There was a day, long ago, when a man stood naked atop a large rock and surveyed the vastness of the valley below. He had hunted that day, traveling far from his lodging in the distant caves. The game had been crafty, yet, he had come upon a young stag wh ose sense was not as keen, nor his mind as cunning.
The first stone stunned the animal, allowing enough time for the man to close and strike the lethal blow with his short spear. The battle had ended; his family would eat; others would respect him; he was victorious. An A+ performance.
Centuries after that cool afternoon success of our most distant ancestor, young, aspiring members of society prepare each day to embark upon the modern educational kill: The examination.
Despite its prevalence in the modern world, testing is a suspect practice. A throwback to the tried and true policy of natural selection, exams seem an intellectual metaphor of Darwinian evolution.
A survival issue, you ask? Let's consider it for a moment. Not so dissimilar to the hunt, anyone having suffered through a lengthy session of multiple choice knows an exam combines momentary crisis with the threat of severe future implication.
Consistent with the danger, we have attributed success to great reward. Replacing the meaty flesh of a young stag with a good grade or entrance into medical or law school, the ability to conquer the modern hunt elevates a person's status in society as wou ld skill with the spear in ancient times.
Such gravity and reward transcends the trivialness of the many games we play to emulate survival; for by the modern mark of success, excelling into capitalistic, professional status seems reserved only for the "fittest."
Sounds pretty harsh. Unfortunately, those who control the pathways toward career accomplishment are the most resistant to recognize testing as tribal drum beating. Even with powerful cognizance at our disposal, we are a specie obsessed with hazing others in the same tradition that we ourselves were hazed. Testing is one example.
Thus, one might say we have efficiently reduced the good intention of looking for prepared professionals to an intellectual fraternity rush where we "weed out" undesirables by some arbitrary standard.
A dean of a prominent medical school recently showed statistics demonstrating that performance on the MCAT was highly correlated to performance in the first two years of medical training. At first glance, this seems an excellent validation of using the M CAT for screening potential students. However, since the same statistics show no bearing to the performance of doctors outside of their initial training, perhaps we ought to consider what this might be saying not only of the examination, but about the fir st two years of medical school as well. There must be some motivation to maintain this criteria. . .
Ah, of course; the next exam, which medical students take after their second year. As you might imagine, this discussion becomes redundant when discussing advancement of other types where exams are involved.
Perhaps the only supporting argument for qualification testing is that all we are truly trained for in our educational institutions is to take examinations. Thus, no other criteria for evaluation exists, since generally we are incapable of anything else. I admit, it is hardly decent sounding support.
As grave as this might sound, somewhere along this road, we must learn to take the misgivings and cultural oddities of this world in stride. Since our society has so much invested in the re-creation of the trials of our ancestors, we should take lessons f rom them as well.
If we stop to closely examine our accomplishments and defeats, like the crafty, ancient hunter, we find more than a single path leading to success. The hunt has always been filled with dangerous obstacles, humiliating defeats and incredible rewards. Pres sure from parents, pressure from instructors, pressure from peers - every day and every generation it continues.
Looking beyond the first five letters of the alphabet, we must learn to take each experience for what lessons are given. Hopefully, this might help us survive in a popular culture that has a strange way of deciding what is important without bothering to a sk.
Jason Pyle is an engineering physics senior. His column, 'Critical Point,' appears every other Monday.