Today was the annual burning of our Constitution tests and, as I am retiring this June, perhaps the last time it will happen on school grounds. We are required to destroy these nationally mandated tests because of the off chance that someone might share them with an upcoming class hence giving them an unfair advantage. I mean, really!? How many different ways can you ask how many representatives are in the House of Representatives?
Right after our study of the Constitution we read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Some years ago (eight or nine?) it just made sense to burn the tests instead of the undramatic shredding of them especially with Montag’s, “It was a pleasure to burn” still ringing in our ears. We wait for a good snowfall before burning because it makes it all the more dramatic. Today was the day.
High spirited and cameras/ cellphones in hand, the students tore the pages from their very long tests (my Constitution test is the longest of all the 8th grade teachers — about 36 pages) and tossed them into the trash can, page by page. We brought marshmallows to roast and had graham crackers and chocolate to make s’mores. Someone said, “Play the man, master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, that shall never be put out” an allusion we had discussed ad infinitum in Fahrenheit. At one point, BT started a very loud chorus of “Kumbaya.”
It was all deliciously irreverent. A test for which the students spent a great deal of time and energy in preparing, jocularly torn and crumpled and tossed into a flaming garbage can, all encouraged by a teacher on school grounds. There is something very invigorating and yes, cathartic, about destroying the physical manifestation of learning with a strong hint that somehow something inside each of them will sustain some of the knowledge gained from that experience despite its perishing in the flames. Isn’t that what we talked about for a very long time while we read Fahrenheit 451? What a great way for all of us to make closure. What a perfect message to take away and a wonderful way to spend a sunny February day.