No President Left Behind
Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," polytheism and politics wrapped in a polyester pantsuit! I'm your host, Annie. I'm old enough to remember a time when girls couldn't wear pants to public school. (It was a very good excuse for sucking in kickball.)
Today I'm going to address our Commander in Chief, Mr. George W. Bush. He's the architect of the "No Child Left Behind" rhetoric now wreaking havoc in school systems everywhere.
In my era of public schooling, we recognized that the guys who wanted to fix cars and the girls who wanted to dress hair probably would not need to write essays about the political-sociological implications of early Medieval Italian politics as revealed in Canto XVI of Dante's Inferno.
You think I'm kidding you, right? Right? Right?
It happens that I have been teaching in a Vocational-Technical school that draws students from one of the most impoverished cities in this country. These students are kind, lively, intelligent, and optimistic. But they just simply haven't had the educational background or parental prodding of their cohorts in the tony burbs. Don't get me wrong. The students love their parents, and vice versa, but sometimes those parents don't even speak English.
These students -- your future auto mechanics, electricians, nursing home aides, and word processors -- have to pass the same standardized test that every other student in New Jersey has to pass.
Okay, you say, fair is fair. No Child Left Behind.
Except that the damned standardized test is so friggin hard that 2/3 of the adults in New Jersey (including moi) couldn't pass both parts of it. How long has it been since you determined the area of a rhombus?
Let's get past the math. I know more about English.
The English portion of New Jersey's standardized high school proficiency test is so hard, I've seen college exams that were less rigorous. I saw a group of Juniors taking a sample test in a class at my school. The reading they had to do was from Edith Wharton, Ethan Fromme. For the love of fruit flies! I stared at that assignment and wondered if my own kids would be Left Behind. Or if I would be Left Behind, if I had to take the sucker.
One thing I'd bet my house on, and everything in it. George W. Bush could not pass both parts of that test.
I'm not completely against standardized tests for passing high school. Heck, I took one back in 1521. I remember it clearly. The reading assignment came from the back of a boxed cake mix. There might have been a newspaper article or two. The math portion was balancing a checkbook and figuring interest on credit card purchases. So, if you can't read enough English to bake a cake from a box, maybe you don't deserve a high school diploma. Fair is fair.
But giving kids from, say, Gary, Indiana a selection of Ethan Fromme? Is that fair?
You can imagine where all this is heading. The teachers at my school have to drill and drill and drill the kids to prepare them for this one stupid test. Everyone frets about it. And of course some of the kids don't pass, and then they have to jump through even more hoops. When all they want to do is change your oil.
I have an idea that we could turn this whole nation into Edith Wharton-loving savants, if we just spent on education what we spend on spewing flames in foreign countries. But assuming that our nation's spending priorities won't change, shouldn't we cut the auto kids and the floriculture kids, and the welding kids a break and give 'em a friggin career-area test instead?
I say, if they can pass a written driver's test, they can read. And if they can balance a checkbook, they can do math.
Oh yeah, did I mention that there are no exceptions to this test? Kids with Down Syndrome who could once clutch a high school diploma as a matter of pride now have to read friggin Ethan Fromme.
And all of this from a president who has otherwise done his level best to increase the discrepancy between the "haves" and the "have-nots." At that little task, Dubya's succeeded brilliantly.
What a pity he doesn't have to craft a 5-paragraph essay about the steps he took, with perfect grammar and flowing sentences, in 60 minutes! Spelling counts.
Once again longing to be Left Behind, I remain,
Your Merlin of Berkeley Springs,