Author Blog

Anyone for rubbers?

Guy Claxton muses on the way the media responded to the idea of a school world where children see mistakes as their friends

Well, who would have thought that the idea of banning erasers could cause so much kerfuffle! One afternoon I was rung up by the education editor of the Daily Telegraph to talk about Educating Ruby, and he asked for a simple, practical example of what I was talking about. So I talked about the negative effects of classrooms where ‘being bright’ meant always getting things right, first time, preferably without having to struggle, and so making mistakes was a sign that you were stupid. I explained how rubbing out mistakes and pretending that you had never made them could reinforce this counter-productive atmosphere. And I was incautious enough to say, playfully, that erasers were ‘instruments of the devil’.

Within a couple of hours these words had been abstracted from the wider conversation and were online. They made the front page of the Telegraph the next day. Other media fed off this and most of the national newspapers, as well as the Today programme, Radio Five Live and a host of local radio stations were buzzing with the Eraser Story. My co-author Bill found himself on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2, where, despite the interviewer's best efforts, a wonderfully insistent girl told her that it was indeed a good idea to learn from your mistakes and not to be constantly worrying about rubbing them out!  

Several of the radio presenters talked about their own children, their stash of rubbers (no sniggering at the back) and their fear of making mistakes. And it didn’t stop there – I had emails of support from rural China, and requests for interviews from national radio in Canada and Australia. Most of these conversations were interesting and fair-minded. But it also introduced me first-hand to the underworld of the trolls and the sheer nastiness of Twitter.

Somehow the story had all the right characteristics for the "And finally…" slot. It reminded me of the way the food industry find out exactly the combination of sugar, salt and fat that pleases our taste-buds most – and then creates products that exaggerate this combination even more – "hyper-palatable" they call them. I’d stumbled on a hyper-palatable news story – nutty professor, provocative phrase, basic common sense: that kind of thing. It was quite fun – though it involved me in a lot of early morning drives to the BBC radio studio in Brighton – and gave me plenty of opportunities to talk about the more serious points and the research behind Educating Ruby. But I might be a bit more wary of them trolls next time…