At school, everyone gets a prize. In real life? Not so much...

At school, everyone gets a prize. In real life? Not so much…

At last, a glimmer of light in the dark and murky corners of political correctness. An up-market private girls school in my part of the world has admitted that the ‘everybody gets a prize’ mentality that’s infected our education system for decades might not be actually doing our young people any good after all.

St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls (The West Australian, May 25) has written to parents explaining why it has decided to minimize praise (like “well done Angela, you failed, but you tried, that‘s the main thing!”), reduce reward stickers for participation (eg “here’s your certificate for actually coming to school, even though you tanked at everything.”) and setting deliberately difficult work so students could experience failure.

Eureka! Hurrah! Finally, an admission from green-tinged academics, the corduroy-jacket-and-leather-elbow-patches brigade, that constantly telling kids they’re wonderful, special, all-time winners just so their precious little self-esteem gets puffed up like a poisoned cat could just possibly be setting them up for a rude shock when they suddenly arrive in the real world.

A world that rewards people who actually get things done, not merely make a feeble attempt and give up. A world that punishes failure and praises success, not ATTEMPT. A world that has few leaders, and many followers. A world that is full of obstacles, pitfalls, challenges and tall buildings that can’t leaped in a single bound by a pimply teenager in a Superman suit, aided by a teacher whispering ‘wow, you’re really great. You failed, but you’re really great all the same.’

And out in the real world, nothing is less forgiving of failure than business. Particularly the world of small business, the one you and I inhabit. You may have noticed that customers who give you their money do not gently pat you on the head and whisper ‘good try!’ when you fail to deliver what they’ve paid for. To the ears of those molly-coddled through school any time in the last thirty years, it may sound harsh when suppliers you haven’t paid send the bailiff in to take your furniture.

And when you employ some youngster straight out of school (beauty school, particularly) is it any wonder they look like startled deer caught in the headlights when you (too gently) suggest to them they might like to actually work instead of Facebooking their friends till they’re blue in the face?

To quote the bleeding obvious from Primary Schools Association president Stephen Breen, who acknowledged that schools and parents had probably (the italics are mine) gone too far in puffing up children’s self-esteem by praising everything. “As a consequence, a lot of kids don’t accept criticism.”

Maybe, just maybe, kids might be better educated with some harsh reality right from the get go. Had the Allies lost the Second World War, it’s difficult to imagine Churchill gently admonishing Montgomery with “Well old chap, you gave it your best shot, that’s all that matters!”

I re-post from last year a short lesson in life for young people – and grown-ups who still think life should be just like it was in school.