Am I Mistaken?

DSCN0240-copy25Looking across the kitchen table I see interminable frustration. My son has made a mistake. Not the first that he will ever make I’m sure. It’s homework time and now for the trusted school rubber to come into action. The pencil marks become a smudge as the erroneous trail resists any attempt to become history. The rubber becomes a device of concerted attack as the paper yields and moves across the breakfast table changing from a two-dimensional sheet to a three-dimensional crumple. In his haste to make amends, the correction itself becomes flawed. Another attack by the school rubber ensues. The result is a contorted mound of paper which betrays a morning of frustration.

Get rid of the school rubber. What does it achieve? It tells us that mistakes are best buried. It tells us that flaws and imperfections have to be obliterated.

DSCN0233-copy25I try and reassure my son. Mistakes are okay! Just strike them out. Then at least your teacher will be able to see how you arrived at your final destination.

It’s at this point I feel like giving sage-like advice about making mistakes. After all, his dad has made enough indiscretions and blunders in his life and will undoubtedly continue to do so. I feel like I’ve become something of an authority on the subject. Let’s see what the great thinkers have to say about it.

What about the founder of the philosophy of pragmatism, John Dewey, who said:

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”

Or perhaps some thoughts from Goethe:

“By seeking and blundering we learn.”

What about a modern day quote from a young adult science fiction writer, Richelle E. Goodrich?:

“Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift. And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.”

So throw away that school rubber my son. Because it is going to eat up your creative spirit. Try and get it right first time. Abandon the fear of failure. And after all that, there may be something left worth keeping just through serendipity.

Hang on! Now I’m being a hypocrite. I’ve been busy just this morning, erasing what’s gone before. Hacking out the things that at first sight seem unappealing to myself and to imagined others in my family photos. After all, we don’t want to see the blemishes, observe the inevitable march of time which is impressed on our faces. That wonderful program Photoshop provides all sorts of ways of erasing our reality. Passers-by that appear in the background can be deleted with a simple wand. Facial crevices can wondrously be transformed into a luminous glow.

So who am I fooling? Applying the same principles, maybe I should completely delete myself from the photos. After all, who wants to be reminded of how things can go wrong. Who wants to see the wheelchair? Who wants to see people in pain, the weary, the weathered?  And when I thought about uploading the family scene to Facebook what pithy phrase was I to use? One that rewrote history? One that betrayed the truth in order to tell a sanitised version that fits with the healthy and young?

Perhaps I should introduce my son to the Japanese philosophy, Wabi-Sabi. This argues that beauty lies in the worn and weathered: finding beauty in the imperfect. Now there’s a challenge I could set him. Wabi-Sabi originates from the well-known Japanese tea making ceremony. (Oh, perhaps there is another silver lining here… maybe I can get him to make me a cup of tea). Wabi-Sabi’s origins stem from Zen philosophy which reveres austerity, nature and the everyday.

DSCN0242-copy25But more than that – throwing away the school rubber is also about living in the ‘here and now’. (Like the Zen practitioner who embodies freedom of expression through original human nature – cherishing simplicity and straightforwardness in grasping reality.)  We have all seen the loss of insouciance.  Our kids can never be as carefree as we were: they are a generation forced to think, rethink and think again. Spontaneity is drained from their pores. The digital age and the age of political correctness necessitates an infinite reiteration, ensuring that any evidence of original thoughts or expressions are obliterated. Even the school whiteboard provides ready access to the ‘undo’ command.

Perhaps if we are to make a creative workforce for the future, we should make space for blunders? In this way, perhaps our children will end up having something to teach us?

Useful links

Japanese Zen Buddhist Philosophy

Erasers are ‘an instrument of the devil and should be banned’, says leading academic

Are erasers in school ‘instruments of the devil’?

2 thoughts on “Am I Mistaken?

  1. Yeah I get this, but with my school teacher’s hat on, it is rather nice to find kids who are bothered about written presentation.Now that I am working at a college I witness daily a complete disregard among students where writing is concerned, no pride or importance given to the unintelligible scrawl they are happy to hand in.
    When working at a primary school we banned rubbers for practical reasons. Children spent too long rubbing out,usually making a mess and even a hole in the paper.But I always had a certain sympathy with those (mostly girls) who were itching to get hold of one!


    1. Hi Sis

      Yes…good to hear from someone who has been at the coalface. I’m not sure I had worked through the practical implications here but it was interesting to hear that some schools for younger children see a problem with the use of rubbers (for our American friends, I mean of course erasers).

      In the article, I think I was only using the rubber/eraser as a metaphor for the direction that life seems to be going in. I hadn’t thought about the other perspective, which is that students maybe don’t give a hoot about handwriting, and they are not on a journey towards perfecting their calligraphy! I still have this idealised view that, just as in Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, handwriting is a revered activity.


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