The Eleven Plus examination give us the opportunity of educating some of the most able children. We are preparing children for an examination – but we are also preparing our children for later life. Most of us would want our eleven plus children to be morally stable as well as intelligent and hard working.
I worked with an eleven plus boy last week who had the answer pages open in front of him. He preferred, however, to do an exercise – which he found demanding – on his own. From the mistakes he made, it was clear that he had had not looked at the answers. He remarked that he would not have answers in the examination and so needed to work everything out for himself.
One or two of the other children in the room laughed at this idea – but no one commented in a derogatory manner. Of course it can be argued that I should have closed the answer pages so as not to place the child in a position where he could be corrupted by the ability to cheat. Equally the boy too could have covered the answers. I really don’t think that he even noticed that the answer book was open. If, however, he had seen the answers would he have looked? I am not so sure.
What made him feel that he needed to look on the eleven plus as an exercise where hard work and ability was going to win him a place in a grammar school? Was his right minded attitude a result of an exemplary education from his parents? Did he anyway have a strong sense of morality? Perhaps his parents always paid their taxes on time. Did he enjoy the privilege of growing up in an environment where right was more important than might?
Perhaps, in time, he is going to turn out to be a leader. He may even become a rather democratic leader who wants to lead by engendering a spirit of co-operation. He may emerge as a person who is able to show sympathy and imagination. It is possible too that a strong sense of morality will direct him towards striving towards making a contribution towards the common good?
What will happen in the eleven plus examination? There are five minutes left to go. On the right of our hero is a boy, from the same school, who is acknowledged to be a genius. The genius, who has completed his paper, has a coughing fit. His paper flies to the ground. Our hero picks it up to hand it back. There is time for a quick look, as returns the paper, at some of the answers. He does not look because he is intent on his work.
The invigilator looks up and sees the exchange of the papers and swoops down to confront the two candidates. There is a hurried and low voiced altercation. Our boy is accused of looking at the answers. His final five minutes is disrupted. His only crime was to pick the paper up and return it. His morality – and integrity - was questioned, just at the wrong time.
“But I did not look.”
We remember Ernest Hemmingway who maintained:
About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good about after and what is immoral is what you feel bad about after.