Education is a wonderful thing. Learning new things everyday is possibly the greatest feeling in the world. But what if the things our kids are learning is damaging their feeling of self-worth? Read on to discover how “perfect presentation” caused tears for my 6 year old daughter.
“Mummy, how do you spell before?” GinGin bellowed the question to me from the dining table, where she was busily doing her homework while I prepared dinner in the kitchen.
“B. E. F…” I begin.
“Oh no! I’ve spelled it wrong!” [sounds of banging and crashing accompanied by sobbing]
I could tell that noise wasn’t GinGin just being over-dramatic. I mean she is. Frequently. I often joke that she’ll win an Oscar one day.
But this was real. She was genuinely distraught.
I abandoned the bolognese and went to see if we could resolve this horrific catastrophe.
“I’m sure you could turn that i into an e” I said to her.
“No! I can’t! I’ve already put a line through it.” GinGin’s anger at my suggestion only made the tears come faster.
“Okay, well let’s just start again on this new page. You’ll have more space there anyway.”
She’d only written one word so far – the accursed bifore – and she’d hardly left herself any room, so starting again on a new page was realistically her only option.
“No! I don’t want to. I want it on THIS page! And now it has a mistake on it!”
“I don’t want that mistake there mummy! Why did I have to make that mistake?”
She’s borderline inconsolable now. And I know that anything I say will just make it worse. So I take the pen from her hand and cradle her in my arms. I stroke the hair from her face and wipe the tears from her eyes and I worry what our education system is doing to our children.
All the while she’s uttering incomprehensible things about her work not being perfect and how she’s let her teacher down by making a mistake.
The Warning Signs
Now I want to rewind back to a few weeks ago.
It was parents’ evening. I was in a meeting with GinGin’s teacher, voicing my concern to her that the school’s new focus on “perfect presentation” was ludicrous and potentially damaging.
I’d seen it before in kids that I’ve taught in further education. A single mistake could not be rectified with a neat line through it. The mistake would still be there. Visible. Mocking. Taunting. The work would have to be done again. From scratch. Taking up precious time.
The need for perfection can be debilitating.
Rather than focusing on finishing a task, the concern is making it perfect. No mistakes.
GinGin was already starting to show the warning signs of this. And so I raised the issue with her teacher.
The response I had was that the school was acting on feedback they’d received from Ofsted. Apparently too many pupils in the school were not taking pride in their work. They were unconcerned about “scruffy” books.
I get it. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And kids should take pride in their work.
But the school’s response to this observation from Ofsted was to introduce an additional level of grading the work completed by students.
And there are new rewards for children who achieve this new accolade, indicated by an ink stamp in the shape of a pencil.
GinGin’s teacher seemed to take my concerns on board. She nodded sympathetically. But offered nothing tangible about what could be done to make sure GinGin’s focus remained on completing her work to the best of her ability, and not to be afraid of making mistakes.
Back to Now
I was only stroking GinGin’s head for a few minutes before she’d calmed down enough for me to try to reason with her again.
We talked about how in life we have to make mistakes. After all, if we don’t make mistakes how else do we learn.
That making mistakes can be a wonderful thing. It shows that we are pushing ourselves in new directions. Taking on new challenges. Improving on our capabilities.
We talked about how things just aren’t always perfect. But that doesn’t matter. Life isn’t perfect.
We do the best we can. And nobody can ask more of us than that.
I said to GinGin that her teacher wouldn’t mind the mistake. That seeing a neat line drawn through it would show her teacher that she’s spotted the error and amended it herself.
Her teacher would be proud of her for that.
GinGin wiped away the last of her tears. She giggled. Her beautiful face beamed at me.
“It’s okay mummy. I can start on a new page! That mistake doesn’t matter, does it?” She just needed that last little bit of reassurance.
“No darling. That mistake doesn’t matter.”
I wonder how many more times we will have to go through this before GinGin feels comfortable with making mistakes. Seeing errors. Crossing out and carrying on.
After all, finished is better than perfect.
No it’s over to you. Does you child agonise over being perfect? How do you deal with it? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.