We Are Not Cookies
Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Have you ever wondered what makes Americans special? I know, I know, I'm starting to spout platitudes like a school teacher. Please forgive me. Every now and then I have to drink some water from the fountain here at the Vo-Tech, and they put platitudes in the tank.
What makes Americans special? Let's not dwell on the negative here -- our conquer, conquer, conquer mentality. That's not particularly unique to America, although we are good at it.
My name is Anne Johnson, and I am going to write this essay about what makes Americans special. Americans are special for three reasons. First, they come from many countries. Second, they are creative. Third, they come from many countries. This is why I think Americans are special.
Forgive me again. I'm making fun of my students. But look at that paragraph above. I'm supposed to teach writing -- essays based on platitudes or nebulous topics like the state school budget. Why do I do this? So my students can pass standardized tests, like students in China, and Japan, and Korea, and Switzerland.
Trouble is, we are not a "one test fits all" nation. Look at how we rail against the kind of life the Religious Right would have us live! It's not only an abomination for Pagans, it would be unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans.
Have you ever thought about why students don't do well on these standard tests here in America?
Start with this.
I have a student who might not pass the standardized test. Recently he turned in a short writing sample. It started, "I remember going fishing with my grandpa. That is when I lived in Vietnam."
Reader, this high school freshman has traveled farther in the first 14 years of his life than I have in all my Phi Beta Kappa 51 years. He's bilingual. Not only is he bilingual, but he knows a valuable language for American business and industry. He's kind of a jovial kid, but underneath that, he wants to work hard and succeed. Talk to him one-on-one, and a very serious side emerges. The joviality masks his insecurity about his difficulties with English.
When did we become a nation of cookies, cut by some machine, rolling along the conveyor belt in perfect rows?
That kind of homogeneity sounds repulsive to all but a handful of Americans. You're always going to have some people who want everyone to look, think, and act like they do. But most of us find the variety of experiences in this country just simply fascinating. I know I do. Who called it "Rugged Individualism?" I like that term, even if I'm not all that rugged myself.
Given America's lack of homogeneity, why are we expected to do well on standardized tests?
There's some kid out in Montana whose family has been here since 1800. In this kid's spare time he raises Angus beeves for 4-H contests. He's blonde and Cacucasian and Christian and Republican. Tiny high school 45 miles away from home.
Then there's my student. Right off the plane from Vietnam, living in Camden. Likes to tinker with electronics. Good in math. Asian (duh). Don't know if he's Christian or Republican ... but does it matter?
Both of these boys have to pass the same test, and it's the same test the Chinese kids take. Oh yes, and their English teachers have been given a set of national standards that suggests they read Little Women in their freshman year.
I say, give the kid in Montana a test on cattle, and give the Vietnamese kid a test on electronics. One will breed a bull with less fat in its meat, and the other will design the next generation of Iwhatever.
Let's keep America special. Let's get back to that rugged individual mentality. In our religion, in our studies, and in our habits. Vive la difference.