Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I'm tormenting a Child by forcing it (FORCING I tell you) to sit at my feet and study a very exciting standardized test book. It is not amused. In fact its attitude borders on sullen.


I tell the Child.

This is important stuff this is. This is life changing, world spinning, vital skillage you're working on now.

Take me, for instance.

I frittered my way through high school (that's ages 13-17 for the European crowd remember although 14-18 is standard). I foodled* in my science classes and out-and-out skipped third year math. I forever shamed my Genuine Professor In A Real University father by earning (yes, really earning) a D in his particular field of study and flabbergasted my mother by consistently receiving "Student Not Achieving Up To Potential" marks right next to the "Student is Working Well" comment.

All of which means that while my sister (she of the Superior Aunt status) had colleges sending her tempting little personal envelopes hinting that Scholarships were available and Her Answer was Eagerly Awaited there were genuine and well founded fears that I would not be welcome at most institutes of higher learning [this was the Dark Ages people. There was no University of Phoenix - Now! With Less Accreditation! - at that time]. My one hope lay in the standardized tests.


See, some of my peers had already thought of this. They had been boning up on various things and opening books (that weren't Jane Austen or Dorothy Sayers). They were, to be honest, studying. Me... not quite as much. In fact in my memory I wasn't really truly aware that I was lined up to take this particular test (since I wasn't going to be going to university I was already trying to choose between my career as a famous and wealthy somethingIhaven'tfiguredoutyet and a sad, sad homeless person on the street. With a cardboard sign.)and so it was something of a shock to actually be sitting in the school library on a Saturday morning with two sharpened #2 pencils and a bubble sheet in front of me.

Which makes it utterly unfair that actually I did fairly well. I didn't cover myself with glory in math but I certainly passed while in science I struck lucky with a biology-heavy section that rewarded the inspired guesser (physics would have sunk me totally) and in English I reaped the reward of an anglophylic mother with a heavy bookshelf. There weren't actually any questions about who Ngaio Marsh's+ detective was** or what little-known character Sayers introduced in her short stories as an alternative to Peter Whimsey*** but dang if I didn't totally rock the vocabulary and reading comprehension section.

In fact now that I think about it I can't actually testify to the value of reading exam taking strategies and taking practice tests. I don't think I'll tell the Child that.

We'll just keep that secret.

*foodled: v. To fool aimlessly while keeping a careful mask of industry and interest.

** Roderick Alleyn.

*** Montague Egg, a traveling salesman who has a store of useful aphorisms from his company handbook to help in all difficulties. Would probably have been incredibly tiresome in novel form but then again Whimsey had his moments too...

+Kirk took the mickey out of me endlessly for reading these. I don't know why he found this name so amusing but whenever I had one lying around it was "nnnnnngnnnnAAAAYoooh" in this amazingly nasal voice. Weird. I can hear it now.


Anonymous said...

I think the test-taking strategies only have limited merit. There is something to be said for knowing what you will face, but a kid who has never read a book will only get so far if her first one is a test-taking book!

sprecacenere said...

Through homeschooling (Iknow-Iknow... I assure you mine are very socialized children who are not required to do science under their beds (although, I'm sure there is something of scientific value under there on any given day)or math in a dark closet (although they often choose to because anything learned by flashlight is automatically more interesting and just seems to sink in deeper and I say "good for them!" - Besides, I know that all too soon the flashlights get put aside for i-solation-pods). I want my children to value the benefit of truth and knowledge hand-in-hand with the very necessary skills of balancing a check book, scrubbing a toilet, doing laundry, preparing a meal AND cleaning up after such while helping others over standardized tests any day! Yeah-yeah, my children have also learned how to accurately fill in the tiny bubbles on a standardized test (which I think, by today's standards, makes them geniuses) because they must, afterall, live and function in the real world of standardized everything. With home education (not for everyone, but it works for us), they're gaining a true understanding that there's so much more to this world than what is presented in a distracted classroom through standardization! They know personally the benefits of serving those less fortunate at a local soup kitchen and through Meals On Wheels vs. simply hearing about it. I agree with Simon and Garfunkel who said it best with their song lyric "when I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all"

Julia said...

I think we must have very similar taste in books, so I have to ask: have you read Sarah Caudwell?

I found you through my blog comments last week and spent a long time reading back through your archives. I am so sorry about your husband; your stories about him paint such a clear picture of a wonderful man. Also, I love your writing and I salute your indomitable spirit. Finally I think your children sound amazing. You are making me look forward to adolescence more than I ever imagined possible.

That is all. Just some fan mail. Oh, and I think you might like the Caudwell books.

emily said...

pfft, parental torture is ju7st one of the many perks of having children i assume - mine take every opportunity to indulge, while telling me "its in the job description"... if you cut my mother in half, running through her - like the messages you get in rock, i reckon you would find "mother knows best"

the worst is when she is, you never hear the end of it!

i would reccommend making the most of it while they are sill at home and access is easy, when they move you will have to start a) getting creative witht he mental anguish and b) cramming nagging etc into a week long spurt, which will have to last you at least a couple of months - again im going by my mothers example here! :)

For Kirk said...

emily(wheels emily that is!) - I totally agree. Child 2 is a worrier (sometimes) and a panicker (now and then) and has been feeling under-prepared scholastically. I'm hoping that having it work through a few sample tests will tell it what to expect and will let it know it is actually quite bright!

Pam - I salute you, you home schooler you! We did that for a year with ours and it was great fun but very hard work (of course we were both going to university full time as well which didn't help). Have you read Notes From the Trenches? She's absolutely amazing - loads of bright and funny kids (almost all boys), home schools and somehow seems to be sane still. Notesfromthetrenches.com

Julia - how lovely of you to stop by and make such a lovely comment AND suggest books! I haven't met those yet but I just looked them up and they sound exactly my thing (I'm definitely on the cozy end of the mysteries but I'm quite fussy about my cozies). Its so good to have a Child working at a book store... I only hope Large Box Bookstore carries them or I'll have to wait on Amazon...

emily - your mother sounds fabulous! I think I have the compressed nag down (although it's difficult to get the breathing just right) but I must start thinking creatively for the long-distance mental anguish. BTW you just brought back a long-lost memory of buying rock in Brighton (cleverly saying, "BRIGHTON" in red) and being utterly fascinated that I couldn't lick off the words. Is there anything stickier than a half-gone stick of rock?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation to check out Notes From The Trenches! Great fun! Hope this week is treating you well thus far!

Anonymous said...

A book recommendation that is not a mystery...but the series is cozy in its own special way. Chapter 1 is online: The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith

child2 said...

child 2 goes through a stage

a. do not care about homework/project because it is boring and what does it have to do with life???
b. i have three more weeks to do it, pffft
c. dude, i have a week to go...
d. AWMIGOD!!!! muct throw together p.o.s. b4 mother commits infanticide!!!

it's funny how often i get As on my hasty projects. i rock the procrastination field.