Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Political Tuesdays: There Oughta Be a Test

"No man undertakes a trade he has not learned, even the meanest; yet everyone thinks himself sufficiently qualified for the hardest of all trades, that of government." -  Socrates

"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence - it is a force like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action." - George Washington

Let's be honest, right up front: I don't have energy for a full-deal political satire post today.  I'm fresh out of school and need to be in recovery mode for awhile.  The leaders of the country will have to do their best without my input, as if they ever listened.

But because I am in post-school-year recovery mode, my mind is on the only concrete tool that we teachers have to evaluate proficiency, or even competency, in any subject: testing.  We test our students weekly on the basics, we coach them over the long term and prep them as best we can for those big tests that a lot is riding on: the ERB, the SAT, the AP, and perhaps the most dreaded of them all, the driver's exam.  (Actually, it's parents that do the driver's exam practice, but I know that role too).  We're disappointed with them when they fail and delighted when they do well.  American students have great test-taking skills, and even though some folks think we test them too much and the tests aren't fair representations of their ability, still there is a certain objectivity in being able to point to a solid test score.  It represents work, natural ability, and interest level, and is one of the best predictors we have of future success in academic fields.

So why isn't there a test for government service?  I would think that this is something Democrats and Republicans alike could agree on.  We want competent people in leadership positions, not professional politicians.  Don't we?  It would be nice, even if they are professional politicians, to know that they passed a basic competency test on knowledge of American history, the Constitution, and math (presuming they come anywhere within shouting distance of managing budgetary issues).  Knowledge of the rest of the world, of world affairs and current events, would also be a big plus.  It would also be a good-faith gesture on the politicians' part, showing that they really do have an interest in serving their country and improving any deficits they might have in their own personal knowledge banks. 

Personally, I'd like to see a very basic citizenship test, one requiring a one-time proof that, yes, I am a citizen, and that I know the name of the current President, my congressional representatives, and the three branches of government, before anyone could be eligible to vote.  I'm not talking about a test that would be too difficult for my daughter who has Down syndrome to pass when she comes of voting age.  But I think that making the privilege of voting available so easily to everyone, as we do now, cheapens it, and mass voting blocs made up of an uneducated electorate who don't really care about their vote are far too easily manipulated by professional politicians.  I know, it sounds pretty radical.  But at the very least, I think our elected officials should have to demonstrate competency before standing for election to high office.

So, think about it.  What measurable proof do we have that any of our politicians are competent to govern?  Yes, there are lots of intangibles that a test couldn't cover, and that's why it should be basic.  But if people are trying to balance the budget without being able to do math, or developing anti-terrorism policy without knowing what's happening in Syria or Libya, it becomes the whole nation's problem, not just one congressional district's.

There oughta be a test.

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