Take No Prisoners

For Their Own Sake, Let Them FAIL.

Many of my friends are teachers – some high school, some junior high, a couple in primary/elementary education. Lately, they have alerted me to a very disturbing trend: in Canada, students are no longer allowed to fail. Students don’t repeat grades anymore. This is causing a serious problem.

Some high school seniors lack fundamental skills. While this is probably no surprise, the specific skills I’m talking about may not be the ones you’d expect. Specifically, they don’t know how to read or follow directions.

Let me say this again.

An alarming number of high school students cannot read.

An alarming number of high school students cannot follow directions.

Oh yeah, they know the alphabet and can read a few notes, but they lack the ability to comprehend an essay or story written at their grade level. They can’t read an article from a newspaper let alone a scientific study. Perhaps worse, even if they can read directions, they can’t follow them. And I’m not talking about building a BBQ here, I’m talking about “use a pencil.”

I don’t think I can overestimate the effect this is having. The entire high school curriculum is essentially an exercise in verbal masturbation if the students can’t read or follow directions. What the hell are literature, history and geography if you can’t read? How do you teach math to someone who can’t follow directions? How can you teach science to someone who can’t read the problems or follow the directions for solving them?

So what’s left? Gym?

If students are allowed into high school without a minimal set of fundamental skills, high school is a waste of time. You can’t learn algebra if you don’t know how to add. You can’t learn about irony and symbolism in Shakespeare if you can’t read. You can’t learn about critical thinking if you can’t read the texts you’re supposed to critique. You can’t learn history if you can’t read historical analysis. These are strict prerequisites. You can’t just skip stuff.

Students must be allowed to fail and repeat grades, or be doomed to years of nonsense before being released into a world they’re incapable of succeeding in.