Against assessment

When you assess something, you are forced to assume that a linear scale of values can be applied to it. Otherwise, no assessment is possible. Every person who says of something that it is good or bad or a bit better than yesterday is declaring that a points system exists; that you can, in a reasonably clear and obvious fashion, set some sort of a number against an achievement.

But never at any time has a code of practice been laid down for the awarding of points. No offense intended to anyone. Never at any time in the history of the world has anyone–for anything ever so slightly more complicated than the straightforward play of a ball or a 400-meter race–been able to come up with a code of practice that could be learned and followed by several different people, in such a way that they would all arrive at the same mark. Never at any time have they been able to aggree on a method for determining when one drawing, one meal, one sentence, one insult, the picking of one lock, one blow, one patriotic song, one Danish essay, on playground, one frog, or one interview is good or bad or better or worse than another.

Never at any time. Nothing that comes anywhere near a code of practice.

But a code of practice is essential. To ensure that things can be spoken of, fully and frankly. A code of practice is something that could be passed on, maybe not to a character like Jes Jessen, or me, but at any rate to someone like Katarina or a teacher.

But, in all the history of the world, no code of practice has ever existed for the assessment of complex phenomena.

And certainly not for what crops up in the laboratory.

– Peter Høeg, Borderliners: A Novel, pp. 89-90

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One Comment

  1. Jon
    Posted 12/20/2008 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    For a second I thought this was coming from you. Phew!

    Qualitative assessment is one of human-kind’s best traits. Without that, I’m not sure we have any liberal arts…

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