Here in bad old Blighty, it's just been announced that the best exam results ever for 18 year olds have been achieved -- some ridiculous amount like 97% of people have passed. Predictable pictures of healthy-looking teenagers hugging each other on receipt of their results fill the news -- secure in the knowledge that they are now a success in life. Curiously, no pictures at all of the 3% that are, it would appear, doomed to a life of selling the Big Issue whilst injecting crack-cocaine into their spotty pregnant girlfriends' foetus whilst agrresively hassling the passer by for some loose change. Funny that.
This has thrown up some 'debate' in the press, all of it mind-blowingly myopic, and presumably so because all the press have missed the bigger picture by virtue of being delivered to their privileged positions via just such exams.
An admission: I personally read the Guardian, albeit very reluctantly and often angrily. Though it's the paper that comes closest to my political vision, it's still miles away from both me and I'd guess the vast majority of its readers -- all too often it alludes to its own illusion that we're all privileged university types who wear sandals, eat lentils and are all marvelously nice to each other at Islington dinner parties. But that's only true of many of the writers and, I'd guess from a social vox-pop, a small percentage of the readers. I read it because I have what the right-wing press loves to call liberal tendencies, without the accoutrements that the right-wing press (almost certainly correctly) gives to the writers. Read SchNews instead, pop kids.
And so to the education machine: more people have passed exams this year than ever before. The right-wingers scream that exams are easier and it was never like this in their time, whilst the lefties harp on that the education system is better and all teachers are superhuman saints -- both sides trapped by the narrowness of their dogma and both completely missing the point.
The point is the simple question: what are exams for? And the answer is as ancient and simple as it is straightforwardly missed by the Uni-Class. They are, as they have always been, to separate the future workforce out into the haves and have-nots. Managers and workers may be an outdated way of putting it (maybe), but future poor and future rich isn't.
Capitalism, with its insistence on the internal hierarchies that separate rich from poor, and the external hierarchies that separate the dying and starving from the over-rich, needs such divides by its very nature and exams are an early warning system.
That they are woefully inadequate in the accuracy of their results is a misnomer….if some 'make it anyway', that doesn't detract from exams' unerring accuracy in finding life's robots and financially rewarding them for their blind acceptance and willingness to sully their knees. The system is the dominatrix. There's a nice house and a load of security at the end of it for you if you are -- nice one! So you may as well stop reading here -- the rest will only annoy you…
Whilst state education could be argued to have many social purposes, examinations only have one -- that of separation. Education in schools and colleges, were it genuinely for the purposes of education, could prioritise the following:
How to guard yourself from sick paedophile scum
Social Responsibility -- the teaching of how your actions affect others
Love Of Fellow Man, and inspiring ways to express it
Driving / Cycling Lessons
Compassion to the world and all animals upon it
Music -- and not just recorders and violins
How to survive in the real world -- taxes / state benefits / mortgages / HIV / Hepatatis C / etc etc -- I could go on, you get the picture.
Hey, they could even try and explain away how come Africa is starving and much of the West is obese, but I guess we won't be hearing too much of that under the present scenario.
So what is the point of an examination that everyone can pass? None, of course, but in a funny kind of way that's heartening:
A not-famous-enough scenario happened in China many years ago whereby a class of children all failed an exam deliberately, stating that they wanted nobody singled out for failure -- a humanitarian lesson we could all learn from. But not one ever printed in the press that control the flow of information, and who regularly advertise, and always run adverts for, 'graduates only' in the columns of the daily press.
Time not just to burn the old school tie, but the college scarf, and the idea that our childrens' education should be a simple case of our generation deciding their future role in society at an age where 97% are too young to actually make a decision about it.
It strikes me that the best age to educate would be not from 5-16, where learning should be pleasurable and undefined, but in our twenties when we're ready and up for it. The only slight problem in that is that it doesn't fit into capitalism's need for worker ants and queen bees.
As someone who runs his own business, I get faced with perhaps one job application a week -- all from hopeful students, at the supposedly wise bequest of their teachers, assuring them that their qualifications will give them a better chance of getting a job with me than some no-mark who left school without any bits of paper to prove their intelligence. I always write them encouraging letters back -- you'd have to be heartless not to -- but I never even consider it in real terms…they'll get their chances elsewhere from others who bought that particular lie and collaborated to make it an objective half-truth.
George Berger is a freelance writer, with punk rock dna. He has written for Sounds, Melody Maker and Amnesty International among others. He has also written 3 books, with one published thus far: Dance Before the Storm: the Official Story of The Levellers (Virgin Books 1999). George edits abisti. He lives where the mood takes him and funds allow.