The Examination System II.
"The extinction of disinterested study is a necessary consequence of the encouragement to cram. When the best and most receptive years of a man's life have been passed in having the doctrine ground into him, that the end of all study is to cheat the examiner, and that knowledge is valuable only so far as it can be made to pay in an examination, it is hard to see how he can unlearn the teaching he has received, and alter the character that has been formed in him. The grown man is what he has been taught to be, and out of cram may come many examination answers, or even a Fellowship, but not original research and the love of knowledge for its own sake.
The specialist at the Universities finds himself a marked man, with a weaf of hay upon his horns; he is looked upon with mingled feelings of suspicion and pity. That there can be any knowledge outside of the curriculum of the University, or if there is, that it is of any value, is not dreamed of. The specialist who pleads in behalf of another kind of learning is considered a fanatic. "We don't want original researches," I have heard it said, "but good all-round men," that is to say, the best specimens of the crammer who have a smattering of many things, but know nothing well. But how can it be otherwise? Men whose whole attention has been given to discovering what will pay in the schools are not likely, when they have gained their reward and a sinecure annuity to devote themselves to disinterested study. Examinations and original research are incompatible terms. The object of the one is to appear wise, the object of the other to be so. The one is mercenary, the other unselfish. I have known of cases in which men have come to Oxford with a fresh and sympathetic interest in language or history, and have sadly watched it gradually fading under the influences of the examination system, until, by the time their course has been finished, it has disappeared altogether, They have become like their companions, with the schools and the boats as the main topic of their conversation.
Now it may be seriously questioned whether this is exactly the kind of result which it is desirable for a university to turn out. We want men who can think for themselves; not men with an unlimited capacity of cramming down other people's statements, and producing what is called a brilliant set of answers. If a man really knows a subject, he is pretty certain to do badly when examined in it. A thorough knowledge of a subject absolutely prevents it from being compressed into the answers to a few questions. It is only the smatterer who can do this; the real student, with all the details, the arguments for and against, the side views, and dependent hypotheses before him, finds that he must write a book if he would answer only a single question adequately, and that to require him to jot down even the outlines of answers to half a dozen questions within the limit of three or four hours, shows either ignorance or imbecility. To pass an examination with success, we must not know, but only seem to know, and the man who plays the sophist best will gain the best place. It seems to be forgotten that the knowledge needed for passing an examination, and the knowledge needed for producing a great book or a great discovery, are essentially different, and therefore that the talent required in the two cases is also essentially different. At present the Chinese theory is in full possession of the public minds, and it is imagined that a high rank means corresponding abilities and information; and so it does, if we understand abilities and information for examination purposes only.
It is truism at every college that the best examinee does not always mean the best man. Instances are ready at hand where a second-class man is acknowledged to be better than a first-class man, and I have often heard it remarked that "it is a fluke for the right man to get a fellowship."
The two time-honored English universities, instead of holding up an ideal of sound learning and disinterested study, and checking the present Chinese current of popular belief, have degraded into mere examining machines. In the place of the calm pursuit of knowledge and the encouragement of original research, we have the hot competition of slaving undergraduates-for students we cannot call them,-who are taught that learning is of no value except in so far as it brings profit to themselves. Many of the mischievours results of the examination-system at these "ancient seats of learning," though now of cram, have already been noticed, and they may be summed up under the general charge of its destruction of intellectual morality and alienation of science and research."