It is not often a change in normally boring educational policy grabs my imagination and gives me a firm shake by the ears so I felt I had to share it with a wider audience.
The front page of our State's largest newspaper, The West Australian, recently drew my attention as it featured the prestigious and academically successful St Hilda's Anglican School for Girls and how it was introducing an entirely new way to educate the students. Praise and easy rewards were being removed and work that was deliberately too hard for students so they could experience failure was to be introduced.
You could almost hear the gasp of parents and educators across the state at this bold new manifesto. To quote the article, “Junior school head Julie Quansing-Rowlands said the prevailing wisdom in schools for many years had been that building up children's self-esteem would lead to high achievement. But recent research showed this simplistic approach had backfired. Over praising meant children were less able to cope with disappointments they faced later in life.”
St Hilda's has been bold enough to address concerns that have been developing with a generation of children who have grown up receiving a sticker simply for attending classes and who have been constantly praised, regardless of actual skill.
Some of these children, now with a false sense of their abilities and a strong sense of entitlement, are now facing the harsh realities of life and are finding it difficult to accept criticism or to cope and adapt when their plans don't match the life they have created in their heads.
Life has a way of being surprising and even cruel and unfortunately not everyone who applies can get the dream job or a date with THAT guy down the road. Even more seriously, young adults may find themselves facing greater problems like divorcing parents or even loved ones who are seriously ill.
In a world where everything has been previously shaped to ensure your continued happiness and where you cannot fail (and you have the piles of certificates to prove it), how do you cope with any one of these earth shattering situations? Facebook?
Time honoured wisdom tells us that adversity is a great teacher and learning to cope with failure builds resilience. Yet until very recently this has not been integrated into our educational processes.
I am certainly not advocating being cruel to children in order to make them tougher. However, I can see how a generation who has never had a winner in order that there be no loser could cause some potential issues.
As a fairly new parent I have been reading plenty of material as I attempt to keep ahead of my toddler's developmental changes and this thought continues to pop into my head: It is not being told that you have done a good job but knowing that you have done a good job that is the key to building secure and strong self-confidence.
Christ Church Grammar, another top rated West Australian private school, has also waded into the discussion. I quote Head of Prep for Christ Church Grammar, Richard Wright from the same article "The notion is that if you tell kids that everything they do is great and they always win, then it will build their self-esteem. Common sense and more recent research tell us this is wrong. This is because children know when things are hard, when things have gone wrong and when they have lost."
Essentially he is saying children aren't idiots and they know when they aren't receiving honest feedback. It feels like educational thinking itself is being taken back to school.
I look forward to seeing if this change in thinking is taken up by a wider audience and introduced to the public schools and executed in a strategic way. Will it help improve the resilience, self-respect and self-control of a future generation? Can our children be taught to lose with grace and win with modesty?
I find myself really hoping that they can.
(Dedicated to Lorraine LoBianco who always finds the right words to excite and inspire me.)