The underlying assumption is that “what is worth learning” can be dissected into a finite, discrete set of objectively unique items that can be ordered and delivered in the method of, say, the light opera of Gilbert and Sullivan rendered by D’oyly Carte.
It is not that H.M.S. Pinafore or The Mikado might not be enjoyable, or might be criticized as insubstantial. The problem is we pompously pretend that these discrete items are ALL THERE IS TO THE TOPIC.
Such superficiality allows the student to assure others that, for example, “I am well versed in Shakespeare,” whereas a professor emeritus of English Theater who has studied the works of Shakespeare for fifty years, would not dare to utter such a bold claim.
The multiple-choice exam offers the pretense that ignorance can be quenched, once and for all, on some certain topic; and that one may proudly wear as a badge one’s mastery of that particular subject. Humility becomes like a great millstone, bearing one down when competing against one’s self-assured others.
In medical school, there has become a rational curriculum weighed down by the reassurance by all concerned that it is minutiae, trivium, irrelevant for all concerned. Most students know how to learn for the curve – associate facts in the brain for a few weeks, sufficient to pass some examination.
I recall being outraged in one examination to be in the lower 25% of the grading curve for one class. The majority of students obtained copies of the old examination, which was essentially unchanged year-to-year. The professor conceded the duty to teach the course, but not to use a meaningful metric to measure student knowledge.
The problem is, what is a sham at one level is treated as legitimate at the next. If there is no means to assure a student knows anything, the rubber stamp of approval must be heavily wielded.