If you've ever seen the sixth letter of the alphabet scribbled with a bold sharpie pen on the top of an exam paper, you know what it feels like to fail. Actually, L might be a better choice than F. Because that's just how you feel -- like a loser.
West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Va., wants its 2,147 students to feel like winners. The school's vision statement says as much: "to cultivate ethical scholarship, leadership, motivation, and strength from which to achieve excellence."
Motivation. Does failure motivate? Or does a wider window for success inspire better?
In that spirit, report cards issued at the school now indicate "I" for incomplete rather than the classic "F." As was first reported by the Washington Post, the "I" means students still owe their teachers work. The "I" means they can still avoid the dreaded "F." The "I" means a chance to earn an "A," even though you didn't do the work when it was due.
The move prompted an explosion of snarky comments on the Web, like this one: "This is great practice for the real world, where we all know that failure is totally impossible." There's a parent group that tends to agree, and will pressure the school to implement "real-world" grades.
West Potomac Principal Clifford Hardison told the Post that last year, when he reviewed the grades given to his ninth- through 12th-graders, he counted nearly 2,000 "Fs." So far this year, there are far fewer "Is."
So the take-home point is this: Even if it takes them longer, even if it takes them a year and a summer, "F" is no longer the easy way out. The hard work of actually learning is the only option.