The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

SCHOLASTIC APTITUDE, OR NOT: I know that I should not admit to such a thing, gas prices being what they are these days, but simply as in the interests of full disclosure I should mention here that I never took the SATs. I realize that this is a shocking admission for anyone to make in this day and age, when the SAT test scores more or less determines the future course of a young person’s life, separating the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, and franchisees from the flippers. I realize as well that making this admission now will cast a cloud over my family’s good name for uncounted generations to come, but sooner or later the unholy truth of the matter was bound to come out and I might as well get the whole unpleasant business over with in one fell swoop.

For many years, I hid my shame; in our modern postindustrial information society there is not room for those people who do not take the SATs, unless you are an illegal immigrant or Amish, and I have no talent for picking crops or for raising the barns necessary to store those crops once I have picked them. This is, of course, a terrible thing for someone who comes from a long line of Irish agriculturalists to say, but the green thumb abandoned the family when we headed off to Liverpool in the mid-1840’s after a scrumptious farewell dinner of nettles, weeds, and Uncle Sean; it was not necessary to stew Uncle Sean, according to family lore, as he arrived for the festivities already fairly well-stewed. But that is a story for another day.

I don’t remember why I didn’t take the SATs; I’ve always assumed it was a lack of interest on my part, or perhaps it was sheer ignorance. The basic intelligence of you average seventeen year old American male is usually pretty sound, all things considered, but you really can’t go wrong in underestimating how much they really know, especially if they went to public schools, where most kids major in socializing, with the occasional pop quiz thrown in to break up the monotony, and I was no different than any other seventeen year old, which is to say, I didn’t know squat. Perhaps I should say that I knew even less than squat, since every other guy in my class managed to take the SAT and I did not. I’ve tried over the years to find a good reason for why I didn’t bother with the test, why I simply chose to disregard the overwhelming tide of opinion from faculty and friends that I was throwing my life away before it even got started. There are any number of reasons, some more valid than others, as is always the case with life.

It could have been that I did not want to pay for the test. This is my mother’s favorite explanation, because it allows her to revile me in public as a cheap and miserly sort who’d throw his own mother out into the snow to make a buck. This is not true, of course; I am among the most charitable people I know, my munificence a magnificent example to other, less charitable sorts, and I did not throw my mother out into the snow—she tripped on a shovel and fell into the bushes, and the snow broke her fall and kept her from breaking her hip. It was an accident and could have happened to anyone, even if they’d paid their rent on time and in full. And I should point out that at the time I did not have a job and that my parents would have paid for the test, and I’ve never had any aversion to spending other’s people’s money, which is why the civil service suits me so well. My father, on the other hand, always held that my failure to take the SATs was simply one more example of my exceedingly grand capacity for sloth, a mere episode in a life dominated by an unwillingness to get out of the bed in the morning. But I am not Oblomov, although this idea is certainly more attractive than my mother’s idea of me as miser. It’s hard to work up much sympathy for misers.

Or, and this is my pet theory, I just forgot about them. I have forgotten a lot of things over the years, and most of the things I’ve forgotten were probably not worth knowing in the first place, except for the address of the girl I asked to the senior prom, and no, she still won’t speak to me, even though it’s been thirty years; some people, I’ve noticed, have a problem getting over this sort of silly stuff—it’s not good to dwell on the past too much, but that’s just my opinion.

Why would I forget to take such an important test? Well, to begin with, I probably didn’t think it was all that important at the time. Everyone I knew told me the test was important, and I suppose I believed them up to a point, but that was the 1970’s, you know, and I am pretty sure that most of the people telling me that the SATs were important and that I should take them also had Pet Rocks in their rooms and wore platform shoes, and really, how much credence can you give to the opinion of someone who paid twenty dollars for a Pet Rock when they could get a perfectly good rock for free just by going outside? As for platform shoes, I am certain that owning a pair then is grounds for revoking one’s American citizenship now, and I would just as soon not get sucked into this controversy, thank you very much.

But I can tell that some of you are appalled at my cavalier dismissal of a test that you sweat bullets in order to pass so you could get into a “good” college, or better yet, a “name” college. Perhaps I am being a little cynical here, a surprising thing in and of itself, as I am usually the most trusting and Pollyannaish of people, but if you take a look at who teaches at “name” universities, you’d be more than a little surprised. Prestigious professors at prestigious universities do not enhance their prestige by teaching teenagers; teaching assistants teach teenagers, and who are these teaching assistants? Graduate students only a few years older than your freshman; that’s right, the kids are teaching the kids, that’s what you’re paying big money for. Maybe it’s just my lack of a proper perspective about all of this, but I’ve noticed over the years that you can get to the same places in a Chevy that you can in a Cadillac, and for a hell of a lot less money.

The thing that’s the most fun about never taking the SATs is the awed reaction you get from kids when they find out I am testless. A strange look of awe passes over their faces, and then a look of disbelief: I have to be kidding when I say this. The schools have been telling their parents and them since kindergarten that modern life is not possible without getting good SAT scores, and there I am, complete with degrees and everything. Some kids refuse to believe that I am telling them the truth, this being so at odds with everything everyone’s ever told them all of their lives; I don’t press the issue—it’s good that kids have some illusions as they move forward with their lives. Still, life has a way of working itself out without the need to score well on the SATs, as many a predestined success story have found out for themselves; destiny, like so many other things in this our fallen world, ain’t everything it’s cracked up to be.


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