“Learn from the mistakes of others…”

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Much has been written recently about students learning from their mistakes. I’ve read plenty about the importance of letting pupils get things wrong as long as it is done in a supportive, safe environment. However, at this time of exams getting things wrong doesn’t necessarily gain the credit that might be imagined. When reports are written, teachers will tend to focus on what is right and getting things wrong isn’t celebrated. Any teacher will tell their pupils that the most important part of an exam are the lessons spent going back over tests, the process of learning from mistakes. Most pupils will probably say that these are some of the least exciting lessons of the year, after all the mark has been decided and it is a long time before they will take another test.

In a world of social media word and deed are recorded and remembered. This week a group of university students at Oxford voted to remove a portrait of the Queen from their common room as in their eyes it represented British colonialism. The students are of course entitled to decide for themselves what hangs on the walls of their social space as long as their procedures are followed. It seems that the world’s media feel that it for them to comment, criticise and judge what is after all a relatively low-key action that affects no-one but a small number of college members. The College President has reassured all those who care to be concerned that the portrait is in safe keeping should there be a change of mind. Universities should be places of discussion and we must be very careful when we restrict those engaged in learning from discussion, debate and a little controversy. Some will not stick to the views that they held in their younger years and others will not change, but in cyberspace a record will be kept.

England cricketer Ollie Robinson is currently suspended from the national team as a consequence of offensive tweets made ten years earlier. As a player in a national team his tweets have become a matter of wider interest. When he made them they perhaps represented a young man who did not understand his position of privilege, nor perhaps did he understand that his view was unacceptable in the world around him. In some quarters of the media this attention has been deemed unfair and it has been said that he is carrying the can for errors of many others. There is no doubt that this is a complex issue, in some respects it always has been. Young people sometimes speak before they have truly considered the impact or offence their words may cause. Some may look at the actions of their earlier self and be bewildered and regretful by their lack of judgment and the offence or harm caused. We should not ignore, we should seek to learn.

As a community of diverse and wide experiences I hope that all pupils have the confidence to speak for themselves and I hope that they have the thoughtfulness to think of others and their own position of privilege before they speak or act. If we are able to create a community in which everyone has a voice, then we will have succeeded in creating a school of which all can be proud. Debate and disagreement are all part of the learning process. Making mistakes is understood as being a necessary part of coming to an understanding, but offence and harm can have no place. We do not have to agree but we do need to show respect and care for each other.

Nicholas Hammond