How I learned from my sister that standardized tests have nothing to do with real life.

My delightful sister, Annie — the Queen of Seeing Through B.S. — posted this image on Facebook the other day:

Image provided by Ben Thomas, used with permission.


Leaving aside what you may or may not like about this image itself, it made me wonder:

What do standardized tests actually tell us?

Here’s what my sister — who is now 28 —  says:

"Dear 16-year-old Annie, you suck at standardized tests. In 10 years, no one will care, and your path in life will have nothing to do with your SAT score. Get graded now, and prove them wrong later."

Go, Annie.

My sister was always the social one.

While I was in my room with books as a kid, she was in hers with clothes in front of the mirror. When I was 12, I thought she was vapid and shallow.

What I didn’t realize is that she was systematically hypothesizing, testing, and analyzing what the Italians call la bella figura — the way she would present herself to the world. Her personal brand. She was doing this when she was 8. Younger, even.

Meanwhile, I invented imaginary continents, drew imaginary maps of them, populated them with imaginary cities full of imaginary people whose clothes and weapons I also drew, with elaborate ecosystems of fictional creatures whose life cycles I documented with all the loving detail of a field biologist.

Our home was 20 miles from the nearest significant town, and we were homeschooled.

We lived in a place called Wayside, Texas — except that there was no more Wayside, Texas. People abandoned the town back in the 1970s, leaving a dried-up ruin of concrete foundations and artifacts on which our brand-new house sat.

My hometown. Image provided by Ben Thomas, used with permission.

I used to have nightmares about running across those flat plains forever, getting nowhere. Sometimes I still have those dreams.

Every morning I’d wake up, microwave something for breakfast, and look over the index card that my mom had prepared with my assignments for the day: "Do math lesson 34. Do exercises 171 to 175 in English workbook. Read pp. 471–503 of history book."

12-year-old me would brew a nice cup of green tea and get down to business. Three or four hours later I’d be done, and I’d spend the rest of the afternoon designing my own role-playing games or digging up the archaeological ruins on our property or trying to learn to code in C++. Or watching music videos.

Annie on the other hand — let’s put the cards on the table: I thought she was dumb.

All day, she’d sit there with Mom, talking about her schoolwork.

She actually, physically asked questions when it was so much easier and faster to ask a book or the internet — not to mention that with books and the internet, you had direct access to the accumulated knowledge of 5,000 years of human memory. When you talked to Mom, you had access to — well — Mom. Annie also got very stressed when she had to take an exam.

This was another reason I thought Annie was dumb:

To achieve a "100" on an exam, I knew, all one had to do was create simple mnemonics, memorize the necessary information, then select the right answers on the exam. Or if it was an essay exam, just write the author’s arguments back to him or her in a slightly altered way. Simple. Like baking cookies.

Annie would cry about her exams, and I’d go up to my room, cranking up the Weezer or Chopin . I was certain nothing of value was transpiring in that pink, bookless wasteland of her room. She had so many stuffed animals they couldn’t fit on the bed.

Image via gfpeck/Flickr.

Now, everyone knows that when a kid arrays her stuffed animals on her bed and conducts a parliament with them, this is more than just play. This is the development of an important technology: the ability to infuse inanimate objects with aspects of one’s own consciousness, then interact with them to talk out a problem, wage battle among conflicting thought processes, or just shoot the shit with oneself. This process requires physical objects to which the consciousness-aspects can be assigned — it can’t be achieved within one’s own mind.

Thus, stuffed animals, dolls, action figures, fetishes, graven images and idols — they’re  all essential tools for a person trying to work something out. Clothes can work that way too; the trying on of different personas. But I just didn’t see it that way then.

At some point in all this, Annie and I both took our standardized tests.

In America they call it the SAT, but it's basically the same everywhere: battalions of tiny ovals on white pages, questions about "If A is to B as B is to C, then what is the relationship of C to A?" and "Would you say this passage is more perspicacious or percipient?" and "If George the intern deposits $3,750 in his account, and that’s 25% of his intern salary, then how much is his monthly pay?"

Monsters is what they are.

Image via Butz.2013/Flickr.

Every kid fears them. Except for me for some reason. I asked Mom if I could take them early. She said, "Sure, why not." I took the SAT — which you take when you graduate high school — at age 12 and scored high enough to get into a university right then. I asked Mom if that meant I could skip the rest of school and go straight to a university. She said, "No, you are not going to a university at age 12." I was too angry to see the wisdom there.

Annie put her SAT off as long as she could.

She did not enjoy the exam nor was she especially proud of her scores. But she scored well enough to get into a respectable university, where she studied brand communications and marketing and social dynamics and all the stuff she always played at up in her room in front of that mirror.

She went to Manhattan to be an actress for a while, got a lot of roles but wasn’t into it, came back to Texas, bounced from one job to another, fell in love, bought a house, adopted a diverse cast of dogs, and found her way to a laid-back desk job where she feels at home.

As for me, I lost patience at age 16.

I typed up a five-page proposal in which I detailed the reasons I should be allowed to skip the rest of high school and go to a university. I presented binders containing this proposal to my parents, who caved.

Image via State Farm/Flickr.

I was the only 16-year-old freshman at Texas Tech University. The university paper did a feature about me. I studied Latin and spent most of my time in the university’s five-story library, which was my favorite place in the world. I didn’t really have any friends. Sometimes people let me hang out with them. Mostly I hung out in the library. Or in my room at my parents’ house after the 20-mile drive home.

When I was 17, I talked my parents into letting me drop out of the classics program at Texas Tech so I could go study film in Los Angeles.

A lot happened after that: I worked as a courier, and a receptionist, and a mailroom guy, and a checkout guy, and a mailroom guy again, and a government-check-collector for a few months when medical marijuana had just become legal, and holy cow, did I get good at Starcraft.

Somewhere in there, though, a realization was forming: What the people with money actually want is skills.

Image via Fredrik Rubensson/Flickr.

Like, oh my god, it’s all about the actual practical ability to do useful things for other human beings!

And as for the ability to pencil in little ovals on a sheet of cardstock that corresponds to accurately constructed metaphors and vocabulary definitions …

Well, the only guarantee for that ability is that it promises you a place using those same skills somewhere else, filling out similar little cards behind a desk in a little red building.

All it guarantees is a place where, if you’re lucky, some kid might dig those cards up from under the West Texas dirt someday and squint at the markings on them under the summer sun and wonder just what in the hell those little slips of paper were for anyway.

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Should a man lose his home because the grass in his yard grew higher than 10 inches? The city of Dunedin, Florida seems to think so.

According to the Institute of Justice, which is representing Jim Ficken, he had a very good reason for not mowing his lawn – and tried to rectify the situation as best he could.

In 2014, Jim's mom became ill and he visited her often in South Carolina to help her out. When he was away, his grass grew too long and he was cited by a code office; he cut the grass and wasn't fined.

France has started forcing supermarkets to donate food instead of throwing it away.

But several years later, this one infraction would come back to haunt him after he left to take care of him's mom's affairs after she died. The arrangements he made to have his grass cut fell through (his friend who he asked to help him out passed away unexpectedly) and that set off a chain reaction that may result in him losing his home.

The 69-year-old retiree now faces a $29,833.50 fine plus interest. Watch the video to find out just what Jim is having to deal with.

Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House! www.youtube.com

Cities

The world officially loves Michelle Obama.

The former first lady has overtaken the number one spot in a poll of the world's most admired women. Conducted by online research firm YouGov, the study uses international polling tools to survey people in countries around the world about who they most admire.

In the men's category, Bill Gates took the top spot, followed by Barack Obama and Jackie Chan.

In the women's category, Michelle Obama came first, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie. Obama pushed Jolie out of the number one spot she claimed last year.

Unsurprising, really, because what's not to love about Michelle Obama? She is smart, kind, funny, accomplished, a great dancer, a devoted wife and mother, and an all-around, genuinely good person.

She has remained dignified and strong in the face of rabid masses of so-called Americans who spent eight years and beyond insisting that she's a man disguised as a woman. She's endured non-stop racist memes and terrifying threats to her family. She has received far more than her fair share of cruelty, and always takes the high road. She's the one who coined, "When they go low, we go high," after all.

She came from humble beginnings and remains down to earth despite becoming a familiar face around the world. She's not much older than me, but I still want to be like Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Her memoir, Becoming, may end up being the best-selling memoir of all time, having already sold 10 million copies—a clear sign that people can't get enough Michelle, because there's no such thing as too much Michelle.

Don't like Michelle Obama? Don't care. Those of us who love her will fly our MO flags high and without apology, paying no mind to folks with cold, dead hearts who don't know a gem of a human being when they see one. There is nothing any hater can say or do to make us admire this undeniably admirable woman any less.

When it seems like the world has lost its mind—which is how it feels most days these days—I'm just going to keep coming back to this study as evidence that hope for humanity is not lost.

Here. Enjoy some real-life Michelle on Jimmy Kimmel. (GAH. WHY IS SHE SO CUTE AND AWESOME. I can't even handle it.)

Michelle & Barack Obama are Boring Now www.youtube.com

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

The world is dark and full of terrors, but every once in a while it graces us with something to warm our icy-cold hearts. And that is what we have today, with a single dad who went viral on Twitter after his daughter posted the photos he sent her when trying to pick out and outfit for his date. You love to see it.




After seeing these heartwarming pics, people on Twitter started suggesting this adorable man date their moms. It was essentially a mom and date matchmaking frenzy.

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