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
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.
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- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- Because that’s the age I was when I was top of my class ! Duh !! [↩]
- 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 ? [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- As decentralised organisational structure tends to be. [↩]
- 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. [↩]