“The Exam” (novelette) by Sergei Drugal
English Publication History: Red Star Tales (Russian Life Books, 2015)
Original: Russian (Экзамен), 1979
Translated by Yvonne Howell, 2015
Synopsis: Within the Institute for the Restoration of Nature, Nuri walks amid the tame musings, comments on, and holds conversations with its various gene-adapted animals. The numerous mammalian and human denizens of the Institute offer their advice and urge Nuri to consider a freestyle parable, but he considers it beyond his ability. Possibly inspired by his experience with speaking to anthropomorphized animals, Nuri is finally able to spin on a parable while under observation—but to whom and to what end?
Pre-analysis: As a small spoiler to the story, the aim of the inquisition through parable is to become a teacher. This raised both of my eyebrows as I have some experience in research into Soviet educational philosophy when I studied my M.Ed. a few years ago. The class had been through s good chuck of the educational philosophy book when I overheard two students talk about “Who’s your favorite educational philosopher?” My first utterance to self: “Total nerds”. My second utterance to them: “Mine’s Anton Makarenko”, to which they replied: “Are you serious?” Then I was like, “Oh, I’m sure you’re all in love with John Dewey, right?”, to which they agreed.
Long story short, thank you Wiki: Makarenko saw integration as one of the key aspects of education: “the activities of various educational institutions — i.e., the school, the family, clubs, public organizations, production collectives and the community existing at the place of residence — should be integrated”… think of Hillary Clinton’s It Take a Village to Raise a Child (1996) but seventy years earlier.
Analysis: The exam in the story is an example of “authentic assessment”. To summarize, thank you again Wiki, an authentic assessment is:
[T]he measurement of “intellectual accomplishments that are worthwhile, significant, and meaningful,” as contrasted to multiple choice standardized tests. Authentic assessment can be devised by the teacher, or in collaboration with the student by engaging student voice.
Beautifully worded. Nuri is the student in this regard while the random denizens are his teachers who are trying to encourage him to create a parable by framing the situation. They give him multiple chances to engage his voice, his narrative, but he only offers his first parable at the end of the story when he has to define his “moral profile” to a bunch of toddlers. As ridiculous as the situation may be, it’s about as authentic as a test can be for a teacher… minus the lofty language of non-toddlers: “What kind of moral profile does a bachelor have? We’d rather see if he can tell us a good story” (349).
And so, Nuri’s formal education ends with the application of his knowledge to a situation he may actually face when he becomes a teacher; thus, he allowed to go into the world and into the workplace to begin his informal education… the ins and outs of everyday authentic assessments.
Review: The story was a bit spastic in its delivery as it tended to bounce between new characters—both human and animal—urging Nuri to tell a parable. It was frustratingly disconnected but it really snapped into focus for me at the end… perhaps only because of my knowledge of Makarenko and authentic assessments. The re-read of this story proved to be more satisfactory. Tantalizingly, this story is the tip of an iceberg that belongs to Drugal’s collected works of called The Institute of Nature Restoration (19??/1980), which, sadly, was only available in Ukrainian and Russian. It seems that its publication origins are forever lost. So, you may have to be happy with the tip rather than the whole berg.