Whose failure?

I think about education. A lot. You could say it consumes me. It has been my lifelong passion, and although I am not currently in the classroom I don’t stop thinking and reading about how we learn and how learning can best be encouraged. My discontent with how schooling often is and my optimism for what it could be has been a recurring theme on my blog and a driving force in my life. You would not have to open too many posts to find at least one expressing that view.

education-is-2

My poem “Education Is” sums up the differences I see between education and schooling. Some schools do education really well. Some professing to be educational institutions school, very badly. What I consider to be one of the major differences is that education encourages a love of learning that lasts a lifetime; while schooling attempts to force-feed content in such a way that learning is neither enjoyed nor viewed as anything other than what one is forced to do in school.

In traditional schools assessment often takes the form a test which requires students to regurgitate information that has been thrust upon them, whether they like it, or are interested in it, or not. This occurs across all subject areas. I have written about it before in relation to writing tasks in these three posts: Writing to order – done in a flash!  Writing woes – flash fiction  and Who tests the testers?

I contrasted my choice of responding to Charli Mills’ flash fiction prompts to the lack of choice students have in state- or nation-wide writing tasks. In Writing woes – flash fiction  I suggested that it would be difficult for me, on a given day, with a restricted amount of time, under the watchful eyes of supervisors, to produce my best work in response to a prompt about which I may have little experience, knowledge or interest.

In my flash fiction responses I introduced a unicorn as a symbol of escape from the confines of the classroom or other oppressive situation, into the space where one is free to truly be oneself. It wasn’t a deliberate or premeditated choice, simply a response to Charli’s prompt. However I am happy to adopt it in my flash fiction as a symbol of playfulness and imagination unleashed; the basis for all great inquiry and innovation. Thank you, Charli, for the prompt!

I introduced the unicorn in the post Of rainbows and unicorns – Part 1 – Fantastic creatures and magical realms and used it again in What do you have in mind? , I’m too busy to be tired! And Reading is all it’s cracked up to be: 10 tips for an early childhood classroom

I have returned to both these themes again in response to Charli’s most recent prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story inspired by your muse. I’m not certain who my muse is, but I am certain that it would be very difficult to call upon a muse to assist when writing in a test situation such as that expected of students in school.

My piece is titled ‘Failure’, but this is the question I have for you: Who really deserves the “F”? Whose failure is it really?

Failure

She spluttered out the splinters of pencil: no longer tasty, never helpful. The assessor’s steely eyes pounced. She wiped the last vestiges from her mouth; staring blankly, as blank as the paper in front of her.

Outside the sunlight danced like fairies on the leaves, beckoning. Below, in the shade, the unicorn pranced and called her name.

“Why do I have to do this stuff? Who cares anyway!”

She grasped the broken pencil and scored a large “F” on the page.

Then she closed her eyes and was away, riding to freedom and joy on the unicorn’s back.

What do you think?

Thank you

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or my flash fiction writing.

If you are interested in reading other of my flash fictions pieces, I have collected them all together on one page which you can access here or click on the Flash Fiction tab above.

19 thoughts on “Whose failure?

  1. Sarah Brentyn

    Some schools, like you said, educate very well. Others… I’ve found lacking in many areas. The assessment and testing you discuss is a pet peeve of mine (to put it mildly). From the viewpoint of my children, it makes me angry that students are being force-fed information to get scores that the school can post and brag about. But the pressure comes from higher up for those schools to “rank” at a certain level with those scores. I can’t fault the schools or the teachers — they are stuck.

    I’ve watched amazing teachers implement a brilliant, creative twist on a lesson plan they were required to teach and have an administrator tell them to stick to the basic lesson. It’s difficult for teachers who want to give their students wings. (Nice flash!)

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  2. Bec

    Hi Nor, great article as always. I enjoyed your FF – it communicates your message very well I think! The distinction you give between education and schooling is very helpful, too – as you have demonstrated many times they are very different things!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec, thanks for your comment. Maybe I’ve been banging on about this a bit much. Might have to think of something new for the next post! 🙂

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  3. Paula Reed Nancarrow

    For a long time @VickiAddesso had a tweet pinned to the top of her page with a picture that said “I just might have to get off this unicorn and slap you…but I won’t.” Or something like. Your story reminded me of that cheeky rebellion. I imagine armies of imaginative children telling their “assessors” what they deserve…and then having better things to do than to give it to them.

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  4. Pingback: Be Inspired « Carrot Ranch Communications

  5. Charli Mills

    It is amazing what the unicorn has become symbolically to your process of communicating what learning is all about. I read your flash and think of my middle child, the Rock Climber. She’s that frustrated pencil chewer. What you remind us is that education must have meaning. While Rock Climber fails at tests, she soars at extreme sports and learns so much about what a person can do with their physical body. She has amazing creativity that can’t be measured in a test, but keeps her engaged in learning about the world around her. I love how you tie in your flash to your life’s passion!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Charli, for the enthusiasm I hear in your comment about the Rock Climber’s ability and opportunity to soar through extreme sports. What an incredible gift! It is obvious from all your have written about your children how she came to develop her creativity!
      Geoff used a word in his comment (blunt) that would have been appropriate to my flash, so I’m going to ask you for a word here; a word that I wanted to use but either didn’t know or couldn’t think of. I know you will be able to help me. I didn’t want to use the word ‘prancing’ in my flash; I wanted to use a word that meant stamping the front ‘feet’, or pawing the ground, on the spot, eager to get going. Champing at the bit didn’t do it, because the unicorn wouldn’t have a bit. I couldn’t think of anything quite right. What do you suggest?

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      1. Charli Mills

        A word challenge! This is another reason that I love the 99 word constraint because it does challenge us to find the right word. It also makes us realize that there might not be a right word, but different words to create different images. Stamp and paw are both possibilities. Prance makes me see impatient movement; sort of like pacing but with the grace of a horse. If the unicorn stamped I’d see him standing and showing impatience by striking the the ground with a single hoof. Sometimes it is the neighboring words that help define the image, too. Not sure if that helps, but gives you options! And I can always change words for you in the compilation if you decide on something different! 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for helping me out there, Charli. Still not sure I’ve got “the” word. Maybe I’ll have to invent one! I thought there must be one, but it just won’t come. I appreciate your offer of editing in the compilation. I’ll keep that in mind for the future! 🙂

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  6. TanGental

    Now I chewed my tie. Heck knows why but it drove my mum batty that I’d come home and the large end would have holes like small divots in the nylon or whatever it was. And I feel your frustration in character wanting to let go and find a place to soar. I think you answer your own question – if only we could bottle the ways in which teachers stimulate a love of leaning in their pupils. Trouble is what works for one fails for another; and that leads to the excuse that its no longer worth trying because the answers aren’t each. Keep poking us with that blunt HB Norah

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    1. Norah Post author

      Blunt – that’s a good word I should probably have used! Thanks Geoff. I appreciate your support. I agree with you that what works for one may not work for another, but there is a little more chance with open ended questions and some room for negotiation.

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  7. Lisa Reiter

    I have chewed those pencils so I know what they taste like – and what the smack on the back of my day dreamer’s hand felt like as teacher insisted “get that out of your mouth!”
    I love it ! For if we listen, our muse would often have us do something very different from the task we or others set us 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Lisa. I’m interested in your thought that if we listened, our muse might be telling us something different from the task we set for ourselves, and I wonder what you mean. As I was writing that sentence I was thinking that my muse might be telling me to write rather than do the housework!!! But actually, sometimes that is good ‘musing’ time, so maybe not. 🙂

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  8. Annecdotist

    I never tire of you keep banging on about the importance of proper education! Lovely to see the return of the unicorn and I can almost feel those chewed pencils in my mouth. Welcome back to the weekly flash fiction routine.

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