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More fun than doing your job

If, as conservative talk show pundit Rush Limbaugh and purple PBS-TV dinosaur Barney both say, "The learning never ends," then it's logical that the testing never ends either.

Here are two education questions lobbed (a little tennis lingo, there) at me in recent days:

1. why is there so much teacher-initiated social engineering in the classroom, and

2. In academic subjects, if the student didn't learn, is it always because the teacher didn't teach?

Both questions are in the contemporary public "conversation" (a little political lingo, there) although in different ways: the first is reflected in a kind of gallows humor already present in such other distressed (in economic, not productivity, terms) sectors as agriculture, and the second is remarkable for the vast intellectual chasm between academic-expert and concerned-citizen on the answers.

Even non-farmers have heard the one about the old-timer with a million dollar inheritance who, when asked what he'll do with it, says he'll just keep on farming until it too is gone; and even non-parents have heard the now-old one about the new-math teacher who asks her students if three loggers can clear ten acres in two days, how do the squirrels feel?

A supposedly new snipe at social engineering in the classroom has the teacher asking students for their favorite animal. One says fried chicken and is sent to the principal. Asked for a live favorite, she says chicken and is sent again.

Finally she is asked for a live person, and says Col. Sanders; guess where she is now. The underlying theme -why isn't reading or math the subject?-is contemporary; but the notion of teacher control of the classroom isn't. It's been decades since my brief Otter Valley High School-substitute career ended because I refused the principal's order to keep a trouble-maker in my classroom. Even so, like all good jokes, they succeed because there's a nugget of truth in each. Similarly with my proposed answer to question 1: it contains neither statistical proof nor documentary reference, but maybe you'll find the nugget in there. It has four parts:

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