Whether it was prompted by a chalkboard full of quotations to memorize or a chunky piece of Hemingway to digest, you have all asked, “Miss Flindt, why do we have to learn this?”
“It’ll be on the test,” I respond automatically.
You believe me. You trust that there will indeed be a test that measures all the bites of knowledge I have forced down your throats. With full bellies, you await that one opportunity to regurgitate everything into perfect ABCD bubbles, carefully darkened in by your number two pencils.
But as of this week you have finished those tests. All objections of perjury and misconduct may now be raised. Where were the questions about the tormented life of e.e. cummings, the creation stories of the Cherokee, or the resonating themes of The Crucible?
It’s true, I have broken one of the Teacher Rules. You are certainly familiar with The Rules since the better part of your life has been spent in school. They state some basic guidelines like one must own an embroidered denim jumper and/or seasonal vest. No, not Miss Flindt! Trust me, given time even I will succumb.
We also strictly follow The Rule to conspire with other teachers in aligning all tests, projects, and major assignments to fall on or around the same date. Vicious, I know. This is to prepare you for college when professors will even scheme with the organizers of social events to ensure that in a single weekend you will write a paper, meet for a group project, make a PowerPoint presentation, read a large amount of small text, and still manage to drive five hours for a Dave Matthews concert.
These are just samples of the Written Rules. The trickier Unwritten Rules are the ones I tend to break. One Rule maintains that I must Teach to The Test. Just mumbling that phrase in any circle of educators ignites tempers and commences the rampaging. Sadly, my students, you’ve remained ignorant of the inner workings of these very important Tests. In some states, a teacher’s reputation, salary, or job depends on your score. Soon the media receives the report and begins painting their portrait of teachers, revealing to the public who we really are: a bunch of colorful pie charts and percentages accompanied by terms like stanine and norm-referenced assessment. They will see Pass or Fail, Qualified or Unqualified, Achieving or Needing Improvement (Thank you, NCLB).
All gibberish to you. Your Portrait of English is sketched with different strokes: filming scenes of To Kill A Mockingbird…transforming the room into a Harlem Renaissance Museum…dramatically reciting Patrick Henry monologues…creating a giant map of Fitzgerald’s East and West Egg…
Yes, I was aware all along that The Test wouldn’t encompass these things. I knew it only assessed the more annoying parts English—the ones taught in our beloved 1988 Heath Grammar book. Does resentment overwhelm you at the thought of this? Have I lost all favor in your eyes? Read on, dear ones, for the following is what I deem test worthy and all I’ve hoped for you this year:
You learned as Gatsby taught of wealth and Scout of prejudice. You observed as Thoreau revealed the joys of simplicity and Hawthorne the consequences of hypocrisy. Your attentive ears absorbed Dickinson’s buzzing fly and Poe’s rapping raven. From now on, you will hold tightly to the revolt of Mother and the song of Whitman. As you travel, you will hear the South screaming Flannery O’Connor and New England whispering Robert Frost. Every third Monday in January, you’ll recall “Letter in a Birmingham Jail,” perhaps indulge in some Langston Hughes, and no doubt write something brilliant.
You see, it will be on the test. Just not the one you had in mind.