"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 28 October 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
You Will Be Tested on This


[stock market crash?]

Nothing gets schoolkids in

trouble like the question, "Why

do I have to know this?" How we

respond to the inevitable

"You'll see when you're older"

determines whether we grow up to

be happy and dutiful or cynical

and non-productive members of

American consumer society.


One of the few satisfactions of

making it to your 20s is finding

out that your teachers and

parents were wrong, that you

didn't have to know the meaning

of "unguent" or "cadge,"

or how to factor a

binomial, or how to put six

people into three canoeing

parties of two each when person

A can't sit next to person E.


But then comes the awful

realization that no one really

believes standardized tests

measure anything other than the

ability to take standardized

tests. Yet generation after

generation take up their no. 2

pencils because something about

universal standards appeals to

every uninvolved party from

insecure parents up to the

president of the United States.


[is it so wrong that i really don't care?]

Bill Clinton, five years after

riding into office claiming to

be the education president, has

proposed national standardized

tests as a way to get our

schoolkids ready for the 21st-

century. Republicans in Congress

shot down the idea pretty

quickly - not from the belief

that our students shouldn't have

to jump through meaningless

hoops on the way to being useful

consumers, but because they

didn't like the notion of the

government handling the job. To

be fair, that private industry

should handle the job of turning

out well-rounded and regular

bits of education actually makes

more sense - look at how well it

handled burgers.


But our testing industry doesn't

just love kids anymore. Now

there are tests for high

schoolers, college students,

foreigners who want to become

Americans, and professionals of

every stripe. At the summit of

the mountain is the Educational

Testing Service, who from its

idyllic headquarters in

Princeton, NJ, is the prime

mover of our performance-addled

society. Its indispensability

allowed the not-for-profit ETS

to sock away a US$91 million

surplus last year, part of which

pays for one of the cushiest

corporate campuses in the

country, a far cry from the veal

pens that pass for the offices

of most graduates of the

standardized testocracy.


[direct impact on me: none - that i notice that is.  i barely have the cash to pay rent, let alone invest in the stock market.]

Orbiting this bright sun are

thousands of for-profit

corporate planets, including

test prep centers, private

tutoring services, college-prep

courses, and student-oriented

book publishers. Our national

obsession with performance for

performance's sake is a

$600-billion-dollar industry,

and business has never been

better now that baby-boomer

parents are lying awake at night

worrying that their kids might

be (gasp!) normal.


Yet the press to panic us

doesn't stop there. The

president and business leaders

would have us think that the

future of the global economy is

at stake in our need for

national standardized tests.

That line, however, is getting

old. We've been hearing for

decades now that every

fourth-grader in Europe and

Japan is a genius while American

kids can barely make out the

instructions on their

videogames. Supposedly, if our

future workers don't know the

next version of C++ as well as

Indians from Bangalore, we'll

compromise Microsoft's ability

to keep churning out the

biannual release of Office and

ruin the Long Boom that will

lead us to a utopia of happy,

fulfilled workers.


[but i know somehow, somewhere, like the butterfly flapping its wings theory, i will bear some brunt of this]

It makes for nice press-release

copy, but the reality of the

global economy provides exactly

the opposite lesson. The

countries of Europe and Asia,

where the kids score so well on

their standardized tests, are

hardly ideal models for 21st

century America. The so-called

powerhouse economies of Asia are

experiencing wrenching economic

crises. Europe is being swept by

neo-fascism and recession; the

only European nation our

economists admire is England,

and England can't be our model

since their leaders have already

modeled that country on us.


In fact, economically speaking,

our deliberately dumb,



entertainment society is the

envy of the world. Today's

growth industries have little to

do with intelligence and

everything to do with surviving

mind-numbing tedium. Scores on

the SAT and GRE aren't the point

- the process of preparing for

and enduring the tests

themselves is what really

introduces us to the modern

economy. Like everything else

nowadays, the tests are really

just lucrative busy work.


[yet again, i will ignorantly claim conspiracy theory!  yes, that must be it ...]

Maybe Clinton understands this -

maybe not. He can't deny the

synergy (SAT word!) of his

proposal, though: ETS and its

corporate satellites will make

another trillion dollars on

tests and prep courses,

report-writers and doomsayers

will have plenty of work in

education-related think tanks,

and the prez will get his party

a few extra votes. And if

another generation of kids has

to spend a few weeks vomiting

from stress and feelings of

inadequacy, well the global

economy can ask for little else.

courtesy of R. Satyricon

[Fresh Fish.  If you clicked here, I might make more money. You love The Fish, admit it.  Now click. Click, I say!]