Policies like “no-zero” & “no-fail” fail to prepare kids for real life

Lynden Dorval, Courtesy QMI Agency

As Moira MacDonald wrote in an excellent column yesterday in the Toronto Sun: “Some of the best lessons I ever learned were from failure.” I mean, who among us has not failed at something?

Yes, when we fail or things don’t turn out as we had hoped (no matter what our age), we are upset with ourselves and others. But, we sure learn not to make the same mistake twice. What is the expression — fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!

The reality is that success is the opposite of failure just as sadness is the opposite of happiness. We can’t know one if we have never experienced the other. Which brings to mind those parents who don’t want school sports teams to have winners and losers.

In effect, when everyone wins, those in charge are taking away the possibility of the joy and exhilaration the students could feel when their team beats another team. Which, by the way, is what real life is all about! Some businesses succeed, some don’t.  What makes the difference is that those who own businesses that fail have the resilience to take the loss as an opportunity to turn things around and start again.

In my opinion, then, what Edmonton physics teacher Lynden Dorval did by giving a zero for not completing or handing in a project was, not only an attempt to teach high school students the consequences of not doing what they were supposed to do, but how they could make things right.

Of course, getting a zero is hard on our self-esteem. You bet it is!  But, how much worse to graduate from high school, never having to face that kind of reality? I mean, few employers, if any,  will put up with an employee not doing what they were asked to do. The result? You would not hear a “tsk, tsk,” that is for sure. Rather, more likely: Your fired!

So, I can only hope that the Edmonton Public School Board does the right thing in September and invites Dorval back into the classroom. No doubt the man could retire given his years of service. But, the fact he wants to continue to teach sends the signal that he does so because he loves working with kids.

Whether it is a no-zero policy or a no-fail policy (as we call it in Ontario), be it in Edmonton or anywhere else, those policies definitely fail to prepare kids for real life!

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Endnote: The only exception to allowing a zero or no-fail policy would be children or youth who have severe learning disabilities (e.g, an autism spectrum disorder). In cases like that, school boards should be providing intervention programs based on the diagnosed needs of that student, rather than the well-intended philosophy of total integration — a subject I wrote about yesterday.