The Written Examination
( Originally Published 1916 )
NOT long ago a little girl of thirteen, in one of our public schools, tried to take poison because she dreaded the examination set for the next day. She was rescued by her companions.
Also a student in the University of Pennsylvania committed suicide because, as was discovered by inquiring among his fellow students, "he was of an extremely nervous temperament and was repeating his second year's work as a result of having failed to pass his examinations."
The name of the system-worshipping and marble-hearted teacher who invented examinations is happily buried in obscurity. His soul probably haunts all dark schoolhouses and frightens all little boys and girls who sit up late cramming into their noggins historical dates and geometric crazy-quilt patterns.
Written examinations are a relic of barbarism. They rank along with racks and thumbscrews, birch rods and leather straps as a method of "cruel and unusual punishment." Only these are not unusual, more's the pity !
A teacher who associates a month or so with a pupil, and at the end of that time needs a written examination to find out what the child knows, ought to resign and make place for a real teacher.
The written examination is a test of but one thing, the learner's skill in writing.
'Writing is an art; it is a trick, you might say, that one has by gift of God or by practice. Be-cause I can tell about a matter is no sign that I know much about it.
I can probably write a better essay on horse-shoeing than any blacksmith in town, because composing sentences is my trade, but if I went to shoe a horse I should very likely be kicked to death.
By going to the public library and consulting books I might prepare a paper on engineering, building bridges, or constructing office buildings that would be much more readable and interesting than any practical expert could furnish; yet who would think of hiring me to build even a hen-house?
The gift of gab and the gift of doing have nothing to do with each other.
A child might be taken by an intelligent instructor into the fields and woods daily, and learn to know intimately plant life, the habits, laws of growth, and relationship of all the flora of his neighborhood; but another child, bookish and impractical, could confine himself to his textbook in botany and give you a written examination that would rank 10o per cent, while the first child's paper would be full of haltings and confusion.
As an EXERCISE, as a means of practice to cultivate clearness of-thought, the written examination has its place. But as a TEST it is a hum-bug.
It is usually conducted under circumstances peculiarly trying to nervous pupils, and there are many perfectly competent minds that refuse to operate under pressure.
In boy or man let the day's work count, and let it be judged with sympathy, fairness, and appreciation.