It's that time of year when young people's thoughts turn to Spring Break, and love, and standardized tests. When I was a first year teacher, a friend of mine had his third grade class settled in for the first in a series of Language Arts tests. The entire school was eerily quiet. One of his girls,Britney, stood up, snaps her pencil in half and runs literally screaming from the room. What if you have a really bad day when you are taking this test that will decide the rest of your life?
It reminds me of my freshman year in college. I was sitting in my dorm room, poring over every image in Janson's History of Art when there is a knock at the door. Darren sticks his head in the door, "Beatles Night at Benny's Basement." I stared at the color plate of Theodore Gericault's "Mounted Officer of the Imperial Guard." I tried to place it in a larger thematic or stylistic context. What period was that? What year? French? Another knock at the door. "Beatles Night." I didn't look up from my book. The test was in twelve hours and I had to know the second half of the history of art back to front. Another knock. "Dollar pitchers." I closed the book. I surrendered and spent the next three hours singing Lennon and McCartney tunes at the top of my lungs while swilling cheap beer. The next morning came painfully quick. I skipped breakfast and went straight to my exam, giving myself fifteen more minutes to recover. I believe that I was still drunk for the first half of the test, and then the hangover set in. We looked at slides and had to identify their period, artist and influences. I could feel my eyes drying in their sockets. The writing in my blue book was painful and cramped. Then suddenly, it was over. I had survived and walked out into the midday sunshine.
When I got my paper back I was surprised and smug to see that I had received an A-minus. What is the lesson I learned? I learned to check the syllabus and compare it to the calendar of Benny's Basement.