Chapter 49 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

[Note: This chapter is to some extent a sequel to Chapter 48]

The Case for Examinations


Until a few decades ago it was a pedagogical truism that, when courses of instruction were given in any field of knowledge, the pupils were examined to see whether they had absorbed the required amount of such knowledge. Pupils and master alike accepted this procedure, whether the pupils were trainee nurses, doctors, pilots or plumbers, or simply primary or secondary schoolchildren. It seemed a reasonable procedure, although everyone knew that it was not perfect, that one could be lucky or unlucky with the choice of questions, or have a bad or a good day in one's attempts to answer them. Nevertheless, except for odd surprises, it was a procedure which rewarded with a high mark or a pass the pupils who were knowledgeable, and awarded a low mark or a fail to those who were ignorant. It even rewarded those who worked as opposed to those who loafed.

All in all, academic justice -- the recognition of merit according to knowledge-seemed to be done, and at the same time an appropriate level of knowledge was maintained in the subject.

It all seemed so simple, and to many, indeed, I believe, to most people it still does seem simple: the most satisfactory procedure in a field in which we all know that infallibility can never be attained although it must always be pursued. It seemed equally self-evident that when secondary pupils were to leave school, whether to go into employment or on to higher studies, public examinations should be held at the end of prescribed courses of study, a procedure which would pursue on a general community scale the same two ends: academic justice and proper academic standards.

But as everywhere in education over the last few decades, the behavioural and social scientists, both professional and amateur, and radical social reformers, have challenged what seemed simple and self-evident. Those of us who have taken examinations for granted now find ourselves called upon to justify our viewpoint in detailed argument, not because we have doubts ourselves, but because we feel that if we do not painstakingly assert the obvious, the most militant section of the Education Establishment will succeed in implementing the absurd.

The chief arguments of those who oppose examinations -- and for clarity's sake I shall be referring henceforth mainly to public examinations, for once these are abolished it will matter little what types of evaluation procedure remain in schools -- derive essentially from their view of education in general, so that the role of examinations must necessarily involve a discussion, however brief, of the role of education.

Let me say right from the beginning that there are many teachers who, whilst still holding a traditional view of education, nevertheless have some doubts as to the value of examinations. It is these teachers, mostly young men and women who have seen examinations deprecated by every Teachers' College and Education Faculty lecturer they have ever met, whom I would like so dearly to persuade that their task, already so arduous in contemporary schools, only remains fruitful and rewarding by virtue of the residual examination structure which persists, whom I would like to 'decondition', in order to spare them some of the worst excesses of the American education scene; for as with practically all our pedagogical innovations, with the abolition of examinations we shall simply be taking one more step along the sorry path already trodden by American High Schools [1].

The opponents of examinations are in general the opponents of the traditional idea that the core of education must be the imparting and acquiring of knowledge, and more specifically of knowledge within the basic disciplines, which for clarity's sake I shall list: mathematics, mother-tongue and its literature, foreign languages, physical and biological sciences, history and geography. At the lower level, these disciplines become basically the three R's, at the upper level they become the disciplines associated with tertiary education. In the secondary school, with which I am primarily concerned in this article, they are essentially as listed.

For some decades now, 'progressive' or 'modern' educationists have spoken of 'child-centred' education, a rather improper term, since from one point of view education has always been child-centred, inasmuch as its aim has always been to inculcate something into the child, and it has always needed children for its existence. But the term is used to characterise the recent resurgence of concentration on developing 'the whole child', on achieving 'self-fulfilment', 'self-realisation', whatever that may mean (see Camus's Caligula) and the term is usually contrasted with 'subject-centred' education. The contrast may perhaps be made clearer by speaking of education centred on the developing of personality, as opposed to education centred on the imparting of knowledge, with personality development playing a subsidiary role, at least in terms of school hours. The sugar-coating for this anti-intellectual pill of 'progressive' educators is sometimes provided by the claim that they are teaching children 'how to think', and they delight in measuring this alleged faculty as much as they shrink from measuring what the children actually know [2]. Hence the proliferation of 'intelligence' and 'aptitude' tests in modern education.

Although the current wave of 'child-centred' education may be said to stem from John Dewey's 'progressive' education which started in America as far back as the twenties, it has reached its peak in Australia in the seventies, when to the voice of 'progressive' educationists calling aloud for the adaptation of the child to society and thinking often of the transformation of society through the child has been added the clamour of educational activists frankly demanding that society should be radically and rapidly changed through education.

Whatever the shades of political opinion of these New Educationists whose voice is dominant in the present strident call for radical curriculum reform, and even for complete transformation or elimination of schools, whether their dream is of a Marxist millenium or a hippiesque Utopia, they are one in their rejection of the imparting of knowledge as the core of education, one in their adoption of the moulding of personality as the main purpose of education [3].

The most rabidly political of these educational reformers wish to indoctrinate and manipulate children, but even the apparently apolitical aspire to create new human psyches which will differ from the allegedly bruised, frustrated, undeveloped personalities which belong to the 'employment fodder' at present being produced by our traditional schools.

And so self-fulfilment, self-realisation, which many of us, insofar as we think the term has any meaning, would believe cannot be achieved without cultivation of intellect, is in fact opposed by all New Educators to intellect, cultivation of the personality is contrasted with acquisition of knowledge. The aim of education has become, when it is not frankly political, alleged individual psychological well-being, interpreted of course according to the ideological bent of the individual teacher. If knowledge counts at all it will not be the basic data of recognised disciplines, but the generalities, some of them extremely contentious, of so-called 'relevant' topics [4].

With their view of education in general, it is of course quite logical that the New Educators should look askance at all forms of examination. If one does not believe in the acquiring of knowledge as the core of education, one will not believe in testing whether knowledge has been acquired. But let us watch one of the modern theorists take this logical step for us, this time in relation to universities (sic!). In a special pamphlet entitled "Abolish Exams" a spokesman for the SRC (Students' Representative Council) Exam Reform Group begins his argument with a quotation from the American sociologist C. Wright Mills in which we see the familiar link with 'relevance' and the individual personality, a link which would transform the university from a seat of learning into a creche for identity-seekers: 'Knowledge and intellectual practice must be made directly relevant to the human need of the troubled person of the twentieth century, and to the social practices of the citizen ... what the university ought to do for the individual is to turn personal troubles and concerns into social issues and rationally open problems.' Then he continues with a qqotation from the "Exam Resisters' Manifesto" which runs: 'We believe that university education in its broadest sense should have as its aim to instil within each individual a capacity for analysis, criticism, creativity and feeling such that he may use these capacities throughout his life in order to develop and fulfil his own self to the limit of his own potential for the benefit of humankind.'

Immediately after this quotation, conspicuous for the absence of any reference to objective knowledge [5], the spokesman says: 'We therefore see any type of formal assessment as irreconcilable with this aim. To speak of the calculation, quantification and measurement of one's personal development is nonsense. It can be measured or felt only by the individual.' Is it being facetious to ask the reader whether for instance he would like to be operated upon by any self-fulfilled individual who feels he is a doctor?

Before we leave the argument that examinations are invalid because they cannot measure self-fulfilment, an argument which of course is seldom formulated as baldly as in the preceding paragraph but which invariably underlies 'progressive' educators' aversion for examinations, let us remember that this aversion is also the corollary of their global rejection of any form of competition among the children they are preparing for their Utopia. Examinations are seen as an extreme form of competition, and competition will have no place in a future society founded on the brotherhood of self-fulfilled man.

It is doubtless the deprecation and depreciation of scholarship by 'progressive' educationists over several decades which have provided the necessary conditioning for the other main arguments used by opponents of examinations, including those who are not ostensibly committed to the New Education in all its other facets.

Entities such as the Australian Council for Educational Research, one of the most constant and clamorous of 'anti-examinists', support the argument that examinations, with their prescribed curricula and syllabuses, remove all 'flexibility and diversity' from secondary schooling, a superficially plausible claim (or verbal formula) which, however, the facts of the situation only allow to be interpreted as a demand -- not very different from that of blatant 'self-fulfilment' educationists -- to go far beyond the present wide range of alternatives available to pupils and reduce the teaching of basic subjects to a level far below what most people would consider proper for a secondary education. Acceptance of this argument, just as much as acceptance of the complete 'self-fulfilment' thesis, would no doubt open the flood-gates to all the 'relevant' subjects, from pollution to sex, which have made a mockery of so much of American education.

One wonders indeed whether one is not making a purely illusory distinction between the New Education extremists and other proponents of the 'freedom of teaching' argument, when one reads the following extract from the Queensland 'Radford' report, a plea for 'freedom' which could well serve as the manifesto of the New Education:

Because the external examination requires that students be prepared for a particular kind of examination on a particular syllabus and at a particular time, it discourages experiment and innovation. It prevents many teachers from developing different and perhaps better ways of presenting their subjects to students. Subject matter could be reorganised to suit differing needs, present subjects could be integrated, and new subjects and new courses could be introduced much more readily if the external examination were not there.

It is not an easy matter for a teacher required to present students for the examination to develop different and perhaps exciting new methods, or to alter the emphasis on the content of his subject, or to spend time on aspects of the subject that will not be examined. Nor is it easy for the school to integrate subjects when there are separate examinations. For example, when there are separate examinations in History, Geography and Social Studies it is difficult for a school to undertake a study of, say, Community Development, in which aspects of all these subjects could be drawn upon; a study of Control of Environment could call upon insight and content drawn from, at least, Science, Economics, and Geography. We have no doubt that given the possibility of making their own assessments, teachers with undoubted talent will use the greater freedom school-based assessment gives them to provide a better education for all their students. We believe that the present system leads to a loss of enthusiasm and of initiative in some young and able teachers.

External examination is not appropriate to activities which schools either undertake or would like to undertake -- for example, craftwork, field studies, school music, drama or physical education. Nor is it possible for an external examination to assess many of the objectives that parents and teachers believe the schools are intended to develop -- for example, acceptable social and moral attitudes, the ability to work independently, or the habit and skills of critical enquiry.

We know that some schools and some teachers, despite the external examination and its requirements, have been able to devote some time to these unexamined objectives and activities. We believe, however, that most schools and teachers would spend more time and effort on working towards such efforts if there were no external examination. We are convinced that this would mean a better education for most children.

Because it emphasises examinable material in a range of subjects, the external examination prevents schools from preparing many students as effectively as they would like to, for their life in society.

('Public Examinations for Queensland Secondary School Students,' Queensland Education Department, 1970).

After reading this single page of the so-called Radford report, with its reference to composite 'relevant' subjects (how does one 'draw upon' basic knowledge of subjects one has not studied?), to creativity, to innovating teachers, to social and not intellectual objectives, how can anyone seriously doubt that Queensland has not only abolished examinations, but at the same time instituted, lock, stock and barrel, the New Education, for if all these aims and activities are to be pursued to such an extent that examinations in basic knowledge would hinder them, then they constitute quite precisely the New Education. So much for this particular expression, at least, of the call for greater freedom in teaching. This page of the Radford report, so 'modern' in Australia, could well have been lifted from any of a dozen 'life-adjustment education' documents of the forties in America.!

Then there is the argument, adopted by Marxist opponents of examinations as well as by apparently less radical, that examinations are instruments of social injustice. Basing their theory on some rather shaky research findingss [6] in which injustice is largely measured by non-entry to university (so that the carpenter son of a carpenter is necessarily a deprived being in relation to the teacher son of a carpenter!), but also on the obvious observation that statistically speaking a bourgeois home is more conducive to scholarship than a proletariat one, they oppose examinations such as the Victorian HSC on the grounds that they favour pupils from middle-class homes.

This view is neatly summarised by the chief research officer of the Australian Council for Educational Research, who in speaking of the advantages of 'aptitude' tests (largely glorified 'intelligence' tests) says: 'The evidence so far, though limited, indicates that aptitude testing does not seem to have the same degree of bias as matriculation (HSC) in favouring children from any particular type of school or family background.' (Melbourne Herald, 9 October, 1972).

One can only admire the frankness of this educationist in revealing how class origin instead of knowledge is to become a criterion for academic qualification, but I cannot share his pleasure in having found a test that has no bias in favour of a good school. I shall refer later to this substitution of someone's idea of social justice for academic justice in the grading of pupils.

There is also the argument, adopted by all opponents of examinations, that there is individual injustice involved in the testing of a year's work, for instance, in a three-hours examination, an argument which no-one would deny has a certain amount of validity but which they tend to vitiate by expounding it as if knowledge were measured on some sort of time-scale, so that three hours could not possibly indicate the quality of the product of hundreds of hours' work.

Finally, there is the argument that examinations impose an intolerable strain on the pupil (see the view of the Victorian Minister for Education) [7]. The research officer just quoted also expresses this view in the article cited, (Herald, 9 October 1972). It must be admitted, let me say in passing, that this argument is no longer as unimportant as it was, now that 'progressive' educationists have managed to protect their pupils from any form of serious assessment until they suddenly find themselves as sensitive late-teenagers doing their first examination at HSC level!

So much then for the main arguments of opponents of examinations. I have incorporated a certain amount of criticism in my survey of these arguments. Some of them, I believe, are self-condemnatory for most people, but they will all be clearly refuted, I trust, in the remainder of this article, in which I shall endeavour to present a strong positive case for the retention of public examinations and the rejection both of internal examinations and of qualification and selection procedures other than tests of acquired knowledge in prescribed fields of study.

May I once more remind the reader that the question of examinations has ramifications throughout the whole field of educational debate, so that I must necessarily argue succinctly; nevertheless, I believe that one can adduce correct principles even in the space available.

This restriction is at its most obvious when one has to posit in a few lines that the main concern of education must be the imparting and acquiring of knowledge, that whatever values teachers may, wittingly or unwittingly, legitimately or illegitimately, inculcate into children, the core of schooling must be the furnishing of the young mind with the store of facts, data, information, which alone will give him the competence and confidence to perform adequately all that he is called upon to do in the world about him. Basically, before specialisation, education must give every young mind the power to communicate (listen, speak, read, write) reasonably well, calculate reasonably well, and see the world with reasonable historical, geographic and scientific perspective.

'Knowledge for its own sake', an ideal propounded two and half millenia ago, is a dictum that most scientists and scholars, and indeed most people, will deem at least worthy of consideration. But there is no need to assert this ideal in order to believe that knowledge at an adequate level is the sine qua non not only of the health of the individual but of the well-being of the nation. An individual's sense of adequacy comes above all from a feeling of being competent in areas of basic knowledge; a nation's very survival may depend on its common store of knowledge or the knowledge of its best trained minds. No society is conceivable, in the near or remote future, without a high level of knowledge, if only on a technical level to provide such things as penicillin and Jumbo jets and anti-pollutants.

A thousand voices have expressed this truism in literature, but may I cite the words of a great English philosopher, A. N. Whitehead, words quoted by the present Federal Minister for Education in a splendid address to Convocation of the University of Melbourne on 7 May 1972: 'In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute: the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed. Not all your heroism, not all your social charm, not all your will, not all your victories on land and sea, can move back the finger of fate.'

And so, I repeat, for the sake of both the individual and society, education must be chiefly concerned with knowledge. We must dismiss the claims of 'progressive' educationists who wish to concentrate on moulding personalities at the expense of forming intellects or who wish to study 'exciting', 'relevant' topics at the expense of basic disciplines. We must also dismiss the claims of Marxists who proclaim that knowledge is dependent on ideology and who, themselves rigidly governed by dogma, waste pupils' schooldays in intellectually sterile experiments conceived with the ridiculous aim of imparting ideology-free knowledge, as if the answer to seven times four varied according to whether one lived under Hitler, Stalin or Mr Whitlam. (One would have thought that the Lysenko episode would have cured Marxists of this kind of thinking).

All the foregoing is a necessary preamble to any discussion of the role of examinations, because it is quite obvious that the case for testing acquired knowledge rests on the basic assumption that knowledge is the chief commodity in which education deals.

Examinations -- and I mean public examinations of acquired knowledge -- play two main roles in education. The first is to see that academic justice is done and is seen to be done; that is to say, to grade candidates in order of merit according to their attainment within the given field of knowledge or subject. The public nature of the examination is indispensable in order to ensure maximum objective evaluation and ranking, not only as between pupils of the one school, where individual personal considerations may otherwise produce bias, but above all as between schools, where wide variations in standards may otherwise occur.

Internal examinations, regarded by most pupils in most schools as derisory, are inherently unable to play this role, and perpetrate gross infringements of academic justice on individual pupils, whose merit may be enormously inflated because they hold a certificate from an elite school, or enormously deflated because they hold a certificate from a humble High School. Or vice versa, because with schools reputation does not always correspond to reality. No amount of 'moderation' such as it is practised in Queensland can ever do anything other than statistically gloss over individual academic injustices. I submit that no society can tolerate this assessment of pupils by individual teachers in a close relationship with candidates, and that no parent should accept it, for from this academic injustice flow immense intellectual harm to the nation and gross social injustice to the individual.

In relation to the other aspect of public examinations: that they measure acquired knowledge, that is to say actual achievement and not some amateur or professional behavioural scientist's notion of potential, most people will not need the testimony of those of us who have taught under the heinous 'eleven plus' system in England, to reject the idea that children should be assessed and graded according to some nebulous criterion called intelligence, which is supposed to be the index of some equally nebulous criterion called potential, which in turn may or may not be realised in some nebulous future. They will also reject 'aptitude' tests for they have learned that with these they are still being deluded with the psychopedagogue's same old notion of unrealised potential. They will prefer the notion of academic justice, which by definition is based on the criterion of actual knowledge, on the belief that mathematicians should be graded according to their performance in mathematics, physicists according to their performance in physics, linguists according to their performance in languages, etc.

And they will prefer a system whereby a hard-working but not so 'intelligent' child can obtain distinction just as much as or more than a lazy but 'intelligent' one, knowing full well that if a so-called 'intelligent' child is not realising his or her 'potential' by the age of sixteen or seventeen, the chances are that he or she will never overtake the diligent 'plodder'.

Furthermore, I believe, and I have already mentioned this aspect, that most people realise that in our fallible world the three-hour examination, with or without some minor adjuncts, is the least fallible of instruments for dispensing academic justice, that the particular performance of candidates during these three hours is, generally speaking, satisfactorily indicative of their knowledge in the subject, in other words that 'performance' equals 'attainment'. Certainly, there is no conceivable better alternative, except, of course, a series of such examinations, which would hardly be palatable for most pupils [8].

Finally, one must answer the objection that examinations such as HSC perpetuate social injustice in that they favour middle-class candidates. (It may well be found that they favour or disfavour Protestant or Catholic candidates, new rich or old rich, socialist homes or capitalist homes, and even independent schools or State schools, and it will certainly be found that some migrant children are disfavoured, particularly if they cannot speak English, in the same way as I would be if I tried to pass the Lithuanian HSC ). This objection has assumed its most flamboyant and absurd form in the proposal by a Victorian secondary teachers' union that selection for universities should be by ballot (sic!), a proposal which would be comical if, in the present educational climate, it did not have a slight chance of being implemented, thus wreaking untold havoc in scholarship and social well-being.

I submit, and I believe that most people would agree, that such social considerations must never be allowed to interfere with the dispensation of academic justice, that is to say, the recognition of merit by attainment, and are the province, not of examiners, nor even exclusively of educationists, but of broad socio-political decisions made by governments. If indeed social classes are being disadvantaged, it is the governments' task to take whatever measures, some of them pedagogical, are feasible to bring the members of such classes up to academic standard, not in any way to interfere with the examining process [9].

So much then for the first main role of examinations, which is to ensure that trading in the principal commodity of education is fair. The second main role, and if anything it is more important than the first, is to ensure that the quality of this commodity is maintained whilst individual justice is being done, that is to say, that knowledge within schools and thence throughout the community is maintained at an adequate level.

Again internal examinations, no matter what 'monitoring' or 'accediting' systems one may have, are no substitute for public examinations in this role, and again we find them derided by pupils and teachers alike because of the passes they have seen awarded to candidates of abysmal ignorance [10]. By chance I have before me now an analysis of some French results for a dozen schools which shows a pass rate for internal Leaving candidates of about ninety-five per cent whilst the external HSC pass rate for the same classes the following year, i.e. the same pupils less those who had dropped French, is less than sixty per cent.

This role of maintaining quality of scholarship, based essentially on the fact that assessment is in the hands of the best available scholars in the field of knowledge, acting as independent and hence impartial judges of the whole range of candidates, extends far beyond the immediate examination at which candidates below a certain level of attainment are rejected, it bears upon the whole primary and secondary process, stimulating both teachers and pupils to the effort required for adequate achievement. It is no reflection on the conscientiousness and competence of the average teacher to say that no internal evaluation system can replace this motivation from without, for in no other profession is one so completely at the mercy of an inefficient or deviant colleague, or of course recalcitrant children.

This role, it should be noted, can only be played effectively if the examinations are in fact examinations of acquired knowledge in precise fields of study, and not the glorified 'intelligence' tests which ignore the fruits of application and memorisation and neither measure nor promote scholarship [11].

I suggest that the effect of external examinations in this role of maintaining scholarship is such that their abolition would mean the beginning of a rapid decline in the intellectual life of our community. Most countries have realised the importance of this role, and those that have already abolished the equivalent of HSC have found, or I believe, will soon find, that their universities or tertiary colleges have to assume much of the work previously accomplished by secondary schools, that is to say, have registered a pronounced fall in standards. An eminent American professor of History, Arthur Bestor in his book (The Restoration of Learning, New York, 1955) summarises the position in his country thus:

'The retreat from rigorous examinations has become a disastrous rout in American public education. College and university faculties must take the lead in re-establishing comprehensive, essay-type examinations as the basic means of evaluating educational preparation and measuring educational achievement. The obvious place to start is in connection with admission to college, for an alarming decline in the standards of American higher education can be attributed to the gradual abandonment of searching and effective entrance examinations. Professional educationists seem to prefer aptitude tests to examinations that show how much a student knows and what he is capable of doing with his knowledge. But a college needs students who are not merely apt but well trained, if it is to be an institution of higher learning. It requires students who can write the English language clearly and effectively, not merely those with a potentiality for literary expression. It requires students who are prepared to solve mathematical problems, not merely those with a latent talent for mathematical abstraction. It requires students who can sit down and read a book in a foreign language, not merely those who would find it easy to learn a language if they had a chance. It requires students who have fundamental knowledge in history or chemistry, which can be built upon in advanced courses, not merely students who will prove apt at acquiring such knowledge when at last they are introduced to it.

Professional educationists can be expected to object violently to the re-establishment of stringent college entrance examinations.' (pp. 341-342)

The author goes on to say 'that the first two years of college constituted for most students not higher education but secondary-school work.' (p. 346). He then proceeds to argue strenuously the case for 'the development of uniform examinations throughout the public-school system' (p. 353), outlining an examination structure similar to the one which our Australian educationists are about to throw out. But readers should study the whole chapter entitled 'Re-establish Standards through Examinations' of this brilliant and scholarly appraisal of American education, indeed they are recommended to read the whole book.

It is this inevitable decline in standards that makes it desirable, indeed indispensable, to maintain the dual role of HSC as both secondary terminal examination and university entrance examination, whilst not precluding the possibility of having other examinations at lower levels. It will be a sorry day for scholarship if those educationists who complain of the oppressive, restrictive influence of the university on curricula and syllabuses (as if seats of higher learning can be said to oppress and restrict seats of lower learning) have their way, and secondary education is totally divorced from tertiary. Then, not only will universities be forced, as in America, to waste a lot of their time and effort on courses of secondary standard, but the influence of the best trained minds will be removed from the whole field of secondary education, which will find itself completely at the mercy of the pedagogical 'expert'. HSC is the vital link between the university and the schools which ensures the continuity of scholarship and the transmission of discovery throughout our society. We must not allow the pedagogue to cut it [12].

To dispense academic justice, to maintain academic quality. Public examinations are said to have a third role: to predict success in tertiary studies. This, of course, they cannot do any more successfully than common sense would allow us to assume. They record present achievement in particular subjects, they register that a candidate has reached a certain level in particular studies and is therefore to be considered presently qualified to undertake more advanced studies of the same or a similar nature. They do not predicate that such candidate will remain interested in his subject or work hard in his subject, any more than common sense would predicate that an exhaustive knowledge of Latin syntax would protect a student from the ravages of an unhappy love-affair, let alone an addiction to pot.

It would, of course, be disturbing to advocates of the retention of HSC if a better practical predictor of tertiary success were found. So far it has not (indeed HSC is a pretty good predictor when the higher marks are used), but even if it were, I believe it would be wrong to apply it unless it were essentially based on acquired knowledge, for not only would it be contrary to academic justice and harmful to scholarship, but the moment it was applied, secondary school conditions would thereby be so changed that it might no longer be a better predictor! Fortunately, the question is hypothetical and HSC remains the least fallible statistical indicator of how a student is likely to perform at the university.

Let me conclude by redressing any impression I might have created with my emphasis on intellect that I believe intellect to be the be-all and end-all of life, or indeed of education, or that I am advocating that we should all try to be ivory-tower scholars or great scientists, etc. The scholarship I have in mind will be the foundation, naturally, for a minority of such people, but it is essentially that basic knowledge without which no flowering of the personality is possible and which is the inalienable right of every young Australian. It is knowledge which extends, but not necessarily, up to HSC level; not necessarily, or even desirably in many cases, for there are many young people whose personality will flower only if they are not inexorably impelled towards matriculation and tertiary studies. But this is all the more reason for allowing them, whilst the more academic pupils perhaps move directly towards matriculation, to choose to sit for a lower external certificate which they and everyone else will know to be worth something and which will have provided motivation for their middle-school studies.

This is the level of scholarship I have been discussing at a time when everyone knows we are not suffering from a crisis of too much juvenile intellect, when lower and middle school pupils are frequently bored to tears as well as ignorant, when disciplinary troubles are beginning to multiply, for no personality flowers in boredom and ignorance [13] and when, with for instance Victorian HSC passing automatically four candidates out of five in each subject, it is possible for young ignoramuses to reach our universities.

But as so many of us teachers, parents and ordinary citizens know, these ignoramuses will be as sages compared with some of the products of our schools if 'progressive' educationists have their way and abolish the last curb on their aberrations: the HSC examination (or its equivalent in other States).



1. In Queensland, of course, it is too late, and the journey towards academic inferiority and injustice has begun.

2. Another piece of 'progressive' jargon heard in Teachers' Training Colleges, etc., is: 'We teach the child and not the subject', although one would expect from some of the Marxists a Hegelian: 'We teach the child the subject'!

3. This is so even when Marxists pretend that they are trying to impart knowledge without capitalist conditioning; their chief aim is still to create a non-capitalist society.

4. New educators never tire of formulating this opposition between the acquiring of knowledge within traditional disciplines and the changing of young human beings and society, so that one has difficulty in selecting quotations. However, choosing arbitrarily, I may quote a Marxist luminary in an Education Faculty who refers to Victorian pupils as an intellectually-trained proletariat and a revolutionary vanguard (Australian Capitalism, Pelican 1972, pp. 219-247), and who, whilst chiding some of his fellows on their 'happiness-is-all' approach and ostensibly pondering on how to teach without making 'the children subject to the tyranny of social systems, dominated by ideologies or systems of thought' (as if the formula for sulphuric acid or Mendelian heredity depended on ideology), nevertheless refers to the 'professional' teacher, the expert who is a specialist in his subject, as 'a kind of high-class prostitute', because he serves the system (Issues, Journal of T.T.A.V., Aug. 1972, pp. 4-5). Or another Marxist head of a Victorian teachers' union who, when speaking at the inaugural meeting of a Left Education Movement, used even more lapidary formulae, according to the report in the Communist weekly: 'Our aim is to destroy capitalist mis-education'. 'The basic task, to change the very nature of the school system, involves the development of a new set of values that puts humanity and the needs of the human being first.' He then went on to call for 'a genuine alliance between teachers and students' in a typical tirade designed to enlist the help of children in freeing education from 'the repressive nature of the State [bourgeois, capitalist] machine.' (Report in Tribune, 10-16 October 1972, of speech delivered at Melbourne University on 1 October 1972). But even the Victorian Education Department, in its official publication, The Primary School, 1970, in an Introduction in which the word 'change' appears at least ten times in twenty lines, does not hesitate to say: 'Indeed, instead of merely responding to social changes, teachers are in a position to bring about certain changes themselves -- they can become active agents in a continuing process.' If this is not an invitation to indoctrinate minors I do not know what is.

5. One may contrast this definition of the role of the university with that given by a Melbourne surgeon, Mr John Hayward, in Melbourne University Staff News, 14 July 1972: 'The only commodity in which a University deals is knowledge. The functions of a University are to impart knowledge right to its furthest frontiers (teaching) and to try to extend these frontiers (research)... The aims of a University should therefore be excellence in teaching and brilliance in research. These functions and corresponding aims are so simple and fixed that it is hard to see why any time should be wasted discussing them.'

6. For example, Tom Roper, The Myth o f Equality. Education Department, National Union of Australian University Students, 1970, in which failure to follow one's father's occupation and non-entry to university are used as the index of inequality and injustice, the crowning injustice being that sixty per cent of all entries in Who's Who have a tertiary education (sic!) (p. 22). It is not to depreciate the attention that such publications draw to inner-suburban school conditions, etc., to say that this is dubious sociology. See also W. C. Radford, School Leavers in Australia, A.C.E.R., Melbourne, 1962, and S. S. Dunn & P. J. Fensham, A Study of the Choice of Tertiary Education by 5th and 6th Form Males in Victoria, Monash University, Melbourne, 1969.

7. One is entitled to ask just what ideology is behind the official policy of the Victorian Education Department on examinations, as expressed in an interview granted to a Melbourne newspaper by the Minister for Education and his Director-General (Herald, 28 June 1972). Having quoted the general principle, established by the Curriculum Advisory Board, one of which is: 'There is no place for competitive assessment in the secondary school,' they give their respective opinions as follows: 'The Minister made it clear that, like the board, he does not believe in competitive examinations. "I would hope eventually to see the end of the Higher School Certificate examination," he said. There will always be same form of testing necessary. But there are logical objections to one pressure examination at the end of the year-even in sixth form. "I do not believe matriculation is essential. Assignments, oral testing, and regular tests through the year would be preferable." The Director-General is 'anti-examinations' too. 'We have reason to doubt the real educational value of a test which compares one pupil's attainment with that of another or with some arbitrarily chosen 'pass' level. Tests and assessments are better used to indicate a pupil's progress relative to his previous performance. This encourages him to maintain and increase his effort'. The Director-General also believes there is much more to school life than learning facts. "Schools should prepare pupils for life in our society," he said.'

Now I am not for the moment suggesting that either of these educationists is an adherent of the Rousseau-Marx-Dewey-Marcuse ideology behind the New Education, but I am suggesting that amongst the purely academic objections to examinations such as their unfairness, one finds clearly reflected the preoccupation with individual personality and social adaptation and the aversion for competition which belong to current educational orthodoxy, itself largely inspired by this ideology. One is at least entitled to ask how pupils can be prepared without competition for 'life in our society' where there is still, I believe, some competition -- pending the advent of the millenium.

8. The old system of supplementary examinations in February, before the days of university quotas, had much to recommend it, for it allowed candidates not only to improve their knowledge over the holidays, but to have a second chance to ensure that their particualr performance corresponded more exactly to their attainment. Perhaps two two-hour papers in basic subjects, when entry to university was sought, might be preferable to one three-hour.

9. May I remind readers at this point that the moment educators or examiners begin to try to dispense anything other than academic justice as defined, all sorts of arbitrary aberrations will be installed, with amateur or professional behavioural and social scientists quarrelling over such things as whether one should credit the ignorant child of a drunken worker and debit the knowledgeable child of a sober bourgeois, or vice versa, or even whether one should penalise a candidate for going to a good school. The only rational approach to such problems is, for the government to tackle the problem of culture-deprived homes, the problem of educating children from such homes, the problem of providing better teaching in underprivileged areas, etc.; it is not for examiners to deviate from the procedure of grading candidates according to their academic attainment.

10. Few educationists would dispute that American High School Diplomas are merely certificates of attendance. I have evidence that the Victorian internal Leaving Certificate, is not always even this.

11. Until one understands psychopedagogues' aversion for acquired knowledge one cannot help being amazed at their contempt for memory, another native faculty they could well start measuring if they are keen to predict future performance. But memorised facts, the fruits of application, constitute knowledge, so that they are not interested in measuring this faculty, and instead speak disdainfully about knowing something by heart. At least the Radford committee has the grace to admit that its recommended tests are scarcely suitable for, say, linguists, whose knowledge is largely the fruit of that anathema of all 'progressive' educationists: learning by rote.

12. This cut could soon be made in an alarming manner in Victoria, where Teachers' Colleges have just been granted degree-granting powers. The result would then be the complete isolation of the teaching establishment from the university, and the total abandonment of primary and secondary schools to the pedagogue as opposed to the scholar, a frightening prospect whose reality America knows so well and of which the following is a thumb-nail sketch from the book by the American professor of History from which I have already quoted:

One cannot convert a vocation into a profession simply by labelling its particular know-how a 'science' and creating pretentious, instructional programmes therein. Such, however, is precisely the educationists' plan. Courses in pedagogy -- the mere know-how of teaching -- are multiplied, expanded, subdivided, amplified, protracted, inflated, spun out, and padded. The real service that one or two such courses might perform for the prospective teacher is completely lost sight of in the frantic effort to make each petty detail of teaching into a separate course. Absurd though the process may be, it is not purposeless. Only thus can pedagogy command ever more of the time of undergraduates, and only thus can it be piled, layers thick, upon the helpless teachers who return, year after year, to suffocate in summer schools oś education. The prize in this endurance test is an advanced degree in pedagogy and a vague promise of 'professional' standing.

Classroom teachers have a right to professional standing and to the prestige that goes with it. They will never attain it by plodding along in the educationists' treadmill ...

However lamentable the fact may appear to the educationists, the public will always judge the teaching profession by what its members know about the subjects they profess to teach. (Arthur Bestor, The Restoration of Learning, New York, 1955, p. 271).

If any reader cares to read this book about what was happening to America in 1955, he will have a good insight into what is happening here today, with the normal lag of all our pedagogical imports from the United States. He will see that pupils are just as frustrated and harassed by omnipotent pedagogues as teachers are shown to be in the above extract. To bring the picture painted in this book up to date, however, he must add the violent Marx-Marcusian politicisation of the classroom of the sixties and seventies.

13. See advance press reports (Age and Australian, 12 October 1972) of a comprehensive survey of English secondary and primary schools purporting to establish a link between non-competitive 'progressive' schooling and violence within and without the school.

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