Thursday, March 13, 2008

Endless Examining

Lewis writes to Dr. Warfield Firor about grading Scholarship Examinations at the end of the term:

...But there is something about this endless examining, quite apart from the labour, which bothers me. It sets me wondering about the whole system under which you, as well as we, now live. Behind all these closely written sheets which I have to read every year, even behind the worst of them, lie hours of hard, long work. Even the bad candidates are doing their best and have been trained up to this ever since they went to school. And naturally enough: for in the Democracies now, as formerly in China under the mandarin system, success in competitive examinations is the only moyen de parvenir*, the road from elementary school to the better schools, and thence to college, and thence to the professions. (You still have a flourishing alternative route to desirable jobs through business which is largely disappearing with us: but it is at least equally competitive).

This of course is what Democratic education means - give them all an equal start and let the winners show their form. Hence Equality of Opportunity in practice means ruthless competition during those very years which, I can't help feeling, nature meant to be free and frolicsome. Can it be good, from the age of 10 to the age of 23, to be always preparing for an exam, and always knowing that your whole worldly future depends on it: and not only knowing it, but perpetually reminded of it by your parents and masters? Is this the way to breed a nation of people in psychological, moral, and spiritual health? (N.B. boys are now taught to regard Ambition as a virtue. I think we shall find that up to the XVIIIth Century, and back into Pagan times, all moralists regarded it as a vice and dealt with it accordingly).

*"way to arrive"

~C.S. Lewis, Letter to Warfield M. Firor Dec 3 1950, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III (2007)

5 Comment(s):

At Sat Mar 15, 08:48:00 AM EDT, Blogger Joelle said...

Very interesting quote for today.

At Sat Mar 15, 08:43:00 PM EDT, Blogger Martin LaBar said...

Thanks. I would think Lewis would have known, but, just the same, I wonder if "ambition" changed meanings in such a way as to lead to the change he mentioned.


At Mon Apr 07, 10:15:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jo said...

This is the man I would have wanted to be one of my college professors. Don't you just know he was a delight to talk to?
Excellent post and blog!

At Wed Apr 16, 12:45:00 PM EDT, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Mon Mar 16, 09:30:00 AM EDT, Blogger Pola said...

He was so right. I myself am 19 and already so tired of competing. It's not that I am not bright enough, which I hope I am, it's just so straining always to be evaluated. Nothing in the world seems free. We even get hugs from our parents early on in our lives according to whether we scored A or B, or failed. I've always felt this is NOT right, but what can be done?


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