“Do you believe in testing?” asked Eugenia Evergreen in her extra earnest voice. It was as if I were being asked if I believed in abortion, the right to choose or the Grand Canyon.
I did not know if I would shock her or gain her approval when I said, “Yes.”
Clearly, she was disappointed. “Subjecting children to the anxiety of adults is wrong,” she declared.
“You are right,” I agreed. “However, testing is necessary to increase the probability of desired results. I believe in testing applicants for driver’s licenses to make sure they know some of the rules of the road and can manage a vehicle in traffic.”
“You know I’m not talking about that kind of testing,” Genie said in what passes for flirtation in her book. “I’m talking about ISTEP or some other statewide test afflicting young children.”
“I know that’s your concern,” I responded with sympathy, “but testing is the best way to gather information about a whole host of issues. If we want to find out how third-graders are reading, then testing them at the end of the third grade or the beginning of the fourth makes sense.
“If we want our future voters to know the basics of civic literacy, then we need to teach the subject with the basics in mind. To find out if we are succeeding, then we should test the students. Testing verifies outputs rather than relying on inputs like hours taught.”
“It is stressful for everyone,” Genie insisted.
“Stress is something everyone needs to learn how to handle,” I responded. “Should we stop playing Little League baseball because each at-bat is a stressful experience for the batter, the pitcher and the fielders?”
In the following silence, I said, “How do you feel about drug testing for recipients of welfare, disability and unemployment compensation?
“That is barbaric,” Genie declared. “People in need should not be disgraced by intrusive tests. It’s a violation of one’s civil liberties.”
“Tell me an alternative to drug testing,” I said, “when employers persistently complain about the numbers of applicants they must reject when they administer drug tests. Why should an addict continue to receive unemployment compensation when his/her behavior is the reason he/she is not able to get a job?
“We need strong drug relief programs that help people return to society. The time seems to be at hand when the citizenry is tired of supporting drug addiction with tax money.”
“Would you extend testing to other groups? It is very expensive, you know,” Genie continued the contest.
I answered, “I would require those who seek election to public office to demonstrate competence in the affairs of that office. They should know the basics of local, state or federal government organization and history.
“It is laughable how little legislators know of government when they take office. They are necessarily dependent on staff and senior party members because they are so unfamiliar with their responsibilities.”
“That won’t keep us from electing fools,” Genie said.
I had no comeback for that.
Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.