“Why aren’t they screaming?” — from Philip Larkin’s The Old Fools
The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is typically taken by students some time during their last two years in high school. It purports to assess how well test takers solve problems. However, the Big Problem for the students — for us all, truth be told — is that no matter how high they score on the examination, the nation’s momentum — the world’s — is going to give them a failing grade.
A failing grade in Life. What else would you call not being successful in addressing our collective crises? They are now responsible for making their own futures worth living for (because the older folks around them are not doing so), and they’re dropping the ball. They’re engaged in another game, the Big Contest centered on self-advancement. Getting into a good college, getting a good gig, and setting the stage for securing their slice of the American Dream.
But as both a 2016 documentary and a 2012 documentary make clear, an American Apocalypse is a distinct possibility, and fulfillment courtesy of the American Dream not something to bet on in Las Vegas unless you believe in extreme long shots coming in.
In short, after passing the SAT with flying colors in all categories, youngsters can look forward to:
- dying oceans;
- the increased likelihood of nuclear war;
- pesticide proliferation on the order of what Rachel Carson delineated;
- the power of plutocratic forces becoming more powerful, making democracy impossible;
- atomized living becoming more and more popular, precluding meaningful movement in solidarity;
F (#6) is an appropriate place to stop, I think. For that’s the grade that should be given to the parents and educators who are enabling students with regard to their faith in the SAT tests. Faith meaning trust in what can come from successful SAT scores.
We must begin to scream the truth into the tone deaf ears of isolated, cynical youngsters. [Pause.] No, actually that won’t work, will it? We’ve got to scream in a new way to the tuned out.
But first we need to loudly proclaim that what SAT achievement represents is –with all the time and energy required — a passport over the precipice. As long as that isn’t declared clearly immediately, no talk about how experts will be using Science and Technology to save us down the line will mean anything.
For the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut’s Dr. Felix Hoenikker — a scientist who can’t get too worked up about people or morality — is who is taking over those realms. Guaranteeing the thrust of Cat’s Cradle — the end of the world as we know it, the world we love.
We’ve got to scream in a way that our powerless but slap happy youngsters, whose current top concern as juniors and seniors in high school is achieving top SAT scores, embrace a different priority. Unhappy youth, not even in a position to take the SAT exam, and all of us, are depending on them to get onto another track.
Truth be told, they’re singing the wrong song.
Annapurna Tosca Sriramarcel is a member of the Oxman Collective. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.