Testing, Thinking and Driving

Hear it: The audio version

“These kids are so stupid. All they do is sit around and play video games and listen to their godless I pods and just look at test scores. When I was young we read books and we… blah, blah blah.” Ok this person sounds like me half of the time. I mean I know better, but the whole difference from then to now wears on me, well me and every other person that I have ever met who is now a registered grown up and was previously a kid. “Back then we were like this… (insert condescending, randomly chosen point of superiority.) But now kids are like that… (insert sample of mindlessness bordering that of a gifted spatula.) It is just way too easy to sit back and point at “them” and claim that education is going to hell in a hand basket.

I am a bad driver. I am. I know it and, what’s worse, even knowing this does not seem to help the distracted and unskilled nature of my equipment operation. So at regular intervals I get drivers waving at me with the single finger of hello. I have them shouting at me on the off chance that this will assist my ability to do better. But all of the shouting at me to become better has not helped, as a matter of fact when drivers shout something like “You are a lousy driver!” I consistently respond, “Oh yeah, well I am a great father.”

The point being that we can’t be good at everything. My driving is worse than the driving skill that I have seen in my friends. I imagined that if I really tried hard I could improve somewhat. But is it possible that I just stink. Now there is no social stigma in being lousy behind the wheel. My friends still talk to me, I got into a good college and so on. I assume that this skill is part natural ability, part proper training, part practice, and part effort (or attention). But at the end of the day, I suck.

Now the passing pedestrian whose life I endanger will not feel this way, but I don’t think that this is big deal. Last week I got pulled over in a small town for driving 10 MPH in a 25 zone. I was listening to a book on tape and taking notes about brain function, when this guy pulled me over to see what my problem was. “Well,” I explained, “ I, uh, er… I’m sorry.” You see, you don’t want to tell the officer that you were taking notes on brain function while listening to a book on tape that concerns prefrontal cortex stuff. It was a fascinating section about how small distinctions between… Ok, I won’t force it on you, but it was so cool to me that I almost stopped in traffic to consider it. Now if I had told him all of this, he would assume that I am some sort of freak and then try to get at what I really meant by this, and what are you trying to hide. Better he just assume that you were impaired by drugs or booze.

The points you can draw from this ramble are: that we are good at some things and lousy at others; that our actual interests sometimes bully the less dominant interests out of the way; and finally that the officer sitting in his little patrol car had no idea what was going on in my car. He just saw that it was all coming to a halt. For the record, this would be a more clever example if it were made up. But I got the ticket (note A-5). I am just not all that worked up about my skill-less-ness. It is not what I do, and it is not how I identify myself. Now I will leave this analogy before I raise the ire of driver-safety types.

The idea here is that teachers and test givers all over sit outside kids’ brains and note the observable stuff, but it takes a great deal more than this to know what is going on in side the car. We agree that it is a good idea to know what a person has learned, if for no other reason, to know what the next thing to teach is. This is what I have always cleverly referred to as plumbing the depths of their ignorance. You gotta see how deep what they don’t know is before you can begin. So you need to test. This is what is referred to getting “baseline data.”


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