“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
So wrote late nineteenth century wit and writer G. K. Chesterton, inverting the well-known adage.
While the original saying is an invocation to concentrated effort and application, in the hope that anyone embarking on a task will ‘give it there all’ the later aphorism makes a fascinating insight into the nature of motivation and our own inevitable fallibility.
A superficial reading of Chesterton’s inversion might consider it a defence of mediocrity or self doubt but it is rather a profound insight into the true and enduring value of the occupations which engage human beings, despite their propensity in action to achieve less than perfection even failure.
Nowhere perhaps is the adage more appropriate in the ongoing pursuit of the unknowable and in particular the abstract sciences and arts, whose quantifiable value may be much more elusive than a score or dollar figure.
In the field of education, teachers will always advocate to students the need to embrace the former meaning of the expression but in today’s highly competitive and pragmatic world it may also be worth revisiting the adapted saying to help students plan for the future and even enrich their lives.
The recurring problem is felt most acutely by those subjects that however difficult and rewarding, may not convert into the measurable success, the university entrance score or the prestigious career that so many students are driven toward.
The latest salvo in this interesting debate comes not from a poetry professor or expert archaeologist but from Australia’ chief scientist himself. Chief scientist Alan Finkel believes students are being discouraged to take up advanced maths and sciences in secondary school courses because difficult courses could impact their final year scores.
The number of students choosing intermediate and advanced maths fell from 54 per cent to 36 per cent between 1992 and 2012.
We are facing a paucity of knowledge in a highly valuable field because the ATAR scores or course prerequisites overlook their true value. Dr Finkel wants a new focus on how STEM skills can solve real world problems.
Students need to see the value in that knowledge and how it can make and change lives. Many will fail but it will still have been worthwhile.