col British teachers redefine failure as 'deferred success'

By David Grimes

A group of British teachers has proposed banning the word "fail" from the classroom and replacing it with "deferred success" to avoid demoralizing students.

I have always believed in protecting the delicate psyches of today's students as much as possible so they will be emotionally ready to pursue careers in lawn-mowing, cheeseburger-wrapping or whatever other employment opportunity avails itself in tomorrow's economy.

I was never a particularly good student and I firmly believe it was the insensitive criticism I received from my teachers that steered me into my present dead-end job and a desk downwind from the newsroom refrigerator. For example, my high-school math teacher wrote in my yearbook, "Most likely to succeed in a job that does not involve numbers."

This wouldn't have been too traumatic if my English teacher had not written, "Most likely to succeed in a job that does not involve words."


So you see that it's important to choose your words carefully when addressing underperforming students lest they end up in their underwear at home churning out nonsensical columns for obscure newspapers while their small disobedient dogs helpfully befoul the living room carpet.

I agree with the British teachers that the word "fail" has no place in modern classrooms, even if we are talking about students whose main academic credentials basically consist of initiating food fights in the school cafeteria. For example, you should not refer to such students as "troublemakers" but rather as "obedience-challenged."

Students who routinely skip school so they can drive around smoking pot with their friends should not be categorized as "delinquents" but rather as "alternatively occupied."

Students who are too stupid -- excuse me -- "distracted" to remember to write their names at the top of their test papers should not be belittled or otherwise made to feel that they may be a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Better to criticize the ones who did remember as "suck-ups" or "overachievers."

Students who pretend to be reading while they are face-down on their desks should not be called "lazy" or "dead-to-the-world" but rather "consciousness-averse."

Of course, our new linguistic sensitivity should not apply to students only. For example, when our Commander and Chief says, "Border relations between Canada and Mexico have never been better," we should not refer to him as someone who has the geography skills of warm tapioca but rather as someone who is "border-diffused."

We'll all be just as dumb -- excuse me, "cerebrally unwilling" -- as before, but we'll sound a lot smarter.

Which is something, I guess.


David Grimes is a columnist for the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla. His e-mail address is

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