Tag Archives: parenting

What My Mother Taught Me About Being A Better Man (With Roller Coasters)

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Whenever I get a little personal on this site, I often focus on two topics. One is how awful high school was for me. The other is how awesome my parents are. I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m bragging, but I’m just being honest and truthful. They really are that awesome and I intend to belabor that every chance I get.

As it just so happens, Mother’s Day is tomorrow and since I have such a wonderful mother, I’d like to share a personal story that I hope conveys a larger message about masculinity, in general. I promise this isn’t going to be another complex exploration about bogus topics like “toxic” masculinity or double standards. It’s just a simple story about my amazing mom and how she helped me grow into a better man.

There are a long list of stories I could share. Some of those stories I’m sure my mother would prefer I kept private. There are plenty others I’m sure my mom would love for me to share, if only to document some of the more memorable moments our family has shared over the years. Since I know she occasionally reads this site, I think she’ll agree that this is definitely one worth sharing.

That’s because it involves roller coasters. That’s not some elaborate metaphor. I’m dead serious. This is a story about me, my mother, and roller coasters. It’s kind of what it sounds like, but I promise it has other, more meaningful connotations that I think are wholly appropriate on the eve of Mother’s Day.

First, I need to provide a little context. This particular moment occurred when I was around ten-years-old. That’s relevant because that was the age when I was finally tall enough to ride most of the rides at amusement parks like Six Flags and Kings Dominion. As it just so happens, both are within a two hour drive of where we lived.

My mom, being the wonderful person she is, used that as opportunity to plan a day-long trip to Kings Dominion. I went with my younger brother, my aunt, and a cousin of mine. It was blazing hot, but being an energetic kid, I was too excited to care. I don’t even remember complaining with my mom urged me to put on extra sunscreen.

After spending about an hour just exploring the park, doing some small rides and playing some games, we came across a roller coaster that, to my 10-year-old mind, might as well have been Mount Everest. I’m not saying I was an overly fearful kid, but this was uncharted territory for me. My first instinct was not to go on such a ride.

To some extent, that was my default instinct to that point in my life. I know kids at that age can be both frustratingly reckless or annoyingly helpless with very little in between. It’s an age where kids still cling to the safety of their parents, but are just starting to feel that inclination to explore the world.

I was probably more reluctant than most kids my age. Both my parents and siblings would probably admit that I was a very self-disciplined kid, often to a fault. I did not like going out of my comfort zone and taking chances. I even complained when I had to, as kids are prone to do.

On that day at Kings Dominion, though, my mom gave me an extra push. She never shoved me or pressured me. She got encouraged me, getting excited about the ride so that I got excited too. Before long, that excitement overrode any fear or reservations I had. Thanks to that encouragement, I went on the ride with her and to this date, I feel like that was a pivotal moment in my young life.

At the time, though, it was just an incredible thrill. I loved it. I loved it even more than my mom promised. I remember getting off that ride, feeling dizzy and unable to stand. I probably looked like I was drunk, but I didn’t care. I had so much fun and so did my mom. We went on that ride again.

It was the first of many. From that day forward, my mother and I became the roller coaster aficionados of the family. Whenever we went to an amusement park, be it Kings Dominion, Six Flags, or Disney World, my mom and I would jump at the chance to ride the biggest, scariest ride. Sometimes friends, siblings, and cousins would join us. Other times, they would chicken out. My mom and I never did.

Those were wonderful times. They’re among some of the fondest memories I have with my mother as a kid. Beyond the thrills and adrenaline, though, I find those experiences had another effect on me. This effect was more personal, though. It also played a major part in the critical, yet often treacherous process of a kid growing into an adult.

By taking a chance on those roller coasters, doing something risky for once, my mom taught me a valuable lesson about being an adult and a man. She showed me that sometimes, we need to embrace a little danger. We need to leave the safety of the familiar and explore new, potentially hazardous experiences.

That kind of mentality takes both bravery and even a little foolishness. It’s a combination of traits often associated with masculinity, being willing and able to take those risks for new and exciting experiences. I’m not saying that men are the only ones who have such risk-seeking behavior. Women can be every bit as adventurous, as my mother so aptly demonstrated.

For me, the ten-year-old boy who still saw himself as such, those experiences marked the early steps of a more profound maturation process. It wasn’t just that I was now old enough and tall enough to ride all the roller coasters at most theme parks. I realized that my experiences didn’t just have to be kid-friendly experiences.

I could take chances, venture into once-forbidden areas, and explore life in ways I hadn’t dared. Doing that can be scary and sometimes requires a little encouragement, not unlike the kind my mother gave me that day at Kings Dominion. It can also be very rewarding, as the rush from an awesome thrill ride so wonderfully proves.

I was still a shy, reserved person, even as I entered adulthood. I still took longer than most to emerge from my shell. However, thanks to my wonderful mother and her loving encouragement to try out a few thrill rides, I understood what it meant to be an adult and a strong man.

To my mother, and all those wonderful mothers who encourage their children with the same love and care, I thank you. You helped teach me how to be brave, how to embrace the adult world, and how awesome roller coasters are. For that, I will be forever grateful. To her and to all the other mother’s out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

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Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights

My Frustrations And Fondness With Bumbling Dad Tropes

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We know them, love them, laugh at them, and cringe at them every now and then. They entertain us. They educate us. They amuse us in any number of ways, both with real-life antics and those only possible through animation. They are the clumsy, bumbling, oafish father figures of popular culture. Compared to many other tropes, they make up a sizable chunk of the overall comedy footprint in our media landscape.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t write that with disdain or dismay. In fact, I’m quite fond of the bumbling father figures that make up a sizable chunk of sitcoms, animated shows, and movies. I grew up on a steady diet of “The Simpson,” “Family Guy,” and “Married With Children.” Characters like Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, and Al Bundy have had a profound impact on my world and not just in terms of laughter.

As I get older, though, I find myself scrutinizing the dynamics of these faltering father figures more and more. I also find myself paying more attention to the context and circumstances surrounding them, especially as our media and culture evolves in accord with changing trends, some less positive than others.

Maybe it’s because I’m an adult now. Maybe it’s because, as both an adult and a man, I have too much experience with the larger complexities of the world. I can still laugh every time Homer does something foolish or Peter does something stupid. However, a part of me can’t help but contemplate the larger implications of bumbling dads.

Some of it has to do with double standards, which I’ve talked about many times before. Some of it deals with the struggles/inexperience in developing complex fatherly characters who aren’t blatant rip-offs of Superman, John McClane, Jack Baur, or Ward Cleaver. Most of it simply reflects a sentiment that I find frustrating at times.

Think, for a moment, about the dumbest, most hilariously idiotic antics in a show featuring bumbling dads. “The Simpson,” alone, should give plenty of content to draw from. With those antics in mind, contemplate what those antics say about the bumbling dad as a character and what it says about male characters, as a whole.

Whether he’s Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, or a guy you know in real life who once threw up in a kiddie pool after doing shots of habenero sauce on a dare, the themes are fairly consistent. At the heart of every conflict in the story is a selfish, moronic, thick-headed guy who, if he didn’t have his wife and kids, would’ve been dead by now.

The bumbling dad isn’t just the catalyst for most of the conflicts in the show. He basically embodies the inherent ineptitude of men, as a whole. Whereas strong, independent women are celebrated as a trope of their own, the bumbling dad acts as a case study as to why men can’t function on their own. Unless they have a woman and a family to restrain them, they’ll collapse under the weight of their own stupidity.

It doesn’t just reflect poorly on male characters. It sends a pretty frustrating message to female characters as well, saying that women basically have to act as referees on top of being spouses and mothers. Their role, in the context of the bumbling dad trope, is to either clean up the mess or reign the man in before he does some serious damage.

In a sense, the bumbling dad is the catalyst for the nagging woman, a character not nearly as hilarious that can be every bit as frustrating. One causes all the chaos and problems in a story. The other whines about it and tries to limit the damage, often while failing to teach the bumbling dad any meaningful lessons that’ll help him be less bumbling.

Granted, there are some exceptions to that dynamic. Compared to Marge Simpson and Lois Griffin, Peggy Bundy from “Married With Childrencompletely subverts this trope. Then again, that whole show went out of its way to undermine every standard sitcom trope that ever existed. As I noted before, it’s the kind of show that could never be made today.

Those exceptions aside, the bumbling dad represents another point of frustration that has more to do with the implications of character development, as a whole. It’s a frustration that even plays out in other forms of media that don’t involve idiot married men who only still have their limbs because their wives won’t let them near fireworks.

When you take a step back and look at the kinds of roles bumbling dads have in so many narratives, you notice a number of recurring themes that don’t just reflect poorly on them as men and fathers. They also help enable a lot of the themes that reflect poorly on certain female characters as well.

Essentially, the bumbling dad is allowed to be an idiot with flaws, ineptitude, and shortcomings of all kinds. It’s okay that he make a fool of himself, getting hurt and causing all sorts of damage with his antics. When Al Bundy and his idiot male friends keep falling off a roof, it’s funny and entertaining. If a female character did that, though, that just wouldn’t have the same impact.

Even in shows like “Married With Children,” the female characters were never allowed to fall off a roof, get hurt, or get into fights of any kind. Even when they’re not nagging or trying to be the voice of reason, the female characters are treated as more fragile, needing to fill a more specific role rather than explore the vast array of buffoonery that their male counterparts get to experience.

A female character can’t be bumbling, idiotic, or self-destructive. That would imply she has too many flaws. Even in the days before the recent push for more female representation, that was considered taboo.

A female character can’t be the catalyst for a problem either, unless it involves the moral crusades of Lisa Simpson. The idea of a female character causing anywhere near the problems as a man would just trigger too much outrage for daring to hint that women can be as flawed as men. That last sentence was sarcasm, by the way.

This, essentially, is the driving force behind the frustration. The bumbling dad trope basically gives the impression that men are the only ones who can be foolish, self-destructive, unreasonable, and unlikable. Women can occasionally do those things, but never to the point of the bumbling dad.

In terms of character development, that’s limiting to characters of any gender. It means all the conflict, plot twists, and memorable story elements have to come from the male characters. All the female characters ever do is react, recover, or rebuild from the male character’s antics.

The bumbling dad basically sets up the expectations alongside the comedy. We expect them to do something stupid. We expect them to make a fool of themselves, get hurt, and not think things through. We also expect the women to basically bring them back in line again because without them, they just couldn’t function.

Beyond the expectations, the bumbling dad is basically the crash test dummy for all the chaos within a plot. They’re the ones that get hurt. They bear the brunt end of the physical comedy, be it a slap in the face or constantly falling down a cliff. The idea of women getting hurt just as much, even in an era where the push for tough female characters has never been greater, still doesn’t sit right with audiences.

That says as much about lingering gender norms as it does about bumbling dads, as a whole. Beyond just relegating the comedy and the personal journey to a particular male character, it gives the impression that women aren’t capable of doing foolish things. Anyone with a stable internet connection knows that’s just not true.

Again, this is not to say the bumbling dad trope is inherently “toxic.” I’ve already made clear how much I despise that terminology. There will always be a place for bumbling dads and the comedy they inspire. There’s also plenty of room for non-male, non-dad characters to be foolish as well. When it comes to gender, age, race, and sexual orientation, stupidity is the ultimate egalitarian.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, media issues, sex in society, sexuality

When Robots Become (The Perfect) Parents

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Talk to anyone who has been reading superhero comics as long as I have and they’ll tell you the same thing about Superman. A big part of who he is comes from his parents. He is the beacon of truth, justice, and the American way because he was lucky enough to get adopted by the best possible parents that anyone could hope for, alien or otherwise.

In comic book lore, Jonathan and Martha Kent are the gold standard by which all parents are measured. Like Superman himself, they embody an ideal. They reflect just how great an influence that good, loving parents can have on someone, even when they happen to have god-like power.

With that kind of parenting, a being who could move an entire star with only his breath can become a selfless hero. Even in the real world, the value of great parents is well-documented in science and even in the animal kingdom. When the value of something shows in both comic books and adorable animals, that’s a clear sign as to just how great a force it can be.

Now, I’m going to bring sex robots into the conversation. There’s just no easy way to transition to this part of the conversation so I’m not going to try. I’ve talked about sex robots before and I’ve done my best to make my points salient. That’s just not possible in some instances and this may be one of them.

The development of sex robots is happening, despite the concerns and outright opposition of some. As I write this, there are companies working hard to develop perfect robot lovers. Some have made more progress than others. Given the size of the sex industry, there’s just too much money to be made.

Beyond the sex part, though, these robot companions are poised to do even more than just make love to us in ways that’ll make us feel like Superman. With further advances in artificial intelligence, especially in terms of emotional intelligence, it’s not that far-fetched that these robot lovers may one day raise our children too.

The principles are already in place. We can already grow sperm and eggs in a lab. With further refinements, you won’t even need a doner in the future for producing a child. You could, in theory, just select the genetics you want with the traits you want. Beyond having a lot of kids that will look like Brad Pitt and Taylor Swift, you wouldn’t even need a surrogate once artificial wombs become sufficiently refined.

These technologies are in development and it’s entirely possible that there will come a day where an individual, be they man, woman, or something in between, doesn’t need a second person to produce a child. They don’t even need sex or doners. They only need the right tools and the proper biological material.

While that may ensure that the human race can propagate if making babies with sex falls out of fashion, there’s still the matter of caring for these children once they’re born. Technically, a society that produces children like this would be an entire society of single parents, which is already prone to all sorts of pitfalls.

That’s where the sex robots can come in once more, albeit without the sexy parts. If a robot can learn, through artificial intelligence, how to give someone the utmost love, care, and affection as a romantic partner, then why can’t they also develop similar skills in terms of parenting? In theory, a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence could grant every child the same parenting that the Kents gave Superman.

Think, for a moment, about the traits of a good parent. Recall the best traits your own parents displayed that, while you might not have grasped them as a kid, you came to appreciate as an adult.

  • A good parent protects and guards their children from danger and corruption
  • A good parent teaches their children right, wrong, and how to make good decisions when the line between the two isn’t clear
  • A good parent is there for their children, providing an emotional anchor during times of duress
  • A good parent guides their children into become a functional adult, both through unconditional love and through occasional discipline
  • A good parent cherishes the trust their children have in them and, in turn, learns to trust them back as they grow
  • A good parent is always there for their child in times of crisis and loss, providing the unique comfort and strength that only they can give

There are probably plenty more traits of good parents I can list. There are just as many bad traits I can cite as well. In terms of pure logistics, there aren’t many of them that a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence couldn’t match or exceed.

In principle, an artificial intelligence that’s more advanced than an average human would be even better at protecting and informing children than even the best human parents. At the moment, we’re still struggling to teach ethics to AI. With sufficient refinements, though, there’s no reason why a robot parent armed with advanced AI couldn’t embody the same ideals as the Kents.

There’s also no reason why that intelligent robots couldn’t always be there for a child in some form. Kids are already getting cell phones at younger and younger ages. Kids are even starting to learn from robots in some areas. The current generation of kids may be uniquely equipped to trust, love, and cooperate with robots on a personal level.

They may not be entirely on board with trusting robots to raise their own children, but the foundation is already emerging. The more young people interact with robots, the more comfortable they’ll be incorporating them into their lives, both as lovers and as parents.

At the moment, there’s a lot that robots can’t do in terms of parenting. You could probably say the same thing about sex robots in terms of being ideal lovers. The tools and incentives are there. It’s just a matter of the technology catching up to the concept. I predict that sex robots will probably come first and not just literally. Some are already predicting robot marriage within a few decades.

Shortly after that, though, I think it won’t be long before those same robots start having babies of their own and begin raising those children. While that may seem creepy, if not downright dystopian to some, I think it could actually work to the advantage of robots and humans alike. It may even help us avoid a Skynet scenario.

By loving robots and forming intimate relationships with them, as we’ll likely do with sex robots, we give ourselves and the advanced intelligence behind them a reason to cooperate rather than control. If we learn to love sex robots and teach them to love us back, then there would be no reason for them to enslave or destroy us. If we start raising children with them, then that provides an even greater reason.

Just as children help forge closer bonds between parents, raising children could help strengthen the bond between humans and robots. It already happens now. It starts with sex. Ideally, that eventually leads to children. Those children help create a family. As long as that family is bonded by love, support, and cooperation, why should it matter if some of those members are robots?

Such a scenario is still probably a long way off. I doubt I or most of the people reading this will live long enough to see it. The seeds may already be sown, though. Robots are evolving rapidly and children are already bonding with them. With advanced sex robots not that far off, the way in which we approach raising children may change radically in the coming decades.

It’s going to be a transition, that’s for sure. It’s probably going to be prone to many complications, protests, and outright resistance by some. However, if the end result is every child having parents as perfect as the ones Superman had, then the future of our sex lives and our children are very promising.

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Filed under futurism, Marriage and Relationships, sex robots, sexuality

Dangerous Double Standards And The Distressing Stories They Tell

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When it comes to conveying complex ideas in an understandable way, I don’t consider myself exceptionally skilled. When it comes to telling a story, though, that’s a skill I know I have and not just because I aced every essay question in college.

Sometimes, a story is the best way to convey an idea and the emotional weight it carries. Anyone can list the details of complex issues like gun control, abortion rights, or net neutrality. Some, like John Oliver, can even make it funny or entertaining. However, explaining what an issue is doesn’t necessarily convey why it matters.

Whenever I talk about gender double standards, be it uncomfortable thought experiments or imbalances in our sexual attitudes, I try to do so in a way that highlights the larger implications. Those implications, I believe, are part of the reason why there’s so much hostility on issues like the anti-harassment movement, representation in popular culture, and fair treatment under the law.

I don’t want to belabor the points I’ve made on that topic in the past. Instead, I want to tell a quick story that I thought about turning into a short novel. Then, something happened in the process that struck me on a personal level. Read the following story and see if you can tell where the process broke down.

An average man, single and living alone, is walking down the street on a Saturday evening. It’s cold and rainy. Not many people are out in these conditions.

Then, as he passes by the dumpster near his home, he sees a girl who can’t be older than 10-years-old huddling under some dirty boxes. She’s wearing dirty clothes, she’s shivering, and is clearly in a bad situation.

The man feels sorrow and concern for the girl. He asks her where her parents are. He learns that the girl has run away. Her mother was abusive, even showing him some scars she had from when her mother cut her with a fork. Horrified, the man offers to help the girl. She eagerly accepts.

The man takes the girl home, gives her some badly-needed food, lets her take a hot bath, and lets her sleep in his bed while he sleeps on the couch. The next morning, he calls social services and finds out the girl’s mother is nowhere to be found. Overwhelmed and under-staffed, they are unable to find any relatives to take care of her.

Having grown fond of her company, he offers to look after her. The girl eagerly accepts. The man spends the next several weeks caring for her, getting her new clothes and introducing her to his family. At first, his parents and siblings are uncertain about him taking care of a kid. When they meet her and see how much she loves him, their worries quickly fade.

As time goes on, the girl comes to love the man as a father. She starts calling him daddy. At first, he keeps reminding her that he’s not her real father. Soon, he stops and just smiles. The girl enriches his life in ways he never imagined. He wants to be a father to this girl who isn’t his. He wants to love her in the way she deserves.

Then, one day, a woman arrives at his door. She’s angry, disheveled, and badly dressed. She claims to be the girl’s mother. When the girl sees her, she’s terrified and hides behind the man in fear. The man demands that she leave, but she refuses to leave without her daughter. He threatens to call the police, but she threatens to do the same.

She then takes a step closer, revealing bad teeth, foul breath, and loveless eyes, and presents him with an ultimatum. If he doesn’t hand over the girl, she’ll call social services, the police, and the local news crew and tell him that he’s a sick pervert who took a girl off the streets just so he could groom her to be his personal slave.

It doesn’t stop there. She points out that he’s single, unmarried, and living by himself. Conversely, she’s just a poor woman who got taken advantage of by the girl’s biological father, fled out of fear for their safety, and got tragically separated in the process. All she wants to do is get her daughter back and away from a sadistic pervert. She even says she’ll claim he gave her all the girl’s scars.

In that story, he won’t be the man who took a poor little girl under his care and loved her like a father. He’ll become a disgusting pervert, his reputation destroyed and his life ruined. The fact the girls loves him will just be proof of how much he’s groomed her to be his slave.

The man is horrified. The girl says her mother is a liar and a monster. The woman just laughs before asking one more time for the man to hand over the girl. The man, seeing the terrified look in the girl’s eyes, doesn’t want to see her suffer. He then gets up in her face and tells her this.

“You stay the hell away from her! She belongs with me! Lie all you want. I know the truth and so does she.”

The woman just shakes her head and laughs again.

“It doesn’t matter what the truth is. Everyone will believe me at my worst before they believe you at your best.”

This is as far as I could take the story. At this point, the creative process broke down for me. For someone like me who loves telling stories, sexy or otherwise, that’s akin to tripping over my own feet in the middle of a race. It usually takes a lot for me to throw my hands up and give up on a story. This was one of them.

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That’s because when I imagined that final confrontation, I could not come up with a way to see it through. I can easily see the man fighting the woman’s accusations and winning out in the end. I can also see the woman winning out and the man having his life ruined, all because he showed compassion for a little girl.

The fact that I can see both outcomes as equally possible really bothers me and not just because I found myself unable to finish the story. In telling that story, I touched on a disturbing implication of double standards and the assumptions we have about men, women, and how they treat one another.

The story was partially inspired by an incident in the UK where a man, who happens to be a widower, took his teenage daughter on a vacation. When they checked into a motel, though, the staff got suspicious that an older man was traveling with a teenage girl. They called the police on him, suspecting that he might be a pedophile.

 The dad and daughter were staying over for trip to Thorpe Park together

By most measures, it’s a simple, albeit egregious misunderstanding. It deeply disturbed the girl and put the father in a terrible position. He was able to show the staff pictures and IDs to prove that he was the girl’s father and not some pervert. The damage was done, though.

When I read that story, I found myself wondering what would’ve happened if the man hadn’t had those family pictures. Then, I wondered what would’ve happened if the man wasn’t a blood relative of the girl. Then, and this is where the impact got especially heavy, I wondered what would’ve happened if the man had just tried to help a girl who had run away and had nowhere to go.

If he had been a woman helping a 14-year-old girl in her time of need, I doubt anyone would’ve batted an eye. However, because this involves a man and expectations about parenting is different for men, the situation takes on a much darker undertone.

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That undertone highlights why these gender double standards can be so damaging. It’s one thing for those standards to inspire overplayed tropes about men in sitcoms. When they create a real incentive for people to not do the compassionate thing, that’s not just a problem. That creates real, tangible harm in the world.

Men are capable of kindness and compassion. Most decent people believe this. However, when there’s a situation in which assuming the best for one gender requires that you assume the worst for another, that reflects the kind of double standard that needs to be confronted.

We’re already seeing men show more reluctance in being alone with women. Any level of reluctance requires a certain level of fear. When it gets to a point that just being alone with another human being scares us, then that’s a sign that something is very wrong with our attitudes.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Why Standardized Tests Make You (Feel) Dumber In The Long Run

A new study finds that higher test scores don't translate into better cognitive ability.

As I write these words, there are millions of young people out there who are either dreading an upcoming exam or recovering from one too many all-night cram sessions. This is that time of year, after all. The sweet freedom of summer vacation is almost within our grasp. We just have to survive a few more soul-crushing, brain-draining final exams.

Like the final boss in a video game, exams and standardized tests are the migraine headaches of modern education. They are that stabbing pain at the base of every teenager’s spine. They know it’s coming. They know it’s going to be stressful. The most they can do is brace themselves, study, and hope they don’t throw up at some point along the way.

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I get the logic behind these tests. I think even the students do, minus the ones whose only goal in life is to become an Instagram model. I don’t doubt that the intentions behind standardized tests are good. They’re supposed to help gauge the effectiveness of our education, revealing just how well we’ve retained the material.

I don’t doubt the merit behind that. A team of underpaid, under-appreciated teachers just spent nine months of their lives trying to cram a bunch of information into our developing brains. At the very least, they want to make sure that time wasn’t wasted. How devastating would it be if the found out all that time, effort, and chalk board lectures had been for nothing?

Well, with the utmost respect to the teachers and students who have to deal with this crap, there might be a repugnant stench in the air. As good as the intentions may be with standardized testing, they have a long list of issues. Just last month, the Washington Post listed at least 34 problems with these tests. With the memory of these tests still painfully fresh in my mind, I have a hard time believing there are only 34 problems.

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That’s because, and I’ve said this before whenever I’ve talked about the horror show that was high school for me, these tests don’t really measure how well you know the material. They only really measure how well you can take a test. That may help you get a driver’s license, but it won’t help with much else.

There’s a growing body of evidence that standardized testing does not translate into better cognitive skills. It doesn’t lead to better memory, better attention, or better reasoning skills. It doesn’t even reveal how well you know the material. Even if you do remember enough to ace the test, it’s rare for students to actually retain that knowledge.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially those whose memories of high school is still somewhat fresh. Depending on how traumatic your teenager years were, you probably remember not caring much about actually knowing the material at hand. You only cared about passing the test and not triggering an awkward parent/teacher conference.

In essence, that’s the biggest issue with these tests. That’s why, in the long run, they make us feel dumber. Just passing a test doesn’t make you smart. It just makes you good at passing a test. A lot of people can throw a football well. However, just being able to throw a football doesn’t make you as skilled as Peyton Manning. Just ask Ryan Leaf.

It’s just as bad for the teachers. They dedicate their time, energy, and patience to teach a bunch of immature kids and hormonal teenagers what they think is important. However, their effectiveness, as a professional, is entirely contingent on their ability to get these thick-headed kids to pass a goddamn test every year. Even doctors and lawyers don’t have subject themselves to that kind of frustration.

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I can certainly attest to the inefficiencies of these tests. It’s pretty much the only skill that was regularly emphasized throughout high school. Every subject in every class felt like a prelude to one goal, which was to pass the test. That was always at the forefront of my mind. Actually knowing and caring about the subject was always secondary.

The only subjects I did know anything about happened to be subjects I had a genuine interest in. I liked writing, history, science, and even math to some extent. However, a lot of what I learned on those subjects wasn’t necessarily taught. I sought that knowledge out on my own.

Contrary to popular belief, not every teenager is a total slacker whose sole goal in life is to live out the rest of their days on the couch watching Netflix. Many are genuinely curious about certain topics and not all of those topics are related to food, sex, and punk rock music. If they want to learn more about something and you give them the opportunity, they’ll take it.

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For me, personally, it was writing. No teacher or guidance counselor needed to guide me to do that. It’s just something I started doing. My parents already had a computer so I had all the resources I needed. Thanks to a vivid imagination inspired by comic books and cartoons, I had plenty to write about. I haven’t really stopped since.

There were other topics that intrigued me too. Growing up, I was also interested in history, especially 20th century history. There was a period where I watched every World War II documentary on the History Channel I could. It got to the point where I knew the names of generals, battles, and dates better than my teacher.

It culminated one fateful day during my sophomore year of high school. I was in my history class and, much to my relief, we were focusing on early 20th century history. My teacher was lecturing, going over the textbook as they so often do, and at one point she got a date wrong. I, having the piss-poor social skills I had, just corrected her on the spot.

For some teachers, that would be a one-way business class ticket to getting detention. For this particular teacher, though, she smiled at me and thanked me. That was a proud moment for me. Later on, when we did take a test, I got a perfect score. I didn’t really need to study for it either. I knew the material because I wanted to know it.

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That’s both the key and the paradox that dooms standardized testing. It tries to create a one-size-fits-all standard with which to gauge every student. It ignores the fact that not every student is going to want to know the names of every Russian Tsar or how to use quadratic equations. Some students really are smart, just not on certain subjects.

On top of that, some students just aren’t good test takers either. I know this because I’m one of them. I often had to give disclaimers, of sorts, to my teachers about my test-taking skills. Some of it was due to nervousness. Some of it was just due to the mental fog that comes with the stress of taking a test. Some people can manage it well. I can’t.

The only exception, in my case, were the essay questions. I loved the essay questions because I knew I’d ace those. Writing is, I like to think, one of my greatest strengths. If I could’ve exchanged every standardized test I ever took for an essay, I’d have done it in a heartbeat. I’d have been the valedictorian of my high school.

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I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Standardized tests made me feel dumb, but I know I’m not dumb. I couldn’t manage this blog, keep track of major events in comics, or stay up-to-date on the status of sex robots if I were. I genuinely worry that a lot of impressionable, vulnerable kids will feel that same sentiment by taking these tests. They may never realize that these tests are not a reflection of how smart they are.

The issue of standardized testing is still ongoing and still controversial. There are a lot of moving parts to education, especially in large countries with diverse populations. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but an important first step is acknowledging the problem.

As usual, John Oliver has already done a far more astute job of exposing the problem than I ever will. He dedicated an entire segment of his show, “Last Week Tonight,” to it. I’ll let him fill in the blanks that I wasn’t able to cover in this post.

So to all the students out there still dreading their final tests of the school year, I can only urge you to hang in there. These tests will not determine the course of your life. These tests will not determine how smart you are. You will come out of this. Life will get better as an adult.

Sure, you have jobs, families, and taxes to worry about. Take it from me, though. If you can endure the stresses of exams and standardized tests, you can endure almost anything an adult life can throw at you.

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