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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
Grading on a Curse
British students get marks for obscenity.
11 July 2008

The head examiner of a British school-examination board, Peter Buckroyd, whose examinations are taken by 780,000 children, recently explained to teachers why a pupil who answered the question, “Describe the room you’re in,” with “Fuck off”—an actual case, apparently—should receive a grade of 7.5 percent rather than a grade of zero. Indeed, Buckroyd went so far as to say that “it would be wicked to give it zero because it does show some very basic skills we are looking for.”

First, the candidate had spelled the two words correctly, said the chief examiner, which showed some grasp of English orthography; and second, he had strung two words together correctly, which showed some grasp of grammatical structure and an ability to convey meaning. Had the words come with an exclamation mark, moreover, the candidate should have received a grade of 11 percent, because he would have shown some grasp of punctuation.

“We’re looking for positives,” explained another examiner, who was presumably desperate to avoid provoking low self-esteem among his examinees. Buckroyd added that, after all, the candidate was “better than someone who doesn’t write anything at all.”

Had the pupil written “Fuck off, you bastard!” he would presumably have received 22 percent, which these days is almost certainly a passing grade with distinction. Unfortunately, my knowledge of English expletives is not sufficiently extensive to compose a sentence that would have attracted marks of 100 percent, and such a sentence, in any case, would not be publishable here.

Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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