Weighed in the Balance

It’s that time of year again. The examination season, like grouse shooting, is almost upon us. No, it’s not the academic staff getting their own back, nor is it some kind of purgatorial rite of passage. It’s an event, like breakfast. It comes, it goes. Here, we bang on and on and on about exams – from the Latin meaning ‘accurate weighing’ – as if by worrying about them the candidates can add a single grade to their result – Matthew 6 springs to mind.  In Japan, student stress can lead to suicide with horrifying frequency. Here, they might get a beating if results don’t match parental expectations. It’s also noticeable that staff become fretted, as if a successful outcome earns an insecure teacher a brownie point, cosmically recorded somewhere. Teacher frustration boils over sometimes and people sit down in a corner and say ‘won’t’.

Kids’ brains don’t work like mine does; they don’t see things in the same way, and they react differently. I quite enjoy writing flow diagrams on the board, carefully colour-coded knowing that the diagram is rich with meaning and a lot of stuff can be learned from it. The kids just want to copy it down as fast as they can and the fact that it actually has some educational merit  is of little significance. What they care about is getting as many decent grades as possible in order to screw more money out of their parents. Bribery and greed are powerful motivators. Plus ça change…
As an educator, my job is to talk myself out of a job. It gives me no little satisfaction when I am shooed away and told that I’m redundant and they can gain more from the texts or each other than they can from me.
I thought this worth publishing, as a reminder to me.

“High school is horrible for me. I am a junior and go to a small, private, and extremely competitive school. I have an average of three tests a day, and 6 hours of homework, not to mention working every night and taking care of my little sister. I find myself crying hysterically four nights a week because i just can’t work fast enough, and am purely exhausted from lack of sleep and can never just relax. I take five college classes now and it is just impossible. I am under so much pressure; I just want to give up and have some fun before college, but that can’t happen since my parents expect nothing less than acceptance into Harvard or Princeton! Please help me!”

Neglecting adolescent hyperbole for the moment, this kid is a potential train wreck.

An educational establishment, whether kindergarten or Harvard Law isn’t an encyclopedia – an informational mincing machine able to turn out well-read but emotionally incompetent graduates because knowing what isn’t the same as knowing how. Perhaps all teachers as a prerequisite should have a diploma in psychology and be themselves required to pass tests on their emotional intelligence since it has been obvious for some time that the methods for solving quadratic equations are instantly forgettable but the person who taught them might not be.

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