Monday, October 10, 2011

More Testing, Please


I know I’ve complained about the state of our schools this past decade, the utter insanity and cruelty of reducing children’s startling curiosity and unbounded intelligence to the right answers on tests. I still don’t think it’s a good idea. But if that’s the trend, why not take it further?

Think about it. The only test I’ve taken since I formally left school is the driver’s test. The culture says that if you’re going to be out there on the road with the lethal weapon known as a car, you not only have to prove you can drive it, but also know the laws of driving. That’s not a bad idea. Maybe before you’re allowed to buy alcohol you should also first pass a test showing clear knowledge of its effects. Could be a good idea before purchasing a gun as well, demonstrating clear knowledge of the murder statistics in which guns are easily obtained with those in countries where they’re not.

But the most important test of all should be taken before you are allowed to vote. When you’re a citizen of the most powerful country in the world, a vote can be even more of a lethal weapon than a car or a gun. Vote for the wrong person for the wrong reason and little children far away who deserve to live and love as much as your child might be endangered. Come to think of it, your child might also be endangered, especially if they had the misfortune to be poor and living in New Orleans during a natural disaster called Katrina. I’m not talking of the hurricane’s devastation, but the government’s response here. And then there’s the Katrina-like battering your child may have to cope with in school.

I want to publicly announce my bid to make that test. Before you were allowed to vote, you would have to show clear knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. You would also have to demonstrate familiarity with those illustrious folks in our history who worked to hold those documents to their promise by insisting that they apply equally to every person who has graced these shores. To be eligible to vote, you would have to know the cases of Dred Scott, Plessy vs. Ferguson, Brown vs. Board of Education, the stories of Harriet Tubman, John Brown, W.E. DuBois, Emmett Till, James Meredith. Also Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Mother Jones, Gloria Steinem, Helen Caldicott. You would have to be able to sing the songs Tom Joad, The 1912 Massacre and all the verses to This Land Is Your Land, Strange Fruit, What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue, Masters of War. In tune. (If you can’t sing in tune, better start lobbying the Education Czars to re-instate the music programs they took out for the testing.) You’d have to read the works of Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Mary Oliver, listen to the music of Billy Strayhorn, Cole Porter, Fred Hersch, see the movies of James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson and consider that they were gay.

I just returned from one of the most joyful, loving and beautiful weddings I’ve ever attended, celebrating my good friend James and his partner Dan. Rarely have I seen such love between two people and such further love surrounding them from the 270 people who attended. Their friends are old and young, gay and straight, black and white, American and foreign born and the mutual joy generated at that wedding was ample testimony to how ultimately meaningless all these categories are. On the positive side, they help us position ourselves in an identity, on the negative side, they can keep us apart, but finally, when all is said and done, all that matters is how kind and loving you are. Who you love, how you love, is your private affair, but if you choose to make it public, all that matters is the depth and quality of love.

Perhaps this should be the number one question on my Voter’s Test. The fact that one-issue voters allowed four more years of lies, greed, violence and general havoc by the Bush regime because some shameless preachers twisted Jesus’ message of love and convinced them that gay marriage was an abomination was a moment of great shame for our country and culture and there is so much more work to do. So in addition to the paper test, all voters should be required to attend a gay marriage. If they can’t make it, I’ll send them the video.

PS A hearty public congratulations to James and Dan!!

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