Zero Tolerance

20131021-163248.jpgI 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.

15 thoughts on “Zero Tolerance

  1. It strikes me, reading this, that in everyday life we all bump into failure (often literally) almost all the time. Nothing, and I mean nothing, goes exactly how we want or might expect. Things are always going non-optimal. And we cope admirably with that….because, as you say, that’s what life is actually like. We don’t label it as failure, though, because it is just life.

    The problem here is Government. Governments must straddle the theoretical world (what might be possible) and the real world (what happens in reality), against the backdrop of ridiculous levels of political expectation (often self-created, mind). We all know that education is fiendishly complicated, such that it is very difficult to arrive at ‘best practice’, but politicians feel the need to promise progress and improvement – our country’s future depends on it, and every child deserves the best etc. etc. Yes, yes, all true, but garbage in, garbage out, with respect to making changes in the system.

    Maybe we all need to chill (especially politicians) and consider things very carefully. I think we need to embed high expectations into the system, but also think we need to take our time working out how we do that at a system level. Probably, by the time we have, teachers will have already made it a reality, using a plethora of approaches.

      1. To be honest, I don’t mean the getting upset bit (that’s reasonable), I mean the trying to conjure up changes that will lead to ‘progress’; in that Society seems to agitate Governments for change (usually unspecified change: just make it better), but effective change needs lots of formulating time, and sensible timescales for implementation.

  2. Absolutely agree. And we must agree what being better actually *is*. Which leads me nicely to the point about the new antenatal test for Down’s syndrome. Better for who? As a society, are we really better off without people with Down’s in it?

  3. What exactly is the dream we are chasing? Sadly, I truly believe much of the drive towards the eradication of our kids comes from a perceived cost/productivity equation somewhere along the line.

    1. Oh, you are very right about that. As if the value of a person could e measured in economic terms! But yes, I have had that point made to me in the past 😦

  4. What a good read! I really emphasise with the idea of craving perfection in a child. Your experiences of being a parent to a child with Down’s syndrome are different to mine, yours was different from birth, my son became different at 16 with a life threAtening cancer. All I know is this, perfection us an illusion and the value of life cannot be measured in physical ‘normality’ or length of life.

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