in Goodness

What you get when you make smart people do stupid things

This post is a little overdue.  I promised my daughter I would post her experience as she described it to me and here it is.

My daughter Brianna is 16.  She is pretty smart (aren’t all our daughters!) and recently did her GCSEs  (the exams young people do in the UK after 5 years of high school).

Actually when I say she did her GCSEs, I mean she did some GCSEs.  You see, Brianna’s been doing them sort of staggered over the course of a couple of years. Her school encouraged her to sit for the subjects she was showing strength in early (like a year early), basically to give her a few chances of getting good grades – a practice run of sorts. It’s a great idea – can’t fault it.  You can use the system as an improvement tool or as a testing only tool. Taking the exams repeatedly and exploring the student’s weak areas and then focusing energy on improving that is a great way to use a dysfunctional system that places so much emphasis on how you do in a 2 hour exam!

Well, Brianna did her English exams earlier on in January and she got a great grade – an A!  So when the exams came round again in June, she was surprised to be told she would retake the English paper. Hadn’t she already aced the exam? She may have had weak parts of her knowledge, but what did those matter if she aced the exam?  In any case, those could be improved without her sitting the paper again.

Side Notes

A side note about exams and the propaganda of how good a school is.  In the UK, schools are judged, in part, on exam results. On how many students got an ‘A’, ‘B’ and so on. Not much is given to the innovation and creative thinking of young people or the real life application of knowledge or how well their learning was facilitated.   As a school, if you put 80 students up for exams and 80 of them got ‘A’ , you are considered the best!

Ok, so now you have an idea of how the system works, perhaps it’s clearer why a school might put a smart kid into the same exam twice.  If she aced it once, she most probably would ace it again – so they get twice  the kudos for the same student.  It’s the kinds of academic double accounting that would delight Enron management. This is what what the Politicians make the ‘educators’ do in order to survive in this system. It’s simply bananas!

Also, a side note about Brianna and exams. They place a strain on Brianna, she gets tired and worn out. Her school know this and yet, knowing fully well both her previous grade and her health concerns they still insisted she sit the paper.

Brianna 10 – Silly School 0

Well, my darling Brianna did something that surprised and delighted me in equal measure.  As she sat for the English paper the second time, she took the decision, independently and without declaration, to stage a most fantastic protest.

She ignored all the set questions on the paper and penned a letter to the unknown examiner. Brianna wrote about pop culture, what bands she loved. She wrote about current news items and ,fantastically, about the unfairness of making a student sit an exam they had already passed, again. In her own words:

.. I wrote my opinion on current pop culture, my opinion on issues in the news currently, why I think it’s unfair to make someone who already achieved their target resit the exam when they have exams they haven’t yet got their grades in. I laid it all out the way we’ve been taught and used all the different presentational features but just didn’t look at the content of the paper

I always knew her intellect was sharp (goodness knows I have been on the receiving end of it once or twice), but to make such a silent yet bold act of protest gives me huge pride and a quiet assurance that at least one young person in this generation of gamers and stylistas is going to give the establishment a run for its money.

There is an examiner out there who marked a paper that was entirely a letter, who – whatever they think of Brianna – cannot have failed to be surprised. I hope as an educator that they recognise that they are not alone in challenging the nonsense that government policy vis-a-vis testing as a means of measuring learning is. I would give that paper a A+ for both ingenuity, civic innovation and creative expression!

From my generation to yours, Brianna, thank you.

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  1. I agree with you totally Mike. The next generation needs to be taught in how to say ‘No’ so as they would not be a ‘Yes’ person all the time. We need them to be opinionated and be a problem solver. I respect your daughter for standing up to her principles and there is light for future generation.

    • Thanks Ismail – I was really proud of Brianna’s response.

      It’s hard to say what a whole generation *should* do, but I suspect that we will have stronger, more balanced societies if *everyone* had the means of challenging things they perceive as dumb.

      The inability to challenge stupid, dumb, unfair and illogical decisions that affect anyone beyond the decision-maker is the fundamental illness that is destroying most of our societies and a key job of all leadership is to find and reform those things that contribute to this inability.