Dave Barry

Classic '97: The Final Exam


This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, November 16, 1997.

Should American schoolchildren be given standardized national educational tests? I believe they should, and I will tell you exactly why: Because I am not a schoolchild. I am strongly in favor of things that I, personally, do not have to do. Childbirth is another example.

The national testing program was proposed by President Clinton, who has been proposing new programs as fast as he can think them up, because he desperately wants to be remembered by posterity for some achievement other than being investigated and jogging around in shorts the size of a wedding tent. Another program that he proposed recently was an urgent federal campaign against -- I am not making this up -- the threat of foreign vegetables. I think this issue could be a big winner, posterity-wise. I can picture a scene in Washington, D.C., decades from now, wherein hundreds of thousands of grateful Americans gather to dedicate a majestic monument, comparable in size to the ones for Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, consisting of a statue of President Clinton heroically confronting a menacing statue of an imported rutabaga.

But getting back to the issue of requiring students to take standardized national tests: I truly believe that it would provide great benefits to the nation. For example, if I drove past some students walking to school, looking young and carefree and thin and healthy, I could roll down my window, pound my horn and shout: ``Perhaps I am old and flabby, and perhaps I could weave a medium-sized area rug from just one month's growth of my nose hairs, but at least I DON'T HAVE TO TAKE A STANDARDIZED NATIONAL TEST HA HA HA!'' Then I could drive off, whimpering, because I have arthritis and my hands hurt when I pound things.

So national testing is a fine idea. The question is: What should the questions be? I have given this issue a great deal of thought (OK, technically I have not thought about it yet , but I plan to do so just as soon as we get out of these parentheses) and it is my considered opinion that the questions should test the students' grasp of the five basic academic disciplines: English, Mathematics, Science, History and Condiments.

I include this last discipline because recently I attended a college football game, and I purchased a hot dog (NOTE TO MY DOCTOR: I did not eat this hot dog; I just like to hold a hot dog at sporting events) and while I was waiting in line at the condiments station, shuffling my feet to keep them from becoming permanently bonded to the thick layer of high-adhesive condiment goo that had been building on the stadium floor since the Truman administration, I noticed the young man in front of me covering his hot dog with mayonnaise . And I thought: ``Our educational system has failed this young man! Standardized national testing could have prevented this!''

So here is my proposed Standardized National Education Test:


1. What goes on a hot dog?

a. Mustard.

2. What is it OK to put mayonnaise on?

a. A turkey sandwich.

b. The seat of the fan in front of you at the football game whose automatic response to everything that happens on the field, including spitting, is to stand up, so that you're basically paying to see a panoramic view of his butt.


1. Why do some people take astrology seriously?

a. Because they have unusually small brains.

b. Because thousands of years of human experience have proven to us, beyond a reasonable doubt, that no matter what so-called ``scientists'' say, the positions of the stars in the heavens at exactly the moment of your birth can, in fact, dramatically influence the course of your life, if you have an unusually small brain.

2. What is the smallest unit of matter?

a. The molecule.

b. The atom.

c. The amount of mustard they put in those damned condiment packets that you have to open with your teeth.


If Abraham Lincoln is writing the Declaration of Independence at 20 words per minute on a train traveling west from San Francisco, and at exactly the same time Franklin Delano ``Teddy'' Roosevelt is forming the National League of Nations on a train traveling east from Boston, what should they put on their hot dogs?

a. Mustard.

b. And they had better do it quickly, before their trains hit the ocean.


Write an 800-word essay in English about an important political or social issue such as national educational testing without saying a single intelligible thing about it.

Extra credit: Make repeated references to mustard.


1. Whatever happened to Earl, the suspected snake egg that you received for your 50th birthday?

a. Earl is fine and continues to be a wonderful pet in the sense of not hatching.

b. But he is starting to smell funny.