This is Only a Test


NOTE:  The blog below was drafted a few months ago.  At the end of any semester, I usually have brief discussions with students about “test anxiety,” and, while I only have actual teaching experience on which I base anything resembling advice to give to these students, I try to let ease their anxiety by encouraging them to avoid allowing a single test assigning them the incalculable ability to define their individual intelligence.

Today, I had a little time to read THE PALE KING by David Foster Wallace.  In short, he’s describing the differing levels of high school students’ attention to “homework.”  To him then (and to me about fifteen years later in the early ’90s), he observed that one group simply applied themselves hard enough to meet the minimum requirements to satisfy their parents and the teachers.  Wallace  believes he fell into a second category (oftentimes the recipients of peer group labels like “grinds” and “tools”)  primarily because his work was put forth in the spirit of actual learning and not in the spirit of passing.  I too felt this way about my secondary and post-secondary education.  I now must quote the book directly about his perception of his high school peers.

“In Philo [his hometown], educating yourself was something you had to do in spite of school, not because of it–which is basically why so many of my high school peers are still there in Philo even now, selling one another insurance, drinking supermarket alcohol, watching television, awaiting the formality of their first cardiac” (p. 295-6).

I love teaching, but one of m professional struggles centers on the fact that so many of my students seem to be in the first category and not the second.  If there is a formula to create more personal integrity and instill a passion for learning, I have yet to find it.

Finals week for college.  For most, the last week of classes in December or May virtually forces many college students to do some crazy things they’ve never done before.  This includes increasing their caffeine intake to incredibly unhealthy levels, behaving neurotically around their friends and family due to the stress, and studying.  However, taking final exams is a time-honored tradition and probably will never end.  Last year, when a lot of people suddenly subscribed to the fate that awaited us on the Mayan calendar, there were some high school students who probably felt that studying was unnecessary because their test was scheduled after the world was going to explode.  They woke up December 22nd sad, dejected, and frustrated with themselves and the Mayans.

Let’s talk about tests.  No?  Oh, right.  This isn’t interactive.  Allow me to comment on tests.  Tests are meant to measure someone’s comprehension of a topic.  For instance, if I gave you a test over this blog, Question One might be this:

1.  What are tests meant to do?

And, since you’ve read this far, you could probably recall reading something about tests a little bit ago and scan…scan…scan..OH!  THERE IT IS!  be able to answer in probably the same terminology I provided.  Tests are, as we BOTH now succinctly agree, meant to measure someone’s comprehension of a topic.

Fantastic.  I can see by your answer that your native language has not escaped you.  You win as a student.  I win as a teacher.  One of us thanks the other; the other says no no did all the work.

Now what?  If the student continues this behavior over the course of an academic year (August/September through May/June–which, by the way, is NOT they Mayan calendar but rather a common sequence of months adopted over a century ago in order to enable young people to work on family farms during the summer months), then that student is promoted to the next grade level until Grade 12 has been reached.  Why Grade 12?  Well, it stands to reason that most people upon finishing Grade 12 are approximately “legal” and are considered “adults” who are ready for the “real world” (a place filled with employers who, comically,  rarely hire young people due to their “inexperience.”)

So, when these Grade 12 graduates see that the job market for them is rather slim, they (voluntarily?) enroll in the next level of education of college.  These 2-4 years (avg.) typically offer young people more specific courses that will prepare them for life in the “real world” and open up many more employment opportunities.  These years of college are, for many, much more difficult and demanding that the ones recently spent at Grades 11 and 12.  The “homework” load becomes really, really intense.  The expectations are higher.  The food is sensationally better.  The environment usually promotes culture and art and music and entertainment and fun and tomfoolery and teachers who may or may not use “vulgarity” in the classroom.  It’s very very different, but in a few ways it is the same.

And during these years of college, students are regularly required to take (and pass) cumulative semester exams.  The professors and instructors and enormously expensive textbooks have offered boo-coo information.  The classes have been lecture, hands-on, small-group, widely open, incredibly strict, musically accompanied, or some wild mixture of all of the above.  But now, on this day of the exam, students must exhibit a full understanding of some or all of the main concepts provided over the last sixteen weeks.

Upon finishing the exams, students feel one of the following emotions:  complete and utter relief, freedom, satisfaction, or nausea.  The outcome/result of the test may truly affect that individual’s life path.  It could determine whether or not the student is allowed to continue his/her education at that institution.  It could determine the graduation likeliness.  It could determine that the student showed absolutely no sign of learning over the last few months, which contrasts with assignments and quizzes from before (this can lead to a determination that the student “got help” for those assignments and “cheated” on those quizzes.)

But here’s where I’m going with this.  Thanks for sticking around this far, BTW…

Why?  Should a single test really have that much weight to it?  Should any one test ever affect someone so much?  Who in adulthood has anything that means that much to them as a final exam, the SAT or ACT, or some standardized test means to the children and young adults?

Did an expectant mother have to take a test in order to be able to keep her baby?

Did someone out there recently take a test that could enable them to purchase groceries for his/her family?

Was there a test that you took that determined whether or not you would be able to sleep indoors or outdoors tonight?

Tests tests tests tests tests.

It’s insane how much our young people are tested.  It’s overkill.  And it’s killing them.  I truly believe testing–at least the amount that is given to students–is mostly unnecessary.

Would you like to know what your children/students learned?  Ask them.  Did they get it?  If so, great!  If not…try again!

This is a terrible ending point, but I’m nearing 1200 words and there’s little change you finished this anyway.  Thus, it’s back to THE PALE KING for me!

The Easy Way Out


I was not planning on writing anything today–at least not while my kid was awake–but I just came across a short video from yesterday’s (March 2, 2014) Oscar broadcast.  It was a 20-second clip showing Bill Murray “sneaking in” a complimentary few words about Harold Ramis, who had passed away earlier in the week.  What bothered me was not the remark by the longtime comedian who went off script during a live broadcast.  No.  What prompted this short blog was one of the comments below the video that made reference to some injustice that Philip Seymour Hoffman was listed last on the “In Memoriam” montage and that it was ill-deserved because he (Hoffman) was a “drug addict who left three kids behind.”  This snarky, holier-than-thou ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT has got to stop.

Why do any of us think it is perfectly mature and reasonable to judge someone who suffers from any addiction?  Whether it be potato chips or heroine, members of society seem to enjoy name-calling, finger-pointing, and esteem-crushing toward other human beings who succumb to some type of addiction.

Here are some scenarios that actually exist in America.

1.  Addicted to pills?  Well, we’re family and all, but you’re not welcome in this house any more until you clean yourself up.

2.  Addicted to ice cream?  I’m leaving you because you can’t follow healthy eating habits.  Don’t contact me unless you’ve stopped eating ice cream.

3.  Addicted to alcohol?  You need to stop or you’ll never see your kids again?  What?  No, I don’t know how to help you.  Just stop.

4.  Addicted to your job?  Great!  We need more men like you here at Bullshit Industries.

5.  Addicted to Diet Coke?  FANTASTIC!  We have come out with a new size can so you can buy more of it for more money and never stop drinking our product!

6.  Addicted to celebrity gossip?  SO ARE WE!!!  Isn’t it fab?  Don’t you just love to gush about people we’ll never meet and who could not give two shits about either of us?

7.  Addicted to video games?  I know I bought you the console and the games and the extra controllers and all the snacks for your friends to come over and play….but you have to stop playing video games!

Okay, so I’m just so troubled how it feels like NO ONE wants to do anything to help people who have addiction issues.  Why?  My feeling is that it is just TOO DAMN EASY to paste a label on them and head to Starbucks with dog…stuffed in a handbag.

People die and it’s always sad.  They leave behind loved ones.  The circumstances surrounding suicides are all but irrelevant.  The one thing to take from any suicide is that about 6 BILLION people could have been there for that person but NO ONE WAS.  I’m absolutely no better than anyone still reading this.  I have lost a number of loved ones in my life and it’s never easy.  If anything is to be taken from this, it’s that we should strive to work JUST A LITTLE HARDER in helping each other feel accepted and loved.

SNEAK PEEK! The (possible) first page to my (as of yet un-) published book!!



by Steve Lively


Introduction:  Words by the author

and intended for the reader


Gentle winds blow and tickle our skin, but we are more fearful when storms come in.  

I spent about fifeen seconds on that line.  It’s lousy.  I hope you know that.  Sure, it fits a standard rhythm, but it’s stupid.  However, you read it and you’re still reading this, so things aren’t going so bad so far.  For a no-name author, I have to be pleased that you’re still examining this first series of sentences to see what the hell is going on here.   This book is a work of fiction, but it, like so many novels, is based on a few real people, places, and events.  For one thing, I ‘m hoping this novel can serve as a sort of springboard for me into the “glitterati”–a term I think I just invented to describe reputable storytellers.  I’ve tried self-publishing once.  I’ve submitted ideas to other agents and publishers.  Unfortunately, the writing was terrible and quite worth of the extremely low royalties and small stack of thanks-but-no-thanks letters.  The truth is, I still believe, in my advancing age of thirty-seven, that I am a writer and will have multiple published books by real publishing houses in my lifetime.  This could be one of those books.  I sure hope so.  Otherwise, I’ll have to dust off my secret futuristic, apocalyptic, high school vampire novel that really should never see the light of day.  Trust me.

Go grab a cup of coffee/tea/soda/water/energy drink/Shakeology.  Enjoy.