with the sole exception of Oldest Son) to place out of first year algebra in high school. Oddly enough, he did go into computer engineering in college... because he could.
Students who don't fail don't learn. And students who don't fail aren't prepared for real life when failure means a heck of a lot more than getting your badly-done homework signed by a parent.
Youngest Son recently had troubles in Chemistry. Since he's 15, he didn't tell me about it. But, when I found out, I inquired: It seems he had troubles converting metric units to other metric units. In other words, he had troubles moving decimal places. Basic, basic math -- but somehow he didn't pick it up when he should have. Somebody (meaning well, surely) gave him a break when they should have given him extra homework, and maybe a note home, back in 3rd or 4th grade.
And now, perhaps (and I say probably), engineering or any other scientific discipline is closed to him.
I think Calculus in high school should be the rule, not the exception, and we should recalibrate our educational system accordingly. Kids should be challenged. They should fail. And they should learn from their failures and go on to fail again. In the long run, children raised this way will succeed far more than those who were spared the embarrassment of spelling a word wrong in class.