Let me ask a question.
Did you take a bunch of tests and quizzes in school?
Here is another question.
Did those tests and quizzes prepare you for life?
I took a bunch of tests and quizzes in school. Over time, I became quite good at taking tests.
Then, I graduated.
Have you ever walked out of your warm house on a bitter cold winter day? Do you know that feeling? Remember how it feels to gasp that first breath of sharp, icy cold air? Remember the pain in your lungs?
That is how it felt when I walked out of school and walked into the real world. I sucked air for a long time while I tried to make sense of adult life. I still feel as if I am sucking air.
All those tests in school? They prepared me for nothing. They proved nothing.
Actually, that is not true. They proved that I could learn to take tests. They proved that I could even excel at the skill. And, in the end… they wasted my time.
I became a teacher. I then learned the skill of giving tests. I learned the skill of teaching with the test in mind. I learned the skill of grading tests. These are not impressive skills, by the way. Any 18-year-old can learn these skills.
And, yet, here I am. I am still a teacher. I am still grading. I can’t find a way out of the system.
My family and I are currently in Greece. I am here to master Greek. Every day, I am spending at least three hours buried in books. In the afternoon, I try to spend some time around Greeks. Usually, I will buy a coffee at a cafe and then just sit and listen to the locals.
The locals are my tests and quizzes.
My favorite line from one of my favorite movies, The Pirates of the Caribean, is this one: “The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can‘t do.”
Can I understand the locals, or can I not? Can I speak Greek, or can I not? Those are my tests. Those are my quizzes.
If I can’t understand the locals, I have failed the test. Back to work. When I can understand the locals, I have passed the test.
No grades. No papers. No multiple choice.
Not long ago, I ran across a quote by Dr. Gary North.
“If you want to learn something, don’t go to college. Get a reading list of 100 books. Set aside two hours a day, five days a week, for ten years to master the reading list. That’s what education is about, not about going to college, and not about getting a degree.”
When I was young, I learned German. I learned German in Germany. I studied German into my 20’s. After college, which was a major waste of time, I taught myself Latin. I studied Latin into my 40’s.
I studied Latin into my 40’s.
Now, I am studying Greek. I intend to focus on Greek into my 50’s.
I also intend to focus on Italian during this decade as I speak Latin with the Italian pronunciation, and not with the silly pronunciation.
Every decade, I pick a new linguistic challenge. I do exactly what Dr. North recommends with a few modifications. 100 books. Three hours a day. Six days a week. Ten years.
By my 50th birthday, I intend to have a series like Visual Latin available for Greek.
I am not in school for Greek. There are no tests. There are no quizzes. There are no grades. There is only this: ”
Can I speak Greek, or can I not?
The other day, I was speaking to a Greek local. She mentioned that she had to take an “American exam” once or twice in school.
I asked her, “What is an American exam?”
“Multiple choice”, she responded.
How have we strayed so far off course? Why do my students often care more about their grades than they care about skill?
I am afraid that in America, we have passed the test. Now, it’s time to step out into the cold and start learning.