Examinations vs. The Yeshiva

Growing up, I was always at or near the top of my class academically. I aced a few provincial exams, skipped a few grades of math, and generally stood out from amongst the rest of the public school kids. Eh, not like it was hard.

Then came University and suddenly the competition grew exponentially more intense. Immediately, the waters were red with the bloodshot eyes of all-nighters and a singular dedication to memorising the shit out of textbooks thicker than a baby’s forearm. Being more interested in girls and poker, I hacked out middling grades but never shone academically to the same degree I had in my youth.i

Needless to say, I wasn’t entirely prepared for 450-student classes where each ID-tattooed seat-warmer was treated equally and had to be teased apart from one another with 2-hour tests twice per semester. Where was the opportunity to show off my ability to analyse and price risk, or my classical education ? Crammed performance tests, where students gorge on data only to regurgitate it as quickly as possible at the exact right moment and then erase it from their memories the moment they leave the test centre, are hardly the best manner in which to assess the depth of one’s character and ability.

But the question of how to best separate the lemma from the palea is a difficult one. Unsurprisingly, as all difficult questions eventually come up in #b-a, this one did too. Ben Vulpes and I were tossing around ideas for our ideal education system when I (naively) suggested to differentiate academically-inclined students from non-academically-inclined students with… tests.

Following the first five points for Ben & Pete’s Magickal Skool For Kidz Who Can Mebbe Not Suck (or just ‘Ben & Pete’s’ for short) came proposal number six :

pete_dushenski: 6. Those not academically inclined will be pruned from academic studies at age 13 to pursue technical professions.
mircea_popescu: What if they become inclined at 19 ?
pete_dushenski: Then self-teach ? Go back to school ?

mircea_popescu: What if they go back to school with a chip on their shoulder and set your entire world ablaze ?
ben_vulpes: Not a bad outcome.
mircea_popescu: The focus of this process should not be satisfaction of the designer. But moreover avoidance of the situation where you piss off the rightly powerful. Shit on the powerless, that’s what they’re there for.

pete_dushenski: How is “rightly” determined ?
mircea_popescu: Rightly is determined by that they put your world ablaze.ii

jurov: How is this determined at 13?iii
pete_dushenski: Tests.

jurov: There are tests for that ?
pete_dushenski: Why not ?
mircea_popescu: Why not is not a permissible question in this context.iv
jurov: Because human mind ?v

ascii_field: Visit Jp, Ru, Cn, or – hell – US for that matter, to see how the ‘tests’ thing works out. In practice.vi
trinque: The right kids will want to learn.

mircea_popescu: The concept of performance tests is not unlike the concept of postcard tourism. “I’ve visited all the places my friends sent me cards from.”vii
trinque: I tend to think you have to beat that out of the intelligent if it’s absent. And the wrong ones shouldn’t be in the school.
pete_dushenski: Tests can be interviews, written exams, theatre performances…

ascii_field: Try to grasp that ‘perform on schedule’ selects for certain kinds of human, not necessarily the ones you like.
pete_dushenski: I’m perfectly aware. I wasn’t the cram-exam type myself !

mircea_popescu: The only half decent approximation of a test would be, “Either you go to school where each day for a year contains a beating, or else we kill you in six years”. Kids can opt whether to die young and leave a beautiful corpse much before any serious effort was spent on them.
pete_dushenski: Kids can opt this for themselves ? Not too young ?
ascii_field: You’re approximately describing 19th c. Ru military academy. Except there you get beatings + death in six years.

mircea_popescu: Apparently they’re not too young to live and breathe.
pete_dushenski: Neither is 1-day-old.

mircea_popescu: Quite. The notion that there’s insulation from choice… Some kids decide to grow spina bifida, how are you gonna help them improve their choices ?
pete_dushenski: With tests !

mircea_popescu: O i know, put folic acid in everyone’ flour. And tests. Yes yes.
ascii_field: It boggles my mind to see folks arguing for -more- perform-on-schedule-like-dancing-bear in child-herding.
mircea_popescu: The problem of child-herding, so far unresolved, is that women care too much and men don’t understand wtf is in the box.

On a historical note, the examination system is really the Chinese system. The Chinese utilised this highly focused approach to written exams to select for the sought after and socially respected bureaucratic positions under its various Emperors, from the Sui dynasty (589 – 618 AD) through to the Ch’ing dynasty (1644 – 1911 AD). Through an unknowable number of technological and social changes, the Chinese system stood as the gateway between civilian obscurity and the lower echelons of power and respectability. All throughout, the system was expensive to maintain, riddled with corruption, and only capable of producing stable outcomes rather than innovative ones. The examination system was necessary at the scale of the Chinese Empire and also in a time when there were physical costs and geographical limitations to more in-depth explorations of, as jurov put it, the human mind.

Today, those constraints don’t really exist and we once again have the European model of apprenticeship taking shape, that which molded young boys into blacksmiths, artists, tailors, and priests as recently as the Middle Ages and for millennia prior. That is, before that “revolutionary” nonsense tried to “improve the world” by papering over everything good, moral, and functional.

With the IRC Yeshiva as a benchmark, the voluntary association between eager students and patient teachers begins to crystalise anew for the coming generations. The advantage of this non-examination model is not only is it more cost-effective,viii it also encourages self-discipline. This being the case as only the most self-motivated students have the ability to be sufficiently persistent without threats of force, expulsion, or failings grades. The student must also have the foresight to see that his alternatives are to show up and eat or not show up and starve, roughly speaking.ix

Not that self-discipline is the only barrier to entry, the main one is time – an effect of wealth in one capacity or another, either dependent or independent. This model therefore doesn’t do away with some degree of luck, but nor does it aim to. That’s what the examination system thought it was doing when in fact it was narrowly selecting for the kind of person you almost certainly want as a girlfriend, most certainly don’t want as a manager, and will never be an entrepreneur. Given that human society benefits immensely more from the latter two classes, it’s those that we strive to develop with the Yeshiva model.

The Yeshiva, then, delightfully mixes old with new, youth with age, power with eagerness, and ideas with reality, all while leveraging the causes and forces shaping our world. And I must concede that it does away with those ridiculous performance tests. For they are absolutely ridiculous.

If there’s anywhere for the Ben & Pete’s to start, it’s here.

___ ___ ___

  1. Not that I wish I were born in any other time (pre-Bitcoin, no thanks!), but reading at Cambridge or Oxford would’ve probably been a better fit for me than the examination hell-on-wheels of contemporary post-secondary bezzle-extraction-as-education. []
  2. This is quite precisely what happened in the late T’ang period in China (875 – 884 AD) when Huang Ch’ao, a powerful young heir to a sizable family fortune, was unable to pass the rigorous exams needed to become a licentiate. He responded by selling salt on the black market and using the funds to organise a secret society with which he incited rebellions that massacred nobles and officials and nearly, though not quite, brought down the entire ruling dynasty. []
  3. Because that’s the age I was when I was top of my class ! Duh !! []
  4. This is a perfectly valid criticism. My failure to flesh out the premises of my theory of “better” education require that the tools exist or can be reasonably specified so as to be constructed for the use in question. My inability to either specify the necessary test that would tease apart “smart” from “stupid” or to point to a historical or extant example nullifies the proposition and calls into question the entire basis of my subsequent argument. Sorta the same mistake Rousseau made, y’know ? []
  5. Exactly because human mind. Though I was being a contrarian stick-in-the-mud during this conversation, it occurs to me now that it’s nigh-on-impossible to fully evaluate human potential in a snapshot. The difference between a 13-year-old student and, say, Travis is that one of them still has potential and therefore deserves the benefit of the doubt. And that “one” isn’t Travis. []
  6. In my defense of tests, though not that I’m married to the idea, everything sane goes to shit at large scale. Complexity, corruption, and iatrogenics grow convexly with size. []
  7. To translate from Popescuity into English : Performance tests are all show and no go, which is to say, grossly superficial and entirely lacking in any meaningful depth of analysis. []
  8. As decentralised organisational structure tends to be. []
  9. Once inside the Yeshiva, the public and transparently logged nature of the venue allows for shame to be used as a motivating force, a powerful and fiercely effective tool now stripped from the arsenal of post-post-modern educational systems. The Yeshiva puts it right back where it belongs : in the hands of educators. []

23 thoughts on “Examinations vs. The Yeshiva

  1. mh says:

    I conjecture that “tests” are adding fuel to the fire that is broken academics of today. Tests are rarely more than a multi-choice. Even if it “expands” to essay type test or oral presentation, you as a student is still judged within the pre-defined criteria of what and how a good essay should be written. As such you end up with circle-jerking-peer-review-you’re-good-because-then-I’m-good fucktardery. They are only really good at showing how good at tests you are.

    Congratulations! We tested that you, and we found that you are good at tests. Now what? Ohh. yeah.. you go to the place where we do lots of tests, because you are good at that….great..
    Sure, if you have the brains to cram it all in there and backwards engineer what needs to be presented in a test-environment for good grades, all power to you.
    I never really saw any correlation between test-grades and having a brain during my uni-years.

    And who the fuck are the control freaks that want to separate the wheat from the chaff at 13 anyway. Who are they to decide what I want to do when come “uni-age”.

    • The state of testing, testing, and more testing at contemporary post-secondary institutions is very much an effect of their scale. How else to churn through the endless lines of ready chumps with wallets open ? I know, multiple guess !

      And who are the ‘control freaks’ who call the shots at age 13 ? Well, the jooz for one. But the bar mitzvah system isn’t just some degree factory. Classes are small, there’s significant one-on-one time with the rabbi for tutouring, and students aren’t formally graded at the end – all ‘pass’ but the amount of preparation and the panache of the performance makes clear for the entire community to see and judge the fitness of each candidate. The more successful young men are conferred a measure of status for the skill atop the bema, as are their families by extension.

      The rewards of the bar mitzvah system aren’t as clearly defined – with no guaranteed entrance of the top students into the subsequent program of their choice, as in the examination system – but it’s not hard to imagine, even today, prospective employers sitting in the synagogue audience taking careful notes, keeping an eye on who’s who and scouting out the up-and-coming stars that they might want to take under their professional wings.

      None of this decides for you what you want to do when you’re 18, but it does demarcate a point from which doors will either be open to you or closed to you. There’s little doubt that this is a much saner approach than the “follow your heart” rubbish, which frankly confuses the shit out of kids and paralyses them with umpteen possibilities, none of which they can meaningfully tease apart.

    • mh says:

      My short diatribe in regards to “13 years” was aimed at the current implemented system we both argue against. The ‘testing’ is extremely lacklustre, and when you have constraints on what you can do with poor test results come 18 or whichever age you are starting Uni at in your western country, lack lustre testing essentially robs and therefore decides what one can or can’t do.
      I.e. “You can’t go and practise this or that profession, unless sanctioned by our extremely expensive certificate AND that you have proven sufficient zombie-learning skills and parroting skills.”

      Hey, I’m all for metrics. You can’t run a business without it, but by god.. Your Map-Metaphor is correct.

      Besides.. I think we agree.. Again..

    • Lacklustre testing only decides what one can or can’t do within the confines of the system doing the testing. This sucks if you want to be a slave doctor, slave lawyer, or slave architect, but matters little if your interests lie in the arts, trades, or in business.

      And yes, we do seem to largely agree.

    • mh says:

      And so the system works as intended.

    • Yes and no. Any ‘system’ that actively works to crush innovation, not to mention one so readily willing to piss off the wrong people (like Huang), will necessarily meet an untimely demise. If the thirteen century history of the Chinese system would seem to contradict this assertion, it’s because:

      1) That system wasn’t as uniformly successful as the history books might make it appear, lest we forget the successful Mongol invasion smack dab in the middle of that period,
      2) That system could readily control access to knowledge, something no longer technically feasible, and
      3) There were different cultural expectations that emerged from having the world’s largest population under the world’s largest centralised bureaucracy for that many consecutive generations, many of which continue to this day.

      It’s hard to imagine that the goal of contemporary socialist democracies is to grind themselves into irrelevant dust, but what do I know, mebbe they explicitly want to fail so that they have reason to try, try again. After all, there’s a sucker born every minute.

  2. Diana Coman says:

    The idea of pruning made me think of Singapore’s system – would that be a reasonable fit to what you initially had in mind?

    • For better or worse, that’s pretty much exactly what I had in mind. The Singapore model certainly yields excellent tests scores, but the question still remains : to what end ?

  3. Diana Coman says:

    I am certainly not a fan of of testing and scores, but at least there is an implementation of the model and therefore one just has to wait and see the end result over a bit of a longer time frame (and if one can truly untangle so clearly the impact of the education system -by means of a scoring system perhaps, lol- vs. all the other variables).

    • You’re quite right to point out that teasing out causation in complex systems is an essentially insurmountable task, but we have to “wait and see” over a time frame longer than 1300 years to see if testing yields anything other than drones ? Hm. I’m not so sure.

      Sounds to me that with school testing we’re more measuring what we *can* rather than what would actually be *useful* to measure because, hey, a map’s a map and even if I’m heading to Jakarta this map of Johannesburg is better than nothing !

  4. […] (aka. adult) that socialist society needs. Much of this is accomplished through use of the Chinese examination system, which has the effect of […]

  5. […] and body image hang-ups ? He didn’t go to school like you and I did, he didn’t write tests and learn to type and play tag at recess. He lived in a parallel universe from Day 1. […]

  6. […] ? Hm. Seems to me that the Chinese and Ancient Egyptians each had a couple successful millennia of planned societies without any of the electronics, massively urbanised factories, and other recent technologies used […]

  7. […] Now some post-secondary institutions, particularly those in the People’s Democratic Republic of Jolly Ol’ Blighty, are all too intent on turning your children into mentally mushed midgets who need to eat psychedelic mushrooms just to cope with the moronic monotony of their caged existences masquerading as “life” on campus. This is a crime against the word “education,” even if it’s Sui dynasty style. […]

  8. […] separated by no more than a single, solitary generation ? Surely you see what a mere 30 years of numbers-driven insanity has done to post-secondary education in America. I mean, how can you not […]

  9. […] one more fertile than Genghis Khan), but pissing off men in the first place is fairly bad policy unless you’re looking for a fight. A saner policy would be to more rigorously weed out the dud children from the general population, […]

  10. […] unlike “Don’t fuck with the wrong people in general,” really. But then again, how’d you know ? There’s no ready answer to this, which […]

  11. […] you can’t earn your way into the Yeshiva, whether through your own blood and sweat or the generosity of family, you basically have two […]

  12. […] truth would appear to lie closer to the theory that he’s slightly above-grade-average “educated” kid who can just manage to string a few sentences together even though he can’t see […]

  13. […] with longer intervals than are readily memorisable in the point-form digests characteristic of Confucian exams. We’ll do well to recall that, as far as “modern” “democratic” […]

  14. […] else, it starts with experience, doesn’t it. And for those denied the opportunity of a proper education, what else is there ? So, direct, first-hand experience it is. What happened in your former life […]

  15. […] world. Not an undergraduate understanding from the LV Skool Of Hiyer Lurning, mind you, but rather the one and only yeshiva. But you already knew that. […]

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