April, 2008

Modern Tests

by Thomas Vincent

I hate tests. I've always hated them. Pop Quizzes, dental exams, even trivia contests all cause me to break out in hives. Ever since my ignominious failure to master shoe tying in Kindergarten (my first test) my life has been one long ordeal of fear, loathing and anxiety over what question is coming next that I won't know the answer to. On my tombstone, intead of an epitaph, there will probably be a letter grade - no doubt a failing one.

For many years I struggled, thinking it was my fault that I couldn't seem to do better at tests. It was only when I got to be an adult that I figured out the problem: most tests are not designed to show what you know; they only reveal what you don't know. As the sum of my knowledge on any issue is usually inadequate - what I don't know can fill volumes - is it any wonder that my tests results follow suit?

Modern tests seldom ask the right questions. For example, in order to get a marriage license, in most states all that is required is a blood test. A blood test? You might as well visit a witch doctor and have him throw some chicken bones on the ground. If you really want to test whether a couple should get married I say put them in a canoe together and see what happens. An hour spent paddling down a shallow river with lots of rocks will tell you all you need to know about a couple's future chances for matrimonial bliss. (If you really want to make the test interesting, let the woman sit in the stern and steer.)

A blood test doesn't even provide a glimpse into a couple's parental suitability. If you really want to find out whether a husband and wife should be allowed to procreate, I say make them undergo a seven hour red-eye flight on a crowded plane filled with wailing, sniffling, coughing babies. If they survive the flight with their desire to become parents intact, they'll probably be pretty good at it.

On another front, instead of a patent application, before new products come on the market, I think they should be required to undergo an annoyance test. This test would require that the inventor actually use his product for a year. (Or have his neighbor fire it up under his window at six in the morning.) If this test were in place I swear we never would have seen products like shrink-wrap, Sea-Doos and leaf blowers.

Another area where modern testing is inadequate is in the arena of politics. Pundits put great stock in the vetting process that candidates for office are required to undergo when they hit the campaign trail. I maintain, however, that a candidate's fitness for office has little to do with how many skeletons (or prostitutes) they have in their closet. If you really want to know what kind of a man or woman you are voting for, put them into an isolated room, secretly watch while they play a game of solitaire, and see if they cheat or not. Any candidate who cheats at a game he is playing against himself sure doesn't deserve my vote.

To take it one step further, what is all this claptrap about requiring the President to be a natural born citizen? What kind of test is that? Just because a man is born inside the United States doesn't mean they are qualified to be president. It's a sad, ironic fact that aliens applying for citizenship are put through a more rigorous test on the workings of our constitution than candidates who are running for public office. What other explanation is there for a presidential candidate like John McCain who, after five years of war and occupation in Iraq, still doesn't know the difference between a Shia Muslim and a Sunni Muslim?

Okay, enough rambling. Here's a parting question for you:

Is it legal in California for a man to marry his widow's sister?

Think about it... There will be a test next period... but don't worry... I'll grade on a curve.