Friday, March 30, 2007

Childish Pet Tricks

All of a previous week, my Ever-Loving Spouse, as well as her students, had to bear the brunt of statewide standardized testing. I wish I could blame the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his “No Child Left Behind” approach to education policy for this hellish experience, but these damn things were around even when I was in the clutches of Sister Mary Ignatius Riley and her Rowdy Nunnery Band back in the drained swamps of Jersey.

Aside from being (my prejudices wide-opened here) an excellent and caring teacher, the Ever-Loving Spouse is the most elocutive of story-tellers. I wish I could re-tell, as best possible as I’d be able to, some of her school-related stories but that would count as stealing tales so I’ll leave the gems un-told and hope that she finally folds and either starts her own blog or, at the very least, pens them down for posterity. She possesses a clever eye, a sly wit, and a most uproarious laugh; all the necessary components for drawing one in for a long sit-down of enjoyable observations of the human condition...the very young human condition, which to me is the best possible condition to observe and discuss as it’s less burdened with the ineffective and distorting shield of age and adulthood.

Suffice it to say, each year’s renderings of these annual tests brings back memories of the Days of Testing of Yore. Sister Mary Ignatius Riley was a taskmaster of diocesean fame. She had her own line of palm switches which made her a tidy profit by way of selling them to other teachers in the various parishes around us. We, as kids, were clueless that encouragement via application of these switches to our open palms or backs was illegal. Most of our parents stood firmly in line with the quick-wristed Sister, assenting, at least tacitly, to this policy. I’m assuming that since most of the kids and their parents (I’m including myself in this bunch) were off-the-boat types who were used to this type of “physical” relationship between Learning, The Child, & The Teacher from their own experiences in the proverbial Old Country, never considered protesting as a valid option. You shrugged your shoulders and persevered. Moving forward and upward were the principal directions and if a swat or two assured keeping on the righteous path...well, no skin off of their backs, so to speak. It's a peculiar state of sorts that the educative process of childhood, wrapped in the black robe of nuns and tied with palm switches, which evoked so much fear back then could provide so much humour now. It's a Three Stooges effect. While it seemed (and felt) as if pain was intricately laced with the acquisition of knowledge at that time, I can't recall the sting. Is it because I can't seperate the two? Does this explain that behaviour in college where I'd gently lash my back while cramming the square peg of Calculus into the round hole in my head? Or is it simply that some information collection truly is mentally painful and the unity of bodily pain and mental pain gets us through that acquisition process?

This brings me back around to the annual standardized testing, specifically those parts of the test where a student is required to read 3-4 paragraphs and then answer questions. Oh, the pain these portions caused until the student figured out to read the questions first and then sift through the morass of the verbiage seeking answers. Who wrote these passages? They could not have been writers. Why were the passages so deathly boring? Were these portions of the test aimed to blot out the last mote of the desire to read in the test-takers? Did any other portion of these standardized test, extending to SAT's and GRE's, elicit as much deep sighing that reverberated through the silent classrooms as the read-em-'n-weep sections?

Perhaps a thin rope or heavy scarf would help. Slogging through the verbal detritus of these paragraphs, a student could gently flog themselves through their completion, feeling a slight nervy pain as their minds clogged with the thick sentences sluggishly sliding before their eyes. Like a dog being tought to sit, a child could be tricked into the temporary condition of complete, though low-level, pain. Anything to get through this day of testing.

Sit, boy. Sit.


I think those read-and-answer "interpretation" pieces are chosen expressly for their dullness in order to prepare the students for a future in Law, or in Politics.

Ever tried to read a Bill?

Were you able to figure out what the least part of it meant on its face, let alone in its deeper implications?

I rest my case.
I'll openly confess I was a regular Bart Simpson when it came to the standardized testing we received in Canada. Ours required a sharpened HB pencil, and hours of tedium as we searched for the correct little oval to fill. One recess, when I joined the chorus of frustrated mates, a cousin of mine from the other class took me aside and gave me the "Don't be a sap all your life" speech. Did this test have any effect on my final grade? No. Would it in any way impede future applications for scholarships? No. Then just go ahead and guess. After a judicious amount of time, hand in your sheet, and spend the rest of the time reading a comic book.

Now here I am, looking at my daughters and wondering just how much I should confess...
First of all: YOU ARE BACK!!! :-D (This was necessary, sorry Darko.)
Second: erm... OK. I don't know how to put it evasively: let us know should your Ever-Loving Wife start a blog. I'd LOVE to read it. Very much so.

A few years after having sat for one of those killing, ever-important exams, I desperately needed the next one. I still do. Quite perverse, since I dream about exams very often. My favourite dream/nightmare? Failing. Or knowing I have to pass a math exam in order to get my BA. In linguistics :-)
I agree...if the ELW starts a blog, please share with us the secret handshake for gaining access. ;-)

When are they gonna come to realize that these tests are utterly and completely useless?
FCB: I'm in total agreement. While teachers may preach the beauty of writing and reading, it is the standardized testing system that has the final word on how words should be used in one's life. Now wonder our conversations, especially in the work-a-day world, are so deathly boring.

WP: I wish things south of your border were different in that the tests' importance on future scholarship were negligent. We are still under the impression and pressure that filling in the correct circle will determine our place in college.

Alcessa and Gwynne: Truly, I am not trying to keep the ELW's scintillating conversations to myself! I've tried multiple tricks, even setting up a blog for her so that all she had to do was to type in Word and I'd copy it all over to Blogger. But though a Modern Woman, she's shyed away from the blogger's life. Let me just say that shy is not her daily modus operandi.

So, I'm a bit flummoxed as to her hesitancy in entering the fray.
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