Thoughts on the problem of grades, tests, qualifications, and seeking gain from the power structure, with remarks about repeatability and creativity

Here’s a thought I had:

Over the years (actually decades) I have spoken of the ridiculousness and inaccuracy of grades as well as testing and qualifications.  This society has taken these too seriously and it seems that it has caused numerous problems as a result, at least in my unprofessional and worthless opinion (of course, my opinion doesn’t matter . . . I haven’t any fancy qualifications or letters behind my name!  What the crap do I know?).

A common joke, for some of us, is that when we are asked to do something simple (such as open the door for someone) we say, “I’m not qualified to do that”.  A variation of a common joke goes like this:  “I’d get a job as a Walmart Greeter but they probably require two PhD’s, at least a bronze medal in the Olympics, and to of climbed Mt. Everest at least three times, the first time before the age of six”.  What we’re making fun of is all the silly and asinine requirements that are often needed nowadays.

But, looking at it closer, I see some interesting things . . .


During the NASA Mercury Project they often spoke of the “right stuff”, of choosing the right men who had the right qualities to make it in the program.  But did they choose the right men?  There are a number of questions that I asked:

  • Who determined what the “right stuff” is?
  • Who made the people who determined the testing the authority in the matter?

We must remember that, before the Mercury Project, there were test pilots doing all sorts of stuff and they didn’t have fancy qualifications.  Not only that, they were the ones who set the stage of what everyone else did later, including the Mercury astronauts, and many died doing it!  Are you telling me that they did not have the “right stuff”?  Whats even more funny about it all is that the astronauts of the Mercury Project were treated as having the “right stuff”, and treated like heroes, before they even flew or did anything!  But the previous test pilots, who are the only ones who did anything and laid the foundation for everything, weren’t considered “qualified” to go into the Mercury Project.  That always struck me as odd.

This mentality, it seems to me, has a lot to do with the governments involvement in the program and that it involved national pride which gave it a more “serious” quality.  In this way, the “right stuff” was really an expedient creation of the power structure (the government) and reflected the power and influence that it contained.  What this shows is that the “right stuff” is not, in actuality, the “right stuff” but the “right stuff according to what a power structure says it is and in order to serve its purpose”.  This is very revealing about the matter and the problem.

Another incidence that happened, I believe in the 1990’s, is rather interesting.  I can’t remember it word for word but I remember the gist of it.  I was at a book store in the engineering section (as I’m interested in engineering) and overheard two older guys conversation.  They were engineers.  One said something to the effect, “I can’t believe what students have to go through now to pass those engineering classes.  I don’t think I could pass them.”  The other said something to the effect, “How is it that students are required to know all this stuff that we don’t know but, yet, we’re the ones designing everything?”  What he was more or less saying is that the system requires students to know all this stuff but the people who are actually doing it don’t know it.  Why, then, are they required to know it?  My observation:  primarily to satisfy the “whims” of what the system thinks is necessary.

All this shows an inconsistency . . .


What we’re looking at is an inconsistency between two things:

  1. What works as a result of real world reality based on active participation and doing things in the world and what works in the real world . . . what can be described as “real world need”
  2. What works as a result of what a system says is right . . . what can be described as “system need”

From my experience these seldom coincide and, if they do, it is often only minimally.

Testing and regulation are products of the system and, therefore, reflect “system need”.  It primarily uses them to keep an order and control over things and people.  But the system, nowadays, is so massive that the “real world need” has been pushed to the side, trivialized, or even destroyed.  The system is so massive that its testing and regulation has also become massive . . . its practically determining how everything is done, who does what, and how.  This is showing that we are moving away from a “real world orientation” to a predominately “system orientation” and, in a way, we are turning our backs on the real world, and its reality, as well as what works in the real world and favoring only what the system says.  Everything, now, must be sanctioned by the system.  We’re creating a world based in this “system orientation”, letting it run, dictate, and control our lives and everything in it.

It seems, to me, that the “system orientation” may work for a while but will eventually backfire.  It seems to do this by causing a number of things to happen:

  • Its makes it so that there is one way to do things
  • It restricts or prevents some things from happening (such as only some people are allowed to do things)

In this way, the “system orientation” as if forces things in one direction only which creates something like a “bottleneck” in society that will eventually strangle it to death.  This happens all the time in history.  It seems, to me, that this is happening now.  To go even further, the “bottleneck” may be worse, nowadays, because this system seems different than what we have ever seen before in history:

  • Its the largest and most powerful system ever created in history
  • Its a system that has made an incredible large amount of the population of the world dependent on it
  • Its so large and powerful that its almost impossible to change
  • The “system orientation” of this large and massive system is only getting stronger and stronger

Because of all this, a very large “bottleneck” is being created.  But what happens when it strangles this system?


The “system”, as I use it here, refers to what can be described as the “organized power” in society.  In many ways, it holds society together but has a tendency to become overbearing to the point that it can strangle the society to death.

Because its so closely associated with the “organized power” of society there is a lot of “gain” in being associated with the system.  This plays a large role in tests and qualifications, which become a means for that “gain”.

There are many aspects to the system, such as:

  • The power structure – this refers more to the power element or aspect of the system
  • The administration – this refers to the people, and organization, that maintain the system, decide how its to function, and such


When I use “testing and qualification” I mean it in specific ways:

  • Testing – This refers to the means that a system uses to “qualify” someone
  • Qualification – This is when a person is “accepted” in the system

Typically, when a person is “qualified” by the system they are given what can be described as “privileges” that a person who is not qualified does not have.  This often is things like money and power.  As a result, testing and qualifications becomes a means to gain “privilege” from the system. Because of this, a number of things can happen:

  • People will do anything to get it
  • People blindly follow and believe it
  • Testing and qualifications tends to become corrupted

This makes testing and qualification one of the things that entrenches us in the “system orientation” and makes it so powerful.  As a result of this, testing and qualifications, in one form or another, have always been part of the system and the “system orientation”.  It appears in many different ways in history, such as:

  • Social status – such as how much money you have
  • Achievement – such as how many enemies you’ve killed in battle
  • Heredity – such as nobility
  • Some sort of “socially sanctioned certificate” – such as a degree or license

In this article I am primarily speaking of the “socially sanctioned certificate”, which is the form most prevalent today.  This includes things like grades, degree’s, and various forms of certification usually given by some organization.  These tests I often jokingly call the “new patents of nobility” as, in many ways, they are creating a new form of nobility.  Most of these “new patents of nobility” are based in some form of a pre-established test which is assumed to be an authority . . .


In a previous article I’ve spoken of how grades don’t really measure anything (Thoughts on how grades really don’t measure anything).  Grades are just a form of psychological testing.  But who made the tests authority?  Who says the tests are accurate?  At this time, I see no evidence that grades are really all that accurate.  To me, grades are only “suggestive” at best.

I started to question the authority and accuracy of tests and grading when I was at the University.  I wanted to say things like, “what proof is there that grades are accurate”, “who made the the grading process an authority?”, and “who made the professors the authority in grading?”  In other words, I questioned the authority and accuracy of the whole grading and testing procedure.

I should point out that I was at the University studying psychology.  I was looking at grading as a form of psychological testing and questioning its validity and accuracy.  Even now, about 30 years later, no one has ever shown me proof of its authority or proof of its accuracy!  When I talk to people about it this authority and accuracy it is assumed and no one questions it.  As far as I know, I’m the only one who has really seriously questioned it.  It amazes me that peoples lives are being determined by a process whose authority and accuracy has never been established and which no one questions!  I can’t believe it.  But such is the power of the system over people.

This fact shows that people are willing to do anything, even blindly agreeing and obeying, to gain from what the system offers.  This often tends to turn people into something like a “robot” and automatons to the system, who are willing to do whatever the system demands.  This is further reinforced by the fact that whoever does what the system demands tends to succeed.  Because of this, the tests and qualifications, that are prevalent today, are actually measuring how well a person does whatever the system requires.  A good example are grades . . .


To me, a person who “gets good grades” is not a smart or intelligent persons necessarily, but a person who “does what the system requires” . . . and that’s it.  From my observation grades are primarily a measure of:

  1. How well people do what they’re told
  2. How compliant they are to what they system wants

But there are flaws to this form of measurement:

  • How well a person doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on how “smart” they are . . . it just shows they’re good at doing those things described above.   Some people have a knack and ability at doing these things.  Personally, I see no evidence that a person who does these things well are smarter or more intelligent than one that doesn’t do them well.  Show me the proof!
  • Because someone doesn’t do these things well, and doesn’t get good grades, does not mean that they are dumb or do not understand what’s going on.  Just as some people have a knack at doing it some people don’t have a knack at it.  Not only that, many peoples minds are not conducive to the grading and testing situation so they naturally don’t do well as a result.
  • Because doing these things well is a form of conforming to the system, and power structure, it gives them the illusion of authority, which translates in the idea that they are more “smarter” or more intelligent.  Its not because they are but because they are doing what the system “sanctions”, so to speak . . . they get its “approval”.  My observation is that this “approval” from the system is what constitutes “intelligence” for many people . . . not actual intelligence.  This means that “intelligence” has less to do with intelligence than what is supposed.  In some respects, to be “intelligent” often means that you are doing things the way the system wants, and that gives it a quality of “authority”.

So what we see is a number of things:

  • That grading is something created by the system as a means to display its power and control
  • That it really isn’t all that effective or accurate

From my observation, these conditions are typical with testing and qualifications in general.

One of the effects of this is that it creates a situation where people cater to its dictates, accurate or not, in order to gain from what the system offers.  One such character this creates is the “university robot” which I first noticed at the University where many people had an almost robotic quality about them.  I also call it the “programmed intellectual” because schooling seems to be more like being “programmed” than anything else.  This emphasis on grading and testing, as a means to cater and benefit from the system, tends to create a person who develops a “robotic” or “programmed” quality and who thinks in a way that is accepted by the system.  This isn’t surprising as the more they think in the accepted way the more likely they are to be successful.  As a result, it puts pressure on a person to be “robotic”, or “programmed”, and to cater to whatever the system wants.  To me, these are defining qualities of an “educated person” or “intellectual”.

When you look at the “programmed intellectual” closer you can see that what is being considered “intelligence” is nothing but doing things like:

  • Repeating established information, facts, or knowledge
  • Repeating what someone else has already done, said, or did 
  • Following accepted and approved patterns of thought set down by the power structure 

In these ways, it creates what I call an “illusionary intelligence” . . . they only seem intelligent.  In large part, they are really “standing on the shoulders of other people”.  Most of what they do does not originate from themselves.

As I have talked to people about things I have found that this “illusionary intelligence” becomes a continual problem.  Sometimes, its like listening to a tape recording of the classes they took, which is why I often call it the “tape recorder scholar”.  As I looked at it closer I found that many people could not “think on their own” but had to rely, sometimes totally, on what other people have done or are continually citing things that are associated with the power structure to give them authority.  Overall, my observation is that many people follow a pattern of thinking that other people came up with or that is already established.  This is particularly bad with people who have been to the University and have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.  This stunned me when I found this out.  Still, to this day, when I talk to anyone with an “advanced degree” I feel like saying, “now, I’m not going to listen to you repeat what you learned in class am I?”  Interestingly, even after 30 years after being in the University I still have not had an insightful conversation with anyone who has been to the University.  All the insightful conversations I’ve had are with people with little, or almost no, schooling.  What I found, to make a long story short, is that going to school, particularly the University, seems to destroy things like insight, intuition, and creativity.  This is because the whole orientation is based in being “programmed” with pre-established and pre-approved information, points of views, and patterns of thinking.  Success is determined by how well you can repeat and duplicate what the system and power structure wants.  And, by God, you better do it the way the Professor wants or you won’t pass the course!  What a sure way to destroy insight, intuition, and creativity . . . and that’s exactly what I saw.


Much of the “authority” behind tests and qualifications lie in its association with the power structure (such as the system and administration).  In other words, the power structure is what gives testing and qualifications validity and worth.  Without the power structure testing and qualifications have no value and have no meaning and no one would give a care about it.

Often, people seek the acceptance of testing and qualifications, and automatically believe it, for a number of reasons such as:

  • Money
  • Influence and power
  • Social status
  • Social relevance
  • Self-importance in society

These have given tests and qualifications an unbelievable power and influence.  As a result, tests and qualifications are being taken way too seriously.  This isn’t because they are “true” but because, through testing and qualifications, people gain from the power structure.

In much of the world since the beginning of time, the “test and qualifications” were not based in a power structure but in the “real world”, of how things work in the “real world”.  But now everything is based in the power structure, the “system orientation”.  This shows a number of things about testing and qualifications in this society:

  • That the prevalence of the power structure as authority is a reflection of a large organized society
  • That a powerful power structure has to exist to make them relevant
  • That the testing and qualifications of the power structure is detached from the “real world”
  • That the testing and qualification of the power structure are dictated by the conditions and “reality” created by the power structure . . . the “system orientation”

To me, these facts make testing and qualifications look irrelevant and its authority questionable from an overall perspective.  It shows that testing and qualifications is a power structure centered perspective, completely based on and resting on the power structure.  When you go out of the power structure they are irrelevant and lose their authority.  Since I don’t cater to the power structure, don’t rely on it, and so do not need it this is a very obvious fact.  To me, looking at it from a distance, it looks comical and, at times, ridiculous.   But I know that it is an attempt at creating a control in a large population of people which is a natural and necessary thing.  Basically, testing and qualifications are created for the expediency of the power structure, to create what I call an “illusion of control” in a population of people.  It gives the power structure something to “work with” and to scale people with.  This makes it easier for them to keep a control and order.  But, it must be emphasized, that it is an “illusion of control” . . . its a way to keep a control in a population.  Because testing and qualifications is an “illusion of control” it means that they are an illusion, as well, which means, more or less, that they are not really true.  


I’ve always felt that this over emphasis on grades, tests, and qualifications is hindering scholarship nowadays.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it is transforming it and creating new forms of scholarship.

Much of scholarship, nowadays, is focused on doing what the power structure wants, in the way it wants, and in seeking gain from the power structure.  When that is accomplished its considered successful scholarship.  Basically, the requirements of having to pass tests, qualifications, etc., in order to satisfy the power structure, have created a mentality of “having to do whatever it takes to be accepted” in the scholastic and knowledge-based fields.  This attitude has now become so prevalent, and strong, that it is affecting the way things are looked at and interpreted.  We could say that this condition has caused a number of new forms of scholarship types, such as:

  • The “scholarship of gain” – this is when its motivated by the desire to gain from the power structure . . . people do whatever is required for this gain, of getting degree’s, doing the “proper interpretation of the facts” in a study, and so on
  • The “power-based scholarship” – this is when its motivated by trying to obtain power from the power structure . . . such as getting a degree, or doing the right studies, to get some advancement, privilege, and so on
  • The “system scholarship” – this is scholarship that supports, maintains, and helps the system to grow and develop . . . usually, a person gains in some way by doing this

In all of these cases, we see that personal gain from the power structure is a prime motive in scholarship.  This means that the scholarship is “slanted” toward that end.  The effect of this mentality include things like:

  • The scholarship is biased to already accepted and approved ways
  • The scholarship conforms to the ways of the power structure
  • The scholarship caters to the power structure, its demands, and needs
  • The scholarship cuts corners to do what the power structure wants
  • The following of accepted viewpoints gives a unity in interpretation, appearance, and motive
  • Since its based on accepted viewpoints its automatically assumed to be true
  • Many things that appear “new” is often based on what I call “next step thinking” . . . taking something already existing and making the next logical step based on already existing and accepted viewpoints . . . which means its not quite as new as it seems
  • Many things are motivated by ulterior motives and are a means to some other end
  • It tends to be one-sided in motive, only having value to the power structure and ones gain

These are forms of scholarship that lives in the shadow of a power structure, depend, on it, and gain its relevance from it.  This is done a number of ways:

  • Generally, it is motivated by the need to be accepted by the power structure.  As a result, it follows its dictates, rules, and patterns of doing things.  This makes it appear “true”.
  • A lot of supposedly “new” ideas are really forms of opposing the power structure in some way.  But, we must remember that, even in opposing the power structure, it is a scholarship based in the reality the power structures created and, therefore, lives under its shadow as well.

Overall, the power structure motivates these forms of scholarship . . . not the desire for “truth”, not the need to inquire or know, not even necessity.  In this way, these forms of scholarship are like servants and serve the power structure.  This way of looking at things, it seems to me, is becoming the “new scholarship”.


I have said this many times, and truly believe, that if people had to be qualified, and pass tests, in order to do anything in the world then very little would of ever happened.  As I always say, “the world was created by people who weren’t qualified”.  They created everything because they didn’t know . . . that’s what creation is . . . from not knowing to knowing.  This means that making mistakes, being wrong, and such were necessary.

A test, on the other hand, requires you to know and be right all the time . . . you’re being measured by how right you are.  This means a number of things:

  • That you know certain things and procedures
  • That you can replicate this knowing
  • That you can do this on demand

If you don’t do these then you’ll get a wrong answer on the test.  As a result, all that’s happening in a test is a replication of something that has already been done and which is already pre-established and pre-approved.  It is “correct” when you replicate it properly . . . then you get an “A”.  In this way, to pass a test, or be qualified, only means that you are replicating existing, and accepted, information and ways and doing this on demand.  It does not mean that you create anything which is, by the way, how the world was created.  In this way, testing and qualifications are directly opposed to creativity.


How do you measure creativity?  You can’t.  Creativity “happens when it happens”.  Not only that, it comes in varying degree’s and ways.  Therefore, you cannot test and measure creativity even though it is the source of everything.  But the system and administration can measure repeatability and this is actually the basis of tests and qualifications.  It gives them something to measure and use as a way to scale people.  To me, it looks like the system and administration is taking anything that can be measured as a basis for its scaling system to create the “illusion of control”.  It needs something to measure to scale people and repeatability is all it can measure. 

The problem is that, in focusing on repeatability, the system and administration neglects, forgets, and doesn’t even acknowledge other more important qualities.  It doesn’t even address anything else.  Why?  Because they can’t be measured.  For the system and administration to maintain its power and control, and maintain the “illusion of control”, it needs something it can measure so it can have a way to scale people.  As a result, the system and administration has created a myth about testing and qualifications:  repeatability is all that matters.  This, of course, is not true and neglects a whole world of other things.

There are number of forms of repeatabilty that is measured in testing and qualifications:

  1. The repetition of information and this needs to be approved and accepted information
  2. The repetition of patterns of thought which tends to take certain facts, or things, and lead to a specific and accepted conclusions

All the tests I have taken have measured these two things, in one way or another.

But, it seems to me, that this need for repeatablity tends to hinder creativity.  No doubt, this is because it is opposed to it, as I said above.  In my opinion, its stifling and suffocating it.


The overvaluation of testing and qualifications is creating a society that has qualities such as:

  • There is only “one way of doing things”
  • The “programmed” mentality is praised and looked at highly
  • The only people who are allowed to do anything are people who “do what the system wants” (that is, they repeat what they’re supposed to and get good grades, etc.)
  • Creativity is hindered and not promoted
  • Where knowledge is only a way of seeking to gain from the power structure 

It seems, to me, that we are setting ourselves up for a future problem by doing this.  In some ways, testing and qualifications are creating a new “aristocracy” or a “patent of nobility” in society, of a select group of people who are allowed to do anything.  The system is also becoming so strong that its going to create a world of endless “robots of repeatability” . . . only a person who demonstrates repeatability is esteemed and praised and gets ahead.


There are some areas that need tests and qualifications.  A good example is a Medical Doctor.  There are a number of conditions that require it:

  • A “serious” subject – this often is a subject in which people are directly impacted such as medicine and engineering and help to create a safe and workable condition
  • The need for repeatabilty – this is a field where repeatability is necessary as part of its functioning
  • The need for accountability – this is in fields where things must be done a certain way for reasons of things like law, safety, etc.
  • Where there is a need to know things beforehand in order to accomplish something
  • Where there is a need for conformity and unity
  • Where something is an investment for a company – testing and qualification helps guarantee that the investment will work

It shows that, for some fields and areas, tests and qualifications are beneficial, necessary, and offer an increased likelihood of success.  They make the system function better and more effectively.


Despite the fact that tests and qualifications are needed in some areas they have become so over rated that they have caused a great dilemma and problem, at least as it appears to me.

On one hand its created negative conditions such as:

  • Its created an image that is completely erroneous about ability, creativity, and the value of people
  • It has restricted things, and people, so that everything must follow a specific pattern
  • It has hindered creativity

On the other hand it has done positive things such as:

  • It has helped guarantee safety for people
  • It has helped create a reliable repeatability
  • It has helped the functioning of the system

In short, testing and qualifications has displayed qualities seen in many things:  it does both good and bad.  I think, though, that the bad side isn’t acknowledged or recognized enough.

This theme is not new and I have found a few articles I’ve written about it:

Thoughts on the education and qualification myths: the importance of conditions

Thoughts on the myth of qualifications – the “politics of qualifications” – an administrative illusion of control

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Education, learning, and over education, Grades, scholastic testing, psychological measurement, etc., Modern life and society, Psychology and psychoanalysis, Society and sociology, The 'system', 'systemism', and the power structure and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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