Friday 15 October 2010

Failing examinations on grounds of immorality


I recently read that in medieval universities it was unusual for undergraduates to fail formal examinations on the grounds of poor performance. However, not all students were allowed to proceed to take their degrees. 

But the main reason for ‘failing’ an examination was apparently some kind of moral failure in the student’s life: specifically, some kind of un-Christian behaviour. 


How things have changed, indeed reversed! 

Nowadays, academic failure is possible (just about possible - albeit usually on the grounds of failing to do, or complete, some item of work - rather than from failure to perform well in an examination situation); but it would now be unusual, and technically difficult, for examiners to ‘fail’ a student on the grounds of immoral conduct. 

This demonstrates a seismic change in social priorities.  


I am aware of a case from several decades ago where a dental student displayed repeated examples of dishonest and irresponsible behaviour, of a type presenting clear danger to the public. 

Yet even then it was extremely difficult to prevent this individual from qualifying so long as they were able to pass their examinations. The idea that the public should be defended from a psychopathic health care professional apparently carried little weight. 

Nowadays, it would of course be impossible to exclude such a student from professional registration, no matter what evidence they gave of selfishness and dishonesty. 

Indeed, a student would be much more likely to be excluded for a trivial but non-politically correct faux pas, than for persistently lying, cheating and endangering the public.  


Last year there were news reports that a UK medical school got into trouble for declining to admit a applicant on the grounds that they had a history of imprisonment for a violent crime. 

The medical school had to defend themselves against the argument that the person had ‘done their time’, and had apparently reformed, so the past should now be forgotten: indeed ought to be forgotten. 


The increasingly common line of reasoning seems to be along the lines that ‘just because’ somebody has behaved immorally in the past, this does not necessarily mean that they will behave immorally in the future. 

Since the past does not absolutely predict the future, and since it may disadvantage someone to have their past held against them; the only 'fair' thing to do is to act as if the past had not happened, and to treat ex-convicts exactly the same as those who have displayed good behaviour.

Indeed, the – perfectly accurate - opposite point is also made that 'just because' somebody has behaved consistently well in the past does not necessarily mean that they will continue to behave well in the future.  


At the end of this sophomoric line of reasoning we will have destroyed the fundamental basis of learning from experience. 

Which has, indeed, happened.

The logic will then be that nothing which ever happens to anybody can ever be allowed to influence predictions of future events; since all generalizations have exceptions and all evaluations are imprecise. 


At that point society will have collapsed. 

But on the path to this situation exams would be abolished. 

Because no matter how well, or how badly, somebody has performed in examinations the past, all exams are biased and partial estimates of ability, and past performance never correlates 100 percent with future performance. 

Therefore it is ‘unfair’ to make distinctions, selections, awards or promotions on such a basis.

It is therefore only 'fair' to assume the same of everybody. 

And the education system will neatly have abolished itself. 


Which would be rather an extreme outcome. Still, maybe, in the long run, something better than the system we have now might eventually emerge... 


1 comment:

a Finn said...

"Indeed, a student would be much more likely to be excluded for a trivial but non-politically correct faux pas, than for persistently lying, cheating and endangering the public."

- I sometimes listen to our socialist state radio to assess the state of depravity of the nation. Only common sense there is sometimes heard from callers, but listener self-selection ensures that many also parrot the "party line".

A woman, kindergarden worker, called. She started with ominous voice, telling about immigrant problems in Espoo, a large town in the west side of Helsinki. She said she feared that there would soon be France style riots in Finland.

Although the scale would be smaller than in France, this is not far fetched. About 200 immigrants fought in Linnanmäki amusement park in summer, and it was closed some time because of it; In Espoo continuous immigrant gang disturbances caused close down of certain public utilities permanently; in east Helsinki immigrant gangs beat random immigrants walking in the street; etc., on, on and on. The first slums are forming in east Helsinki, utterly unheard of before in Finland. Politically correct bureaucrats compete in helpless hand wringing.

But the woman caller continued. Could one expect common sense; we have made mistake in allowing mass immigration, and the inflow should be first stopped and then reversed to outflow? Well, the woman said, relishing the words, that we must increse the number of bureaucrats dealing with these large problems. The only problem is that we have too few social worker style bureaucrats nursing the immigrant problems. This is a common theme among bureaucrats. Immigrants are an extortion weapon to the bureaucrats. Although they are Finns, they don't care about Finns and Finland.