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A theory on testing space

The first time I sat down to take an exam in Chile it was close to that United States “here is your exam, please take this seriously, tests are the only means by which we can evaluate your knowledge and abilities, remember you are competing” style; this occurred in one of the program classes where one would expect the “rigor” and “integrity” of US academics to find its mirror image ––in all fairness to a very good Spanish professor, the snarky semblance to US exams is only important from a relative lens which I wish to explore, albeit implicitly. When I sat down to take my second exam I was handed a piece of a long piece of paper with a question at the top, and as I though to myself “fantastic, essays demonstrate a better ability to synthesize knowledge” the professor left the room, noting she would not return and that the tests were to be brought to her office. I am told this is not a rarity in Chilean schools.

There is another phenomena in Chile, one which, given the institutions I attend, have not been subject to but is evidently held in high regard. That is, during periods of examination the male students are expected to dress in suits and take their exams thusly dressed. If what I mentioned above was an insidious ideology working its way into the exams of Chilean schools then this is most certainly its ostentatious counterpart: tests are not always about the material, nor managing the material, nor even the content of the test. Sometimes the theory and the ideas are irrelevant, sometimes it is more important how one comes dressed to confront them.

Obviously my professor leaving during the political theory exam did nothing to undermine the content of the test, to this minute the question and potential exist in the same perpetuity, yet although she mentioned the test should obviously be answered alone (her words, not me moralizing), the thoughts of what would ensue once she left the room must have followed her ––or rather, entered the room with her and remained there in her absence. The university in question is a professional one, it teaches engineers, scientists, and economists/business people and hopes to disseminate them among the global work force; they are not there, as even some I’ve talked to have subsequently put it: to waste time learning about literature, politics, or cultures dead or alive. No, it would be too easy to ignore that stuff, to divorce one’s life completely from from even something as pervasive as “politics” because your prospect is a well paid job; that’d be too easy, and it is.

The dynamic is more than that, for there are two principle actors complicit in this. Knowingly leaving the room, even remarking that one should not cheat, is a tacit acknowledgement of what is to ensue; it is not enough for the professor to make a test easy enough to not be studied for and then subsequently passed, but rather the test environment must be transformed into a space in which the “real” lessons are learned. Examination thus occupies a space of integrity or at least ostensibly so; the options are two fold: one is to maintain the superficial trappings of honesty despite an acknowledgement that it need to be practiced when the act of it is no longer in view, when confronted with the potential for honesty it is okay to break one’s earlier “promise” so long as it is reconstituted when back in public. Some Chilean students have claimed the act of the professor leaving the room for the examination is a conditioning exercise to inculcate these rising professionals with honesty and integrity. I will not follow these students for the next few years while they round out their college careers but I cannot imagine how several consequence-free Pavlovian sessions do anything but foment the act and the collective lie that covers it.

Humanities do not serve the same purpose here in Chile as many assert they do elsewhere in the world. While I will not claim that there are any universal moral systems that the humanities neither do nor should teach what they often impart are the ability to introspect, analyze, and, eventually, remove oneself from the naturalized orders of life that dig channels for our free will and make natural laws out of human ideas. From what I have encountered in Chilean schools humanities can be a space for the opposite, a place to acknowledge not only their uselessness in the face of success but also to throw the value of humanities back at itself in a display of conscious dis/(mis)-acknowledgement. This is not to assert that any other countries necessarily facilitate a better educational system as a whole ––certainly I could spend my life writing blog posts about the shortcomings and contradictions at play my university alone––  but rather to treat Chile as a case for Chile. If any Chilean laments the corruption of their politics, the idea that the country seems to be run by a collusion between business men and lawyers, or the fact that politics are full of stale, traditional appearances rather than (unelectable) fresh ideas tell them to kindly look at their schools and have the mysteries revealed.

It is certainly worth noting where women (don’t) factor into this dynamic. As touched upon earlier the men are the ones that must wear the proper attire for examination day, with women apparently not needing to learn the virtues of integrity, honesty, and their subsequent negation. If I know anything about Chile it is that this is not the case, there is certainly no valorization of the superb character of women and their inherent ability to fulfill roles to which men must aspire and be instructed to learn. Women are simply left out of the narrative. They can certainly aspire, but perhaps they need to aspire in a more “appropriate” direction.

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