Letters: Exam algorithms, QAnon antisemitism, School shutdowns?

Submitted by AWL on 30 September, 2020 - 9:15
Letter graphic

Scrap exams

Patrick Yarker ( letters, Solidarity 564) defends “personal judgement” in exams. According to recent reports, when English Literature, Drama, Art or History A level papers are re-marked, some 40-odd per cent end up with a changed grade.

I’d say the answer is just not to have school exams (or, probably, university exams) in those subjects.

“ Diagnostic testing” in schools is useful. It can be reported to the student as the teacher’s judgement, subject to being queried by the student (I don’t mean “appealed”, I mean queried in advance of being recorded) and it being clear to both student and teacher that another judgement may be better.

The Chinese Emperor who “invented” graded public exams had a rationale: to select for competence in the civil service. “Summative testing” is important to check whether people are qualified to do some jobs, as doctors or electricians or bus drivers or such. It should be as algorithmic as possible, pass-fail, and open for trying again if you have a bad day. It should not be the focus of education.

Today there is a perverted “rationale” for exams: economic “signalling”. The bosses who recruit people with “good degrees from good universities” to their “good” jobs do not care how much their recruits know or retain about English Literature or History; they just know that those recruits have a capacity to stick at it, to “perform” in stressful exam-type conditions, and to judge what will “go down well” with those “above” them.

To decide which of two novels to read (or decide as a publisher which of two scripts to publish, or decide as organiser of a poetry reading which of two versifiers to invite), would you go by a report that author X had got an A in an Eng Lit exam, and author Y only a B? You would not, and you should not.

Martin Thomas, London

Antisemitism basic to QAnon

I was surprised that the QAnon article in Solidarity 564 didn’t make more explicit the parallel between the main QAnon claims about child sacrifice and the blood libel, nor the parallels between its conspiracy theories and those of a world Jewish conspiracy.

The article suggested only a part of the movement is “openly antisemitic”, but that antisemitic trope seems pretty fundamental to its core belief and is implied by the word “cabal”. Maybe the point is that the parallels are implicit rather than explicit but if that is the case it wouldn’t be a bad thing to expose them.

Cath Fletcher, Manchester

Other demands before “close schools”

I sympathise with Stuart Jordan’s call ( letters, Solidarity 564) for a NEU ballot round demands for school guarantees. One key issue is increasing school funding, for improved ventilation and other building adaptations; another is access to rapid testing. Activists in the union tell me they don’t think the ballot gambit would “work”. I respect their judgement. But, yes, school workers, like workers in other industries, should be ready for industrial action.

Stuart concedes that school closure is not a good first-resort virus-control measure. He agrees that the social demands which Solidarity advocates, and measures like closing pubs, should come first. But his thought seems to be: we have no hope of winning those measures. We might close schools, so let’s go for that. It’s an odd combination of defeatism and wild optimism about the benefits of closing schools.

In previous exchanges ( here) Stuart argued that if teachers refused to start school in September, that would lead to swathes of other workers refusing work and “pose the question of power”. In this letter he reduces it to school closure improving our chances of winning social measures.

But it’s common, even before this pandemic, for schools to close for a week or so with no big immediate economic impact.

If the aim is to close schools for the next six months, so that the current generation of students lose a whole year of school, that would have impacts. But the biggest impact would be a bad one, on the working class.

Colin Foster, London

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.