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Guest Thinkers

Permission to fail

[cross-posted at Moving at the Speed of Creativity]


got high schools on my mind


A high school teacher told me recently that her school allows students to try

harder courses than they normally might take. For example, students might sign

up for an Honors English class instead of a regular English class or an AP

Government class instead of a normal Government class. These are big issues in

secondary schools: who gets to take advanced / Honors / AP courses, who gets to

be exposed to rigorous course content, and who doesn’t. At first I thought that

this was great, that here’s a school that’s trying to open up learning

opportunities for students. But then my back brain registered how she talked

about the school policy. She said that the school gives students

permission to fail.” And that’s when it all fell

apart for me.

Permission to fail. What a horribly sad and

depressing term. Does a permission to fail policy

recognize that these kids might need a little extra support to be successful or

does it simply thrust them into the challenging learning environment and say,

“Good luck!”? Is a permission to fail policy premised

on student success or on a belief that “these kids really can’t do the work but

we’ll let them try because it looks and feels good” (to us, to parents, to the

public)? Perceptions and beliefs shape reality. Will a permission to


policy ever result in large numbers of successful


I left that school wishing it had a permission to




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