The Opportunity to Fail (My Response to the Article “Case Against The Zero“ by Doug Reeves)

Dear Doug,

Today, I was given your article, “The Case Against the Zero” by the principal of the school I work for. She emailed the staff and told us to read and review it before voting on a possible “No Zero Policy” that would be implemented into our grading system.

Since I have ADHD, my empathy for struggling students and diverse learners is personal. I’m always inquiring about tips and tricks to help children acquire confidence within their learning environment. This is why the subject matter of your article intrigued me.

I read your article in hopes of gaining some insight on how to create a more confident student by altering the 100-point grading system.

Mathematically speaking, I agree with the conclusion regarding the 100-point system. You’re absolutely correct—a single zero makes it difficult for a child to make a comeback and end with a decent grade.

I also agree with you abandoning the “No Zero Policy” and supporting a four point scale. You explain how you believe this scale will be more acceptable by educators and parents than the “No Zero Policy,” because it doesn’t involve giving points for missing assignments.

After I read your article, I reflected on it. I understood why you felt this system was a good idea. I even agree with preferring the four point scale over the “No Zero Policy.” Although, I couldn’t help but ponder the reasons why you wanted it.

Although I agree with your findings, I don’t agree with the reasons for doing the research. This is simply because in my opinion, one of the main motives behind this study is feelings. Adults like yourself as well as many educators and parents feel bad when children fail.

Fredrick Douglas said, “If there’s no failure, there’s no progress.” In my opinion, there has never been a more true statement. Greatness has never emerged from individuals who had it easy their whole lives. Greatness emerges when those who struggle fail but keep trying.

It’s proven over and over by inspirational individuals who have failed but never gave up, like Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates and Walt Disney. These are all examples of people who continued pursuing their dreams despite continuous setbacks.

These individuals have one thing in common—the want. Sometimes the want was there all along, but sometimes it comes because of failure.

What if they had never experienced failure as a child? Would they have failed once as an adult, been incredibly devastated and given up? Possibly?

On a personal note, I’ve failed many times in my life—shocker, I know. Especially academically. Eventually I grew up and decided I was sick of failing—but we will get to that in a bit.

I attended Catholic schools in the nineties and back then there was absolutely no forgiveness. I was given zeros for forgetting to put my name on paper and for not reading directions. If I bombed a test, I bombed. I wasn’t offered a second chance to fix my answers and improve my grade. 

It was so incredibly hard for me to get the grades I wanted to get. I aspired to be on the honor roll but I just couldn’t do it. Even with incredibly supportive parents and teachers, it just wasn’t happening.

It was the anger from the failure that fueled me. A tiny spark that ignited the motivation I needed to prove to myself I could succeed—the want. The want is everything. I don’t care how smart a child is or how much help they get, if they don’t want it, it’s not gonna happen.

The want is what pushed me to graduate from college, find a job, write a book, start a blog. Anytime I wanted to quit because something went wrong, the want forced me to press on. The best part of my success in life is knowing that it was done on my own. The want developed from my failure and that’s what changed my life.

Like Frederick’s quote insinuates, failure isn’t an end all, it’s an opportunity to progress. Our adult feelings towards a child who is failing shouldn’t interfere with this. Why are we taking away a child’s opportunity to fail?

Children need to fail for several reasons, but most importantly, they need to fail in order to learn how to cope with disappointment as an adult. In the last fifteen years we have decided to award them trophies for just participating. Now we’re going to alter the grading scale so they will have an easier time passing—even if they are choosing not to work. What are we teaching them? 

I read your article Doug and I understand why you think it’s important children feel accomplished and successful. However, it’s not just about the feeling. It’s also about the doing. It’s about teaching consequences and choices. Lessons they need to learn for survival. It’s a mental lesson as well. Psychologically, how will these children handle failure as an adult if they’ve never dealt with it as an adolescent? It’s a scary thought.

While I was struggling in grade school and high school I was pretty miserable and I failed many times. I could be bitter, get angry at my teachers and the schools for allowing me to fail or I could thank them for giving me the opportunity to fail?

I choose the latter.

Published by squirrleyone

I’m a forty-two year old wife and mother of three humans and one Dalmatian. I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD in 1994. I graduated from Columbia College in 2001 with a Bachelors Degree in Art. Currently, I work as a paraprofessional and just completed my first middle-grade novel, “Best in Class”.

4 thoughts on “The Opportunity to Fail (My Response to the Article “Case Against The Zero“ by Doug Reeves)

  1. I was a teacher in British Columbia, Canada for thirty years. We stopped failing kids at elementary years ago and have used four point or five point scales or cirerion references scales for marking for years. In my experience, young children do not have the emotional resilience to deal with zero grades. If you want to see a young child shut down, emotionally withdrawn and unable to continue working for the rest of the day, then go ahead and give them zeros. However, in my view, it’s much more valuable to give them 1 point on a scale and have a discussion with them about how to improve their performance next time than to a spend the rest of the day dealing with their upset. In middle or high school, you could introduce a zero mark, but the students need to understand why they are getting it (i.e. a missed assignment) and it should always be a logical consequence. That is my 2 cents.


    1. I disagree with adjusting the grades. What we need to do is adjust the curriculum. How about we teach kids lessons that are not just geared towards the standardized test? We put WAY too much emphasis on those tests and many kids don’t test well. Also, many kids are not college material. How about we let the teachers integrate their own creAtivity into lessons? There’s way too many restrictions on how they can teach. We need more tactile lessons for those children with engineering minds. I say we build confidence with curriculum not with adjusting the grading scales.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the issue with our educational system worldwide is that we tend to grade all students based on a predefined system. Each and every kid in our society is unique and cannot fit into a one size fits all box.
    I agree with Naomi,It’s important to help kids understand why they have got a lower grade or marks and help them improve it.
    While grading the knowledge is important, but what is more important is to make them capable to live in a society, nurturing their thoughts to identify what is morally right or wrong, invoking them to respect fellow beings and their thoughts, dealing with emotions and how to achieve self satisfaction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree to a point. I think we need to fix WHAT we’re teaching not how we’re grading. Some kids would excel at learning hands on skills. We basically teach to test which is wrong. Not every kid is college bound. We’re making them feel inadequate with constantly forcing these standardized tests down their throats. Instead of handing them As how about we give them lessons where they will actually succeed without help?

      Liked by 1 person

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