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Looking for vitality

The New York Times reported today that parents in Florida are bitching and moaning over standardized tests. Kids are taking Xanax to cope. They can’t sleep. They can’t eat.

One parent told the Times that her son who is a high school junior is so test-weary, “I have had to take him to his doctor.” She added: “He can’t sleep, but he’s tired. He can’t eat, but he’s hungry.” The Times said in Florida “many schools this year will dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing. In a few districts, tests were scheduled to be given every day to at least some students.”

Wow. Welcome to the Republic of morons who created the politics of educational testing. When it was discovered 30 years ago that sometimes Johnny could not read, politicians rose from the ether. They passed laws requiring Johnny be tested. And so it came to pass. Mandatory tests were imposed. Standards were created. If students passed, then OK. If not, kick their asses from here to John Dewey. And the schools and teachers, too.

Doris Kerns Goodwin points out (in “The Bully Pulpit”) that publisher S.S. McClure said at the dawn of the 20th century that the “ ‘vitality of democracy’ depends on ‘popular knowledge of complex issues.’ ” If we have such popular knowledge, it is well hidden amid the avalanche of 30-second TV commercials and nonexistent or cursory debates that dominate every election. This democracy is in desperate need of some political Geritol.

Imagine, if you possibly can, the format of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 being applied to today’s politics: One candidate spoke for 60 minutes; the other spoke for 90 minutes. The first candidate was allowed a 30-minute rebuttal. There were seven such debates. THREE HOURS EACH! Thousands of Illinois voters showed up.

And just think of all the progress we’ve made since then.

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