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reading ensued, in which all the participants save one made copious
In no part of an undergraduate's career does so much duplicity, so much fraud, so much absolute theft occur, as during an examination. A teacher will spend six months in teaching the elements of moral science. He may illustrate his subject with a wealth of illustration taken from all time and all sources. He may bring it vividly before his students and impress firmly upon their minds the importance of the precepts laid down, and yet when he begins. an examination he will have his most elementary law violated. Just so long as there are written examinations with set questions and marks, just so long will the laws of moral science be thrust to one side, and our young men familiarize themselves with methods of throwing dust and of fraud they will not be apt to forget in after life. It may be somewhat novel to advocate the abolition of examinations on moral grounds, but there are certainly reasons for so doing. Leaving aside all questions of religious or sectarian influence the fact remains that it is thoroughly inconsistent with modern ideas of correct morality to afford young men such ample and complete facilities for the practice of deceit as are furnished by an ordinary collegiate course. And in these days when fraud and corruption are rampant on every side, and are rapidly eating away our social and political life, every element that tends in this direction, in ever so small a degree, should be at once abolished,
To return once more, however, to the original question: Do written examinations afford a safe criterion of knowledge? it may safely be affirmed that with set questions they do not. As has been remarked, the good and the bad students are not unfrequently on the same footing. Papers are exchanged and answers copied with a surprising facility. Nor is this all, for while one's general knowledge may be very complete, a date or a specific piece of information may be forgotten in the heat and worry of the final test. In a subject like history, for illustration, the teacher may have spent some time on the philosophy of the branch - a part having peculiar fascination for the better class of students - while the examination paper, being prepared for the average student-a term frequently synonymous with the worst- is made up of subjects which, being in the textbook, may have been but lightly touched upon, and which may, therefore, have been overlooked by the very men who have followed the teacher most attentively. In
examinations of this kind, therefore, we do not obtain information as to a student's general knowledge, nor do we learn whether one man knows more than another. All that is ascertained, at the best, is that some men know some facts. As to their general knowledge or even as to the identity of the particular studentowing to the various methods in vogue for passing an examination we are in ignorance.
Oral examinations are not open to so many objections. At all events they give the teacher an opportunity of testing the student's knowledge, and by a few brief questions, he can readily ascertain whether the student really knows anything about the subject or not, or whether he has studied or crammed. Oral examinations with marks are, however, very different things. If written examinations with marks should be abolished for injuring the morals of the students, oral examinations with marks should be done away with for the harm they do the morals of the teacher. Theoretically, a teacher is a thoroughly just and fair man; in reality he is very frail and human, and easily affected by the annoying events of the day. It is a physical impossibility for any man to conduct an oral examination of twenty-five or fifty men and mark them to a uniform scale with any degree of fairness. Doubtless there are men who consider themselves fully equal to the task. There are men whose consciences are such delicate apparatuses that they will lie awake half the night debating whether A is entitled to 9 or 10 for a certain answer. There are men who will prepare for an examination with fasting and with. prayer, and with a solemn self-consecration to the task, and who will weigh each answer as carefully as though the safety of their souls depended on reaching the truth. Yet with all this they fail when brought face to face with an oral examination of an ordinary sized class. At the end of the first hour the instructor will be beginning to feel harrassed, for students are never so backward as in an examination. At the end of the second hour his nerves will be disordered; by the third, his sense of justice, his accuracy of judgment, and his care in marking will have vanished, and if by chance there are any victims left they will be rushed through in order to make an end. And these marks which are all intended to be compared with each other will have been made by several different persons. Yet there are men who delude themselves with their fairness!
Examinations for marks, either written with set questions, or oral, must be rejected on the simple grounds of not showing any general or absolute knowledge, and as incompatible with the laws of morality.
Are examinations useful in forcing a student to study, or in acquiring knowledge for which he has either not taste or use? Thus far the discussion has been limited to the higher institutions of learning. The present question calls for a glance at the lower portions of the educational fabric. No part of a student's life is so dull, so aimless, so stupid, so devoid of interest as the time spent in acquiring the rudiments. The total want of interest manifested in the lower grades of the public schools is appalling. The examination system is there carried to excess. Everything is done by machinery. The teachers are, in most instances, appointed by the combined influence of examinations and politics. General ability, inclination, or the numerous minor elements that go to make up the successful teacher are ignored. All is subservient to a system of marks. The elements are, in truth, essentially uninteresting. At the very beginning, not unfrequently, a child will manifest some interest through the very novelty of the new life. This, however, speedily gives way to a prolonged feeling of indifference. Teaching by rote is sufficient to dull the senses of any man or woman, and the usual course of study laid down in the lower schools, the primary, the secondary, and the grammar, are not such as to create much enthusiasm in either the teacher or the pupil. As there is nothing interesting to be learned, some element must be introduced to make the students attend to their tasks. The examination system is called into use, and has, at present, reached a high degree of evolution.
Nor is this the only reason for its use. A very large proportion of boys and girls hate the very idea of study. It is not necessary to indicate why, the simple fact remains that they do. Some means must be invented to induce them to attend to their books, and here again the examination is held before them as a terrible operation that they must undergo. Hence it is that these two elements, entering so largely into the life of the pupil in the public schools, have so increased the evils of examinations. In the huge masses of these schools anything like personal instruction, indi
vidual examination, and a genuine feeling for the subject in hand, seems to be out of the question. But because no solution of the difficulty has been found is no reason why we should content ourselves with the statement that as we know nothing better we must use what we have. A great evil exists in these great American schools, and some time it must be eradicated. The sooner the attempt is made to do so, the sooner will the general standard of the intellect of the country be raised.
Right here in these elementary schools the fundamental evils of the examination are to be found. In other words, here it is that the idea originates that they can be used as an instrument to force study. As a result no real knowledge is gained, but a general impression is made of so many hours a day passed in a tread-mill. The most impossible problems in arithmetic, the longest and most unused words in spelling, the location of the most distant parts of the earth in geography, the parsing of the most difficult sentences in grammar are selected for purposes of examination. The puzzles of a family story paper are mild and exhilarating compared to the usual questions in a public school examination. In geography, for example, the pupil is expected to name all the rivers that flow into the Mississippi from the east and west. Every stream that the size of the map permits to be named is memorized in order from north to south. In trigonometry or in algebra he is expected to state certain theorems in numerical order, and when he is asked what the CLXXIX Theorem is, is expected to state it at once. In history he is supposed to name with great accuracy the date of the inauguration of each president. Not one of these things have any direct relation to true knowledge of the subjects, but they are fair illustrations of the kind of study required in the lower schools. It is quite obvious that to such subjects and such methods some other means than interest must be used in order to induce any sort of work.
Perhaps such cases as these will serve to explain why so many of the public school children forget the facts they have learned in so short a time. A course in grammar is extended through several years, and not a little care taken with it, but it is doubtful if any time is so much wasted as that spent on this subject. It is amazing how large a number of public school pupils use the most atrocious grammar. This, of course, is due to the influence of home. and of associates, but it is reasonable to suppose that a subject of
so much importance, and one on which so much time is spent, would at least show some results. That it does not, in spite of examinations, certainly opens the question of their general usefulness. A pupil may pass a good examination, but if he can make no practical use of a subject, are we to suppose that he really knows it? Why, then, grind ourselves down with examinations if they cannot accomplish this very reasonable end?
In the higher institutions of learning a very similar state of things exists. Students who take no interest in their studies aim only to pass, regardless of consequences or of methods. Nothing is actually learned, simply a smattering of knowledge, that is forgotten as soon as the crisis is passed. No real work is done, for those who would do any would work without the artificial stimulus of the examination. As a means of forcing the laggard to do something the examination is not without merit, but when the actual volume of work is taken into account, it is extremely doubtful if it is worth the labor involved. It is for these very indifferent students that the examination is defended; but are we to burden ourselves with this tremendous load for the benefit of the lazy, the stupid, and the indifferent? Are we to ram knowledge into heads by means of an examination and make all mankind suffer for the operation? If schools and colleges are for the imparting of knowledge the examination must be dispensed with; if they are simply institutions for training in mental discipline they should also be abolished. Mental discipline is little more than the exercise of the memory and the power of concentrating attention. If this is the aim of our institutions of learning, abolish them at once, and send our boys and our young men out in the streets. Let them pass and repass rapidly before store windows, and endeavor, in a rapid glance, to see and remember the various objects displayed, and let the operation be repeated until the contents of the whole window is firmly fixed on the mind. Then, in truth, we will have mental training without the worry, and bother, and care, and anxiety of examinations, and the elect who do not require artificial stimulus will be permitted to devote themselves to that study which is the basis of an intellectual life.
The advocates of examinations, in the present discussion, have made much of the fact that not a few of those who have called