We have been waiting to burn our Constitution tests for some time now. Because we receive federal funding, we are to destroy the tests that the students take. I think it has something to do with students cheating, giving the test to the new crop of 8th graders each year. This is one of those bizarre federal stipulations. I mean, how many different ways can you ask what are the three branches of the U.S. government or which amendment gave 18 year olds the right to vote?
A lot of effort went into the students’ preparation for this test. We read the whole Constitution word for word. Not an easy task parsing out the meaning of its less literal parts. Preparing for the Constitution test took a great deal of energy and focus, real sweat and tears, especially because students were told that they could not pass 8th grade unless they passed this test (another federal stipulation). I have the dubious reputation of having the longest therefore hardest test of all the other 8th grade teachers—32 pages or so. The fact that there are lots of illustrations and editorial cartoons throughout has no impact on this infamy. Getting a decent grade on my test carries a great deal of clout and prestige.
In my classes, it is now a tradition to burn the Constitution tests. Much better than a paper shredder, much more dramatic. Perfect for 8th graders. Usually the burning takes place in the midst of the winter and we’re freezing, actually keeping warm from the flames of the burning tests. We usually wait until there is lots of snow because the contrast of the fire and the snow is much more spectacular. But this year there was no snow to speak of. There were a couple of days of snowfall and then the next day it was all melted. Very strange and unexpected for a Chicago winter.
The students have continually asked me since they completed the tests last fall, when we were going to burn the tests. Today was the day before spring break and it was nearly 70 degrees. There clearly was no more possibility of snow. We decided to commemorate the beginning of spring break with this ritual. Filled with exuberance and high spirits, the students filed out to the field behind school. MT suggested they bring their Fahrenheit 451 books so they could all read the first page of the book together. “It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed,” they read in unison.
In the afternoon, this 451 choral reading was followed by boisterous, playful, slightly edgy versions of “America the Beautiful,”” The Star Spangled Banner,” the “Pledge of Allegiance,” “Mine Eyes have seen the Glory,” and “Amazing Grace.”
Then the students took off running down the field, all fired up for their impending spring break.