On the Shallow Absurdity of Examinations

Full disclosure. I spoke to someone last week who has been having a tough time recently. She is an exceptional young person who is finding the world we currently live in hard to take. I told her the following story. She said I should publish it. I said I would consider it. She said I should get my shit together if she had to. It goes like this.

My oldest son is studying for his final exams at Edinburgh University. Each time I meet him it is evident that he is taking his studies seriously. He brings a book to the pub. I am satisfied that he is educated.

My youngest son is in his final year at the school where I work. It’s an exceptional school and his teachers have been truly amazing. He is now in the process of having to prove himself worthy of a college place.

In my final year of secondary school, I had no idea what to do with myself. No one in my family had ever gone to college. I knew where it was, but people from my part of town didn’t go there. I won a writing competition to meet a famous Irish writer at the university. I had never heard of him. He had never heard of me. We both quickly concluded that the university was boring, so we headed to a bar where, over illicit pints, he revealed that the business of formal education was “total bollocks”. For the first time in my life I heard that it was okay to be different, to not need to follow boring convention blindly. That you could play along and still be faithful to yourself.

I spent that final year of my secondary education doing my own thing. I ignored the prescribed programme and read books that were not on the curriculum. In the school context, I was regarded as mediocre and I knew it. I was reminded of this all the time. One of my favourite report card comments reads: “I have no idea if your son knows what he is talking about, but I can’t prove otherwise, so his grade is better than it probably should be.” I decided I wanted to become a teacher that day.

I feel sorry for those who have to endure the shallow absurdity of exams and even more for those who still have little choice but to justify them. I know them. They are good people. People I admire. People we need. Sometimes they, like all of us, need to be reminded that it is essential to be given permission to play along while still being faithful to ourselves.

Disruption is not just a shallow buzzword. There are no excuses for those who claim things can’t be different. The more different they are, even incrementally, the more the nonsense of convention can be surmounted. We all need a few words of reassurance because, at the end of the day, we are all insecure and this is okay.

Let’s face it. Kids deserve better. It’s still total bollocks.

It’s never too late to get your shit together.

Image credit @BryanMMathers via Visual Thinkery. Licensed under CC-BY-ND.