Excuses, excuses!

19 04 2008

For many of us exams are something we’ve all had to put up with to get where we are in life, and for some, Mr President included, they’re actually quite enjoyable. Yet love them or hate them we all would agree that they’re challenging.

And so they should be, they’re designed, we’re told, to prepare children for the harsh realities of the working world they’ll be entering once they leave school.

Why, then, do we need a system of excuses? Some may object to the use of the word “excuse” to cover something like dyslexia. Mr President has a couple of dyslexic friends who would agree, and have actually seen it as something to overcome, not something to justify not being good enough. Special dispensation undermines this will to succeed.

In a working environment an employer will not allow a dyslexic person more time to complete a task than another employee. Some may say that in a workplace reading and writing may not be essential skills. Yet Mr President says even in an environment where oral skills are important, reading and writing will always remain a part of the job.

Whilst El Presidente would agree that a family bereavement, if sufficiently close to the exam, ought to entitle a student to “compassionate leave” (just as they would get in a workplace), it should not entitle them to extra marks. If you’re ill in the exam, walk out and retake it. Employers in both situations give you leave, but do not pay you extra.

Whatever happened to adversity being something we overcome? Mr President suffered ADHD, clinical depression (which he was receiving treatment for) and suicidal tendencies throughout his schooling, and even into University, where he slipped into binge drinking and was diagnosed as having a drinking problem. These were all things his teachers and professors knew, and they encouraged him to get dispensation.

He didn’t. Why? Because he was determined that whatever he got in his exams was the result of his own intelligence and hard work. He didn’t want pity. Excuses were for lesser people who couldn’t admit their own shortcomings. Ultimately we’re not all equal, life isn’t fair, and an attempt to teach kids that it is by “leveling the playing field” in exams is foolish. Exams are designed to test how well you can do in the moment.

Looking back perhaps he was naive. He believes in meritocracy but now perhaps he’s being held back by that belief, competing against people who lack it. People who did squeeze every conceivable benefit out of a corrupt system. Yet he has no regrets. His results reflect his best work in light of all the surrounding circumstances, and showed him how he could still achieve parity with his peers without making such excuses. He knows that without all of that stuff going on he’d have outperformed them all.

Scrap the system. Not because people abuse it, but because we shouldn’t have it in the first place. Everyone should be measured under the same conditions. If someone has a bereavement, give them leave, and let the record reflect the extra revision time.

No employer in his right mind is going to let it reflect badly against someone that they had a bereavement, but at the same time someone who did sit the exam on the right day will be measured fairly. The same goes for illness, of course it affects performance, but ultimately in the workplace being sick isn’t an excuse for failure, so why in exams?

Sure, some people will have it harder. Those with dyslexia or ADHD (which includes our own Mr President) will definitely struggle, but it will only make any success they achieve far more rewarding. If they fail at least they know they did it on their own, and that maybe they’re not great at everything. Is that not what the world is all about?

As it is all we’re doing is telling people that their very best isn’t quite good enough.


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