The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1929
"The truth is that a book which is read for examination purposes is a book which has been read wrongly. Every student ought to read a book, not to answer the questions of someone else, but to answer his own questions."
To-Day in New Zealand our educational system is in the melting-pot. And there is a great deal of confusion as to what is gold and what is scum. From one hand comes that plea for junior high schools, and from another a cry an extension of the technical colleges; there is jargon of the pedagogue with his "Cognition, perception, attention, the sub-conscious, and all the other half — fabulous fowl of the pedagogic aviary," and the farrago of the politician whose ideas were cradled on school committees and education boards. How long is this wrangle to continue? It appears to us that there are so many side issues and so many people talking at once that there is a danger of the loudest mouths gaining the day. Never has there been a greater call for discernment. The world is faced to-day with intellectual perplexities on the largest and gravest questions which have ever page 2 concerned human beings, and at present we are doing little more than putting off the evil day.
In spite of commissions of inquiry, voluminous reports, changes in the methods of control and other expensive luxuries (at least as far as the students paying fees are concerned) can the authorities point to one real reform in the University system that has taken place during the last decade. More degrees and diplomas have been added to the list to satisfy businesses and professions who desire the Universities to set educational standards from them, but in spite of university and college councils, professorial boards, and academic boards, it is still possible for a student comparatively illiterate (so far as English is concerned) to become a Bachelor of Arts of the New Zealand University. The humour of it—English is not compulsory for B.A., but a foreign language is. However, that is an aside.
Never before this year have the evils of the examination system loomed larger in the activities of Victoria College. We do not say that we can dispense with examinations, but we protest against any undesirable developments of the system. The decision of the Professorial Board to hold examinations without notice—a decision, by the way, which was happily not unanimous—has resulted in a distinct falling away in the social activities of the College. This fact is daily becoming more patent. The fear of unexpected tests is stifling the intercourse which should be a feature of our University life, and has driven ambitious students to relentless and harmful cramming. Far better would it be to evolve some scheme for encouraging the highest ideal of study and investigation, than ask young men and women to dull their reasoning powers by swallowing undigested chunks from text books written with one eye on the examination syllabus. Modern education, in endeavouring to meet the exacting needs of industrialism, has tended to remove most of the emphasis from ideals. How long will it be before it is generally realised that in a university at least a grave error has been made? The onus is on those in the seats of the mighty to loosen the bonds of this intellectual servitude—we look to them for enlightenment and not pedagogic strait—jackets.
It appears to us at the present time that the universities are not standing by the ideal upon which they were founded. They are becoming quasi business colleges instead of seats of learning. No one can estimate the full power that science has put in the hands of civilisation, and it is the due control and direction of this power that the civilisation of the future will largely depend. Whether in the end man will survive his accessions of power we cannot tell. Those who believe in the divinity of that part of man which aspires after knowledge for its own sake, the prospect will appear most hopeful. But it is only hopeful if man can adjust his morality to his powers. The thoughts of our academic leaders should be along these lines rather than the fostering of maleficient influences on the loftiest ideals of the higher branches of education.