Friday May 29, 2015

UK prof says it's time to pitch erasers from classrooms so kids can learn from mistakes

Erasers are an ‘instrument of the devil’ and should be banned from classrooms, according to education expert Guy Claxton

Erasers are an ‘instrument of the devil’ and should be banned from classrooms, according to education expert Guy Claxton (Courtesy Guy Claxton )

Listen 6:36

Erasers may look benign, but a cognitive scientist in the UK says beware what's inside your child's pencil case.

Guy Claxton, a visiting professor at King's College, London told British newspapers that "erasers are the instrument of the devil," this week.    

And while he laughs about his choice of words with As it Happens guest host Tom Harrington,

Claxton says we do need to rub out the idea that kids aren't allowed to make mistakes.

"The problem with erasers is, if you're not careful, they perpetuate an idea that to be successful you have to get things right the first time. And the eraser says if you didn't get it right the first time, rub it out and pretend that you did. So, the written record looks like you're smarter than you are."

He says the idea that work needs to be perfect is damaging to kids in the long run.

"It's as if we're training children to be little performers rather than little improvers, and in the long run that doesn't stand them in good stead. The international research is very clear that attitudes like persistence in the face of difficulty, curiosity, and imagination count for more in life than the grades that students get."

While he admits the erasers are a symbol of what's wrong in education, he says teachers react positively when he suggests the idea of getting rid of the rubbers, as they're called in the UK. It's the kids who have a hard time with it.

"When (teachers) try it in school they often run up against resistance from young people, because the youngsters are already socialized into an idea that mistakes are wrong."

Claxton recently co-authored a book called " "Educating Ruby, What Our Children Really Need to Learn" -- and in it, he says parents also need to accept their children's failures.

"If we can get parents to understand that, they'll change how they work with kids at home, and act as a more supportive pressure group to help children's schools make the kinds of shifts they need to make."

He concedes that in the digital age, erasers are already on the way to being obsolete. But he says that doesn't mean the system is fixed.

"We ought to have a think about whether, when you are editing your text, some of the time you should make "track changes" compulsory, so that would be the equivalent of this idea."