Monday, August 15, 2005

#186 - A Little More Anguish, Please!

Kimberly Swygert at Number 2 Pencil ably fisks the wild notion that school testing of any kind may cause brain damage. It's a fair bet that the reporter in this case was simply supporting a pre-conceived notion and didn't really bother to fully research the topic. More likely is a need to support the educators unions by giving them more ammunition in their battle against anything that smacks of measuring their own performance by seeing how much the kids aren't learning today, and why.

As Kim puts it:
Translation: We don't like tests with their objective standards for all kids, because it was much easier to teach students when all we had to do was get them to meet their own goals, as opposed to society's. I suppose "literacy" is something Paris would consider one of those evil "comparative standards of excellence."

Rather than dwell on the "tests = victimhood enabling" meme, however, I'd like to flash forward to what happens when we don't test these students enough.

I work in a very large business. Fortune 100 stuff. Aerospace, to be more specific. As you may well imagine, we employ every type of business professional you could possibly imagine. Everything from engineers to scientists to bean counters to keyboard jockeys; we got 'em all. Since I work in a "support organization" I get to deal with multitudes of infants fresh out of college. The funniest part? Having every single one of them state, unequivocally, that they have a "working knowledge of Microsoft Office." I don't work in Human Resources, but I'd wager good money that it's a rare C.V. indeed that doesn't include that statement for anyone interested in a desk job. I'm sure that some career counselor at their school gave a seminar on how to get your foot in the door, and said something like, "ALWAYS say you know how to use Office! They won't even bother shredding your application if you don't say it... they'll just take it home and paper their kid's gerbil cage with it!"

So they say it. Then they come to work in my office and cannot, for the life of them, make a simple trend analysis chart in Excel. "I've been told you know something about computers," they tell me when they introduce themselves in my cubicle. (I long ago had the phrase "COMPUTER DEMI-GOD" tattooed on my forehead for just such emergencies.) "Why won't Excel do what I need it to do?"

Since I am a long-suffering Libra, I always mutter something about "PEBCAK"* under my breath before very graciously helping them create a chart. Of course, I spend the entire session wondering how on earth these people ever managed to graduate from high school. Then I read about "test anxiety" being the cause of no small amount of cerebral trauma, and it all becomes clear to me.

I long ago learned that a person's ability in an office environment like mine has little to do with the education they forced themselves through. In reality, it's those who not only want to learn, but make it their objective to master their field that will ultimately succeed both in business and in life. The degree is, of course, important, but more because it's harder to get promoted without it. The knowledge one accumulates in college may in fact have little bearing on the duties you ultimately will assimilate, or indeed the career path that you decide to pursue once you've established yourself.

By the way, don't even get me started on business communications. Since 1984 I have had two managers who had any concept about the proper construction of a business letter. They both retired before 1990. With the advent of email, most managers have absolutely no concept of how to construct a presentation without relying on increasingly ridiculous lingo and catch phrases. I recently called up a presentation that was created in just such a fashion over ten years ago. I could not, without consulting a glossary compiled about the same time, make heads or tails of the intent of the presentation.

No, I'm all for a little mental anguish before foisting these half-wits on me. It could save them the embarrassment of having me demonstrate for them where to find the "Power" button, and how to use it.

* PEBCAK: "Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard." - my favorite techie phrase!

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