Tuesday, June 17, 2014


One of the reasons why I haven't had the chance to update this blog for more than a week can be summed up in one word: exams. I have been making them, printing them, grading them, giving feedback on them - even crying over them. So, I thought I'd have a look at what Shaw had to say about exams, given that he had such scanty formal education, and that he did not think much of his school years, not to mention the educational system he had to endure. Perhaps the best piece of Shavian wit on exams can be found in one of the most precious items of my Shaw collection: THE SPOKEN WORD, a 2-CD set with a selection of his historic radio broadcasts

In a broadcast entitled "Talks for Sixth Forms: Modern Education," Shaw discusses everything he considers of interest for young children, including a piece of advice I've already mentioned in this blog. This audio extract used to be available online on the BBC website, but the link provided here is now broken. At least, Radio 4 still offers a nice audio clip with a decent account of Shaw's life and works. At any rate, perhaps one of the most amusing bits in this talk is the quotation I used for the title of this post: 

"If you want to succeed in exams, you must not let yourself get interested in the subject."

However paradoxical, it is true that for someone of Shaw's talent and imagination, Victorian schools must have been stifling, to say the least. I guess that is why he describes his school years as an "educationally null imprisonment" where "I learnt nothing from the curriculum, and at last forgot a good deal of what my uncle had taught me." These and similar remarks belong to the opening paragraphs of "Shame and Wounded Snobbery," one of his famous Sixteen Self Sketches. Perhaps you may want to read a review of the first edition in The Spectator. It's no wonder, then, that A Treatise on Parents and Children (the preface to Misalliance) should include another piece of Shavian wit deriding the type of schooling that children had to undergo in his lifetime: 

"...there is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school. To begin with, it is a prison. But it is in some respects more cruel than a prison. In a prison, for instance, you are not forced to read books written by the warders and the governor."

James Leigh Joynes, Vanity Fair, 1887-07-16

Other people have endorsed similar views in later BBC broadcasts, but with very different aesthetic interests. 

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