I’ve always preferred the films of Terry Gilliam to those of Martin Scorsese. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the former is in some objective sense a better director than the latter; it’s just that while Scorsese’s films often deal with characters who are teetering between sanity and insanity, triumph and disaster, with Gilliam you’re aware that the whole production is doing that, with the director balanced precariously on top of the whole edifice.
So I have an instinctive sympathy towards the notion of a ‘festival of errors’, of the sort being staged in Paris this weekend. The French education system, in common with so many others around the world, has become so fixated on targets and examination results and serving the needs of business that students have become pathologically averse to making mistakes, and as such they’re unable to make intellectual discoveries of their own. The moment a teacher says “He’s a nice kid, but he asks too many questions”, you know there’s a problem, and it’s not with the kid. The only permissible query now seems to be “Will this come up in the exam?”
Paradoxically, by encouraging children to experiment with failure, we’re actually raising our expectations of what they can achieve, what they can cope with. The alternative is that they’re unable to deal with ideas that exist outside the parameters of the syllabus, the phenomenon of “we haven’t done that”. Although maybe it’s too late, when we get to the stage that books have to be written because 21st-century children can’t understand the antiquated language. Not Chaucer or Shakespeare or Milton, mind you, or even Dickens or the Brontës; they need help with the Famous Five novels of Enid Blyton, the first of which was published less than 70 years ago.