I know a thing or two about failure, and how it gets in the way. Three attempts at my driving test; re-sits in my O Levels (as they then were); pretty poor A Levels; general low ability or attention-span or something, preventing me following one ambition, to be a Barrister. Poor eyesight getting in the way of the other two: entry to the Navy as a deck officer, which I should have liked, and to the Air Force as a pilot, which I should have LOVED.
Apart from the above, life has been pretty good, I suppose!
So what is all this rant about? Basically, I am getting quite worn down by the PC sort of drive by/within society at every level to deny failure. Where Hoodies cause havoc; where parents (young inadequate ones generally) grossly neglect their children; where released criminals and/or “loonies” attack and kill the innocent - it's never their fault as such; it's "poor home life"; "lack of appropriate support agencies". Turn the spotlight on the “support agencies: the armies of Police, Probation Officers, Social Workers, Health Visitors and so on. Its always some “breakdown in communication“, never anybody’s fault, never failure (of “systems” maybe) but never of/by the people responsible.
According to the clear-cut terminology of 40 years ago, you "Passed", or you "Failed" - simple as that. Passing your Eleven Plus meant advance to GO - collect a future. Failing your Eleven Plus meant do not advance to GO (possibly, in some cases, go straight to jail (albeit with a few years at a Comprehensive in between). As I am not in jail you will gather that (exceptionally for me) I passed!
I now work in Higher Education, at a "New University". Perhaps because it is "New", though I am led to believe this is not so, the word failure is just not allowed. Much too final-seeming. Much too upsetting for the student, his/her family and friends and so on. Those students who cannot reach the (to my mind) pathetically low 30% which affords them the possibility of condonement in a subject, are said to have been "Referred": given a re-sit as the chance to retrieve the situation. And believe me, a reported mark of less than 30% really takes some getting down to, so enormous is the economic pressure (the need for "bums on seats" - fee income) and the desire to satisfy "the customer" (the student or his/her sponsor). Academic integrity is thrown straight out of the window by my bosses in favour of a blanket policy of ordering us to fix the marks to arrive at a "respectable" average pass rate. No matter how lazy such low-performing students may be - most making no effort whatsoever to prepare between lecture and seminar, and possibly in some cases none for exams either - they get in through the back door in this way. Thus, a mark of 30 becomes 40 to produce a pass, or 20 becomes 30 (a 50% "mark-up") to facilitate condonement.
In my own day as an undergraduate on this same course (you will have seen this next bit coming) one had to obtain an overall average in any year of 50%, 40% in each subject, two re-sits maximum. How many of us progressed from Year One to Year Two? 18 out of 35. Nowadays, to progress to the next year, a student need only get an overall average of 40%, and can fail a number of modules, (oops, wrong word, sorry!) provided they catch up before they leave.
I am reminded here of the old chestnut about an airline pilot who when faced with landing his plane suddenly announced that he’d missed the week when they were learning how to land! Similar jokes relate to medics and certain surgical procedures. I can’t help thinking it fortunate that the subject I teach is not of life-or-death importance to the world as I "certify" so many folk who don’t know much about it!
What does this lead to? Cause for another TBubble perhaps on the "Blame Culture" – whereby nobody is responsible for their own fate? "Ambulance chasing" lawyers encourage us to claim for every bit of bad luck whatever befell us. We sue McDonalds for not warning us that, in excess, their foods will make us fat... and so on!
What has this last to do with failure? It is the outcome of telling ourselves, telling each other, that nothing is OUR fault. WE are not to blame. It cannot be that WE have failed to take responsibility for our lives; there must be somebody else out there we can blame.
The writer of this Grumpy Old Thought Bubble is a 53 year old lecturer in Higher Education. Wishing not to "fail" to retain employment he has asked for his name to remain anonymous. (Rumour has it that he has been approached by the Daily Mail. They like his style!)