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Maharey’s new “F” word

Maharey’s recent comments on the ERO report give a whole new meaning to four-letter "F" word. The word, regrettably, no long ends in "k", but it remains as shameful and taboo—in fact, even more shameful and taboo because it is not even used colloquially lest it offend our young people—as its predecessor. Like its predecessor, its meaning as a verb is a fact of life; unlike its predecessor, this fact of life is quickly becoming a denial.

The new word, ladies and gentlemen, is "fail". Now, many, I am sure, will be quick to point out its replacement—"not achieved", or in the case of Cambridge Examinations, "ungraded"—but I insist that this is not the case. "Failing" does not exist. One in five children are not "failing"; they are "not succeeding", which, incidentally, is not the same as "failing".

I looked up the definition of the new "F" word in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary. It said that it is "be unsuccessful in an undertaking". The prefix "un-", last time I checked, is a negative prefix to negate the meaning of the word it precedes. So the new "F" word means "to be not successful", which in my mind looks pretty much like "to not succeed".

I don’t know if that’s wrong or right, but this new taboo surrounding the "F" word seems a bit illogical to me. It is almost as if everyone is meant to be succeeding.

Now, in today’s politically correct world of girls wearing shorts as part of their school uniform, and minors being entitled to the same wages as their married seniors, and couples, gay or straight, being able to recognise their partnership in a way that doesn’t have "religious affiliations" or whatever-it-is-they-see-marriage-as, this might seem correct. After all, failing is bad. And bad is, well, evil. And evil is Al Qaeda. And Al Qaeda is terrorism. And terrorism is anti-United States. And anti-United States is anti-bad—hang on, wait—anyway…

The reality is, where there are those who succeed, there are those who fail. Those who fail in such surveys are failing because they are performing below the standard of others. In other words, we can’t expect everyone to "succeed" by some objective and constant standard. Everyone succeeds or fails in their own way, because they performed above or below their own expectations: as George Weasley put it, "We always thought we should have got ‘Exceeded Expectations’ because we exceeded expectations by turning up to the exam."

And where we fail, in our own ways, we learn. At the risk of sounding cliché, "Failure is the mother of success". Who got by succeeding all their lives? If we try to teach that failure does not exist, we are teaching that nothing is worth trying your best at. That, surely, is failing.

Related Links

  • NZ Herald: Maharey out of line on student failure, says National (22 May)
  • NZ Herald: Deborah Coddington: Calling a fatty a fatty is best way to beat obesity (28 May)
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