“Sell me this pencil”

I can pinpoint the moment school went from being fun and enjoyable to stressful. It was just a single small moment, the change from pencil to pen. With a pencil you can always just rub out your mistake and try again, with a pen, you have to scribble it out, leaving a mark that reminds you that you were wrong. Pens don not create a fear of failure, but are a part of the change towards being afraid to fail.

My teacher used this graduation from pen to pencil as a reward for good handwriting. If you had handwriting that was clear and neat you would get that reward quicker than if you had messy hieroglyphic handwriting like mine. Looking back I can be proud of 10 year old me for getting that reward and continuing to use a pencil anyway, the reasoning being “I feel more comfortable with a pencil” having gotten to a point where I was happy with my handwriting, one of the biggest challenges for a primary school student. The class really responded to this reward system and many tried really hard to improve their handwriting, everyone really tried, which is great, reward based challenges work, but when the message behind it is shrouded in the promise of “comply and be rewarded” it’s not a good thing to teach kids.

As an adult I realise that pencils have more flexibility. They are better for drawing as you can shade with them, where pens only have one shade. If they snap in half you have two pencils, not a broken pen. And you can erase your mistakes and not have to sweep it under the carpet of tipp-ex or white out. But the point is that why do we force kids to take the worse option, why do we force compliance on them. Who uses pencils in their adulthood? Engineers, builders, artists… astronauts. Creative jobs that require you to make mistakes in order to learn. We are telling kids to use pens instead of pencils to avoid changing their answer on a test to get a better grade. We punish mistakes for the benefit of statistics and ruin creativity in the process.

If you ever get asked to “sell me this pencil” in a job interview, here’s your pitch. You’ll certainly be remembered one way or another 🙂

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