Sunday, 15 November 2009

Of honesty

Took my first exam in this semester on Friday. For four months (since my bachelor’s exam in July) I had forgotten how it feels to be examined. Self-confident and laid-back I went in for it, what only proved my success in pursuit for not getting stressed-out before trifling event. A stupid exam is not challenging, there are plenty of more stressful situations in life. But it’s not the point yet.

The auditorium was full of students as I turned up, so I managed to find a seat in the upper part of the room. From the strategic point of view that was a bad decision – all the honest people sit usually close to the lecturer, those who are up to something take seats in the further rows. Soon all those guys and one girl who sat next to me set out to outbidding one another who was more unprepared. Such thing is in the students’ community a reason to boast about and gives a lot of room for lying. Not uncommon is that the one who moans “nic nie umiem, w ogóle się nie uczyłem/am” (EN: I have no idea about it, I haven’t learnt at all) the most, gets later on the highest grade. I can’t stand such hypocrisy and can’t stand taking proud in one’s laziness. Blatant laziness, cause my sitting for that exam lasted three hours and I found the test a pushover.

The more appalling thing is the social consent for cheating. In this respect Poles are very permissive and what in other countries (mostly Anglo-Saxon ones as far as I know) is regarded as disgraceful in Poland proves one’s resourcefulness. If you don’t let your friend look at your sheet you’re selfish, unfriendly rat-racer. I don’t get that concept of solidarity – I think I’m a friendly person – I help those who don’t know how to deal with a difficult issue, lend my notes to the ones who couldn’t be present at the classes. But an exam is a situation which requires a certain level of honesty – your grade in a course should reflect your knowledge dear reader, that’s why it’s unfair when a person who had a butcher’s at fellow student’s paper gets the same grade as someone who had sat for the test. It’s a kind of theft as well – it’s stealing someone else’s knowledge in order to get the better note, which can also be a measurable loss – those with better relative average stand a bigger chance for a scholarship and get higher scholarships. Students meanwhile are increasingly insolent – they clamour for the help, but in a thinly-veiled way – “can we check the answers” – they ask. Or maybe they’re really unsure whether they marked the correct one? (don’t be naïve!) In the last minute I gave in and helped those two people who sat next to me and whom I’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. As usual, I’m left with mixed feelings.

One of my professors once told when she had been to the States the lecturer could leave the room when their students had been writing and be sure they wouldn’t cheat. In Poland, in turn, the lecturer bring along their colleagues to have more people to scrutinise the students.

The permissiveness in Poland is fascinating. I don’t urge on denouncing on your neighbour who doesn’t pay taxes or chopped down a tree without notifying local authorities. I’m not in favour of putting the PRL motto “Kontrola dźwignią społecznego zaufania” (EN: Control is a leverage of social trust) into practice, but don’t perceive disobedience as a virtue.

I find it extremely hard to estimate the scale and harmfulness of the problem described above. It can’t be rooted out straight away and as person who’s grown up in this country I learnt to live with it. Well, yesterday I totally forgot about it and made use of beautiful weather – I washed the car, mowed the lawn before winter and tidied up the garden. Today for a change the rain is teeming down and thoughts of honesty returned…

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