Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/562

This page has been validated.

Many able and industrious students do take the trouble to acquire this flair, some will not, or can not, acquire it. But certainly a good many acquire it, by an outlay of labor or money, who are neither able nor industrious at all.

A man going through the full school, college, and professional career now passes from ten to twenty of these examinations, at intervals perhaps of six months or a year. From the age of ten till twenty-five he is forever in presence of the mighty mill. The mill is to him money, success, honor, and bread and butter for life. Distinctions and prizes mean money and honor. Success in examinations means distinctions and prizes. And whatever does not mean success in examinations is not education. Parents, governments, schools, colleges, universities, and departments combine to stimulate the competitive examination and the mark-system. None quite like it; but all keep up the tarantula dance—"needs must when the devil drives." The result is that the Frankenstein monster of Examination is becoming the master of education. Students and parents dare not waste time in study which does not directly help toward success in the test. One hears of the ordinary lad at school or college, either as amusing himself because "he is not going in this year," or else as "working up very hard for his examination." He is never simply studying, never acquiring knowledge. He is losing all idea of study, except as "preparation" for examination. He can not burden his memory with what will not "pay." And a subject which carries no "marks," or very few "marks," is almost tabooed. Books are going out of fashion; it is only analyses, summaries, and tables which are studied. But published examination papers are the real Bible of the student of to-day—nocturna versanda manu, versanda diurna.

Next to old examination papers, the manuscript "tips" of some famous coach form the grand text-books. One of the ablest men I ever examined, who bitterly complained that he had failed in a coveted distinction, was told that he had not read his books on a given subject. "Why!" he said, indignantly, "he had not read the text-books; but he had mastered a valuable volume of ‘tips’ in manuscript, which was said to contain every question which could be set in a paper." He failed through pushing the system too far; and a tragedy was the end.

The examination, thus made the "fountain of honor," governs the whole course of study. If the teacher takes up a subject, not obviously grist for the great mill, the students cease to listen, and leave his classes. The instant he says something which sounds like an examination "tip," every ear is erect, every pen takes down his words. The keen student of to-day is getting like the reporter of an evening journal: eager after matter that will tell,