Do we teachers praise too much at the risk of misleading mediocre or even weak students into a false sense of security?
Everyone must by now be aware of the awful tendency of modern adults to tell kids they're great at something when they obviously (in the vernacular) suck. When the little boy in the brilliant Pixar film The Incredibles points out to his mum that if she says everybody is special, then logically nobody is special, it was a watershed for American movies.
I went to a school whose motto ran along the lines of "Praise youth and it will flourish". Yeah, I worked out the Latin all by myself and was amazed because back then in the 1980s, praise was definitely not on the curriculum. When my maths teacher told me I had to drop to pass level and I protested, did he praise and encourage my never-say-die attitude? Of course not – I remember the words to this very day: "For God's sake, Grade, you got 14pc!" Cue laughter across the class, but I took it like a man.
Try telling your pupils these days that they should drop a level and you could end up in court. I told a girl as much a few years back and, having ignored my advice, she went on to spectacularly fail my subject in her Leaving Cert. Ended up working for a bank. My part in the banking disaster, maybe.
When I was in college my tutors frequently returned my work with red ink and nasty remarks all over it. One of them suggested very subtly that I had some kind of mental or behavioural problem. Too fond of the college bar and partying like most of my friends, who were looking for ways of burying all those years of put-downs from my teachers. That was all that was wrong with me.
Where has false praise got us? Now you can't enter a bookshop without being assailed by candy pink and lemon yellow tomes of chick lit. Somebody told them they could write – a teacher, probably.
This has become such an Irish phenomenon that even English "chicks" have adopted Irish-sounding names to get in on the act. Read the blurb on the back and you'd think that these books are better than anything Jane Austen wrote.
And then recently a newspaper produced a supplement full of short stories by kids – some quite good but most not. Writing isn't like rock music, which produces great new stuff by people with hardly any Life Experience, like Jake Bugg or Peace.
Schoolkids tend only to be able to write stuff for other schoolkids and, sorry, but to quote Morrissey, it has nothing to do with my life.
So let's keep praise for when it's merited and at least we'll end up with fewer kids failing Leaving Cert honours exams and awful chick lit in the shops.