In a recent "Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, the internet asked teachers what the biggest change in education has been from 1997 to 2017. The overwhelming response was failure. 20 years ago students understood that failure was a part of education and without the proper effort (and luck) you could conceivably fail a test, essay or course. Today there is no failure. Students cannot be held back, failing a test results in the opportunity to re-test and re-test and re-test until the student achieves the mark they desire.
What is the ramification for this?
First the good: Having the opportunity to fail without actually failing should empower students to take greater risks in their academic careers. Instead of writing an essay to meet the standards of the rubric, maybe a student writes a manifesto on the current state of the politics of their school. They may fail, but at the same time they’ve made a gross statement and perhaps ruffled some feathers. If they have to redo the essay they’ll do so knowing that they’ve put themselves out there.
Now the bad: This generally isn’t what happens. Students who take risks will do so regardless of the culture of failure in their school. Instead, knowing that you can’t fail seems to breed a culture of indifference. Why put the extra work in if you’re not worried about failing?
Indifference is the greatest threat to education.
While the idea of failure has changed, the result is the massive inflation of indifference. This threat doesn’t effect the high-flying high achievers. They’ll continue to their best work no matter what. It’s the kids who aren’t particularly motivated in school who get effected the most. Fear of failure is real and will motivate anyone even if they know there’s no consequences.