I never failed anything until I failed my Grade 7 Piano exam. It still bugs me that I missed out on that piece of paper thanks to a couple of marks and a few more weeks’ practice. Up until that point I had sailed through all forms of testing with a mixture of oblivion to abandon. Nothing at school was particularly difficult, and I didn’t really care about times tables anyway. Well, not until Mr Miller made me write the whole thing out as many times as the number I got wrong in the second year (yes, I am that old). After that I started to care sharpish.
And then there was Grade 7.
After that, there was the driving test (I still maintain that I was NOWHERE NEAR that parked car, but there you are: the man with the clip board has all the power), and then there was childbirth. I failed pretty spectacularly at that first time round.
It knocks you a bit, does failure. There you are, bumbling along, minding your own business and all of a sudden someone points their metaphorical finger at you and frowns. You failed. It takes a little while and a good bit of straight talking to yourself to get over it.
Because, you see, it shouldn’t have happened. Some would say he should never have been born. Someone or something, they think, not to themselves, mind, but directly to you, should have intervened before it got that far. Thank heavens there is a new, not-so-invasive test that can sort it all out now, so that we can avoid all those tears, all that heartache, all that worry. Apparently it’s great because it means that more women will accept the test as the risk to their babies is lower than the risk of an invasive test like an amnio or CVS. Isn’t that great? ‘Exciting’ times indeed.
And once we’ve eradicated Down’s syndrome* (NoHeartache Guaranteed), we can get on with the rest, treating all the other failures with zero tolerance.
The thing is, though, that we seem to be creating them left right and centre. You’d think, after we’d applied the StandardChild label everything would be alright, but no. It seems not.
Some parents just aren’t doing a good enough job so we must test the children for Failure when they are four, just to check like.
And some teachers just aren’t doing a good enough job either so we must test them again when they are six (or five, depending on when they have their birthday – but heck, they’ve been in school the same amount of time, so it shouldn’t really matter, should it?).
And, if the levels of Failure are unacceptable, we will test them again when they are seven. And again when they are eight.
After that, if they are still suffering from Failure, we have four years to put in some InterventionsForSuccess. These interventions can take various forms – we don’t seem able to agree which are the best – and everything will be fine because we will check them with another test when they are 11. And then again when they are 12, if Mrs Morgan has her way.
Because this Failure must be eradicated, you know. A zero tolerance policy on failure and mediocrity has been announced.
Do I need to remind you that there are some things that are out of our control? Must I say again that there are no guarantees – in life, in education? Should I really point out to you again that all the testing in the world won’t make you, or your child, happy or successful? Do I need to highlight a worrying connection between tests?
Do I really need to say that the greatest thing about us, about our human race, is our diversity, our difference, and that being different isn’t a sign of failure? That maybe, just maybe, our capacity to care, our ability to value what at first sight might look like the most abject of failures, is our greatest success?
Let’s not get so carried away with a false sense of our own power. Let’s not turn difference into failure.
*Add in the chromosomal/genetic abnormality of choice.