And Now We Must Talk About Daniel Pinkwater, Who Is Awesome

Last week my children had to slog through hours and hours of utter foolishness, in the form of the ELA tests.

In order for the tests to be administered, the school had to cancel: humanities. (Of course! We must cancel class now, in order to see whether the teachers are doing their jobs.)

Also canceled? All art and theater classes. (Duh! Who needs to read Shakespeare? What a waste!)

And—wait for it—all independent reading. Because who has time for reading when you're testing kids' reading? Why is that so hard to understand?

Also? A child in Chestnut's class was reprimanded for falling asleep during the test after he was done. Apparently this is NOT ALLOWED.

Sometimes it feels like my children are being educated in a Kafka novel.

All of this, as you can imagine, was torture for both of them. But! There was an absurd, rotund light twinkling at the end of the miserably dark tunnel.

It turns out a brouhaha was stewing (brewing?), because the eighth grade tests used a bastardized version of an excerpt from one of the esteemed Daniel Pinkwater's novels.

You can read a very wonderful interview with him about it here, but essentially: the test writers took a nonsensical story about a rabbit and an eggplant. They changed to be about a hare and a pineapple, made it longer and less funny, and then tacked on a few questions to the end, trying to bend the story to their will. But Daniel Pinkwater being the proverbial monkey wrench that he is, did what I so long to do: he messed them up. Because nonsense is nonsense, and trying to jam it into the rigid idiocy that these tests promote will only backfire. As indeed it did.

They cancelled the question. Oh how I wish it had gone farther than that! It was a bit like watching a bear try to eat a hedgehog. It looked so little and cute, but it did not go down as smoothly as expected.

And oh! How my children loved to read about this! Diana charged around the house announcing "Pineapples!" over and over. Chestnut just beamed. It was so nice, at the end of that stupid, stupid week, to have them see that there something ridiculous had punctured to giant faceless void of the tests that have been bullying them.

I first encountered Daniel Pinkwater when Chestnut brought The Big Orange Splot home from school. She used to sit there reading it over and over on the couch, thinking about how she would change our house. 

I feel like Pinkwater's story is itself a big orange splot. It has (inadvertently) landed right on the roof of the high-stakes testing house, and is shining there in all its absurdity. I wish, oh how I wish, that the people who keep championing these tests could be a little more like Mr. Plumbean, and would look up and see that it shows them what could be.

Instead of making us cancel independent reading for a whole week.

4 thoughts on “And Now We Must Talk About Daniel Pinkwater, Who Is Awesome

  1. I thought Pinkwater was remarkably easy going about it all, everything considered. I, on the other hand, felt righteously indignant on his behalf–how could they be so tone deaf and ruin his little anecdote so?
    And, it should be mentioned, the good people of NY have paid more than $30 million for Pearson to bungle these tests! For an extraordinarily moving piece about how high-stakes testing is destroying the teaching of literature, I recommend this recent NY Times piece, Teach the Books, Touch the Heart:


  2. Pinkwater is my hero. I will drop everything (except the baby) when I hear him come on NPR to read children’s books aloud.
    And, like kk, it seems I am far more annoyed about the incident than he is, which just makes him rise farther in my esteem. 🙂


  3. I love this! Finally, something tangible that the public can see to illustrate how stupid all this testing is. I am so appalled at the money our educational system is willing to put into tests when special education isn’t fully funded, programs that have been proven (with actual research!) to benefit at-risk readers accelerating them to grade level are not funded…and even things like books and pencils (and god-forbid field trips) are not funded! This makes as much sense as that excerpt did. And, the fact that these tests can determine whether kids go on to the next grade level? Ludicrous.


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