It was early when they left the camp. They had pitched their tents in a clearing, distrustful of the trees that heaved and swayed in their roots as the wind rushed down the valley. The Sun began to rise above the tree-line and the party reflected on the fifteen years since their last pilgrimage.
Wearily, they trod the hewn-out steps that dribbled from the mouth of the cave. As they neared, they saw a fire had been lit in the entrance. Sir Clueless, the great Ba Ba’s humble civil servant tended the fire and a skillet on a tripod sizzled, grilling corn cakes for the great man’s breakfast. Sir Clueless startled, hearing his master’s voice. Colin of Tasmania could just make out the instructions coming from within the body of the cave, “Don’t forget the chipotle sauce…”
Sir Clueless silently greeted the party and indicated that they should remove their shoes. Then they walked inwards. Their eyes took a while to adjust to the torchlight of the cave. Slowly, Ba Ba resolved into view, seated on a purple plush velvet armchair behind, and slightly to one side of, a lectern topped with a crystal ball.
Ba Ba rose and walked over to the lectern. He was a wiry man of about 55 in grey slacks. He wore a shirt and tie with a unzipped fleece over the top and possessed wacky glasses and a cropped beard.
Colin of Tasmania addressed him, “I don’t know if you remember us, O’ wise one?”
Ba Ba surveyed the party in front of him.
Colin continued, “we are the representatives that visited you fifteen years ago. We come on behalf of politicians from across the provinces of Canada, the states of Australia, the districts of the United States and the countries of the United Kingdom as well as from New Zealand and Ireland.”
“I get you,” replied Ba Ba, “Where is the one from Scotland?”
Morag stepped forward.
Ba Ba turned to Morag, “Nice job on the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. Receive my blessing.”
Morag looked around awkwardly, stifled the urge to speak and then stepped back into the group.
At this point, Colin noticed the crystal ball. “Is that the crystal ball?” he asked.
“What, you mean the one that generates remarkably precise statistics about the percentage of current jobs that won’t exist in five or ten years’ time?” Clarified Ba Ba.
“Yes, that one.” Replied Colin.
Ba Ba nodded and smiled munificently, “She is a thing of beauty.”
There was silence as the group contemplated the crystal ball.
Finally, Colin brought-up the travellers’ objective, “Look, O’ great one. We come here on a mission from our governments.”
“Go on,” said Ba Ba.
“Well we’ve done everything you said. We’ve introduced one-to-one iPads. We’ve instituted project-based learning so that students may develop higher order thinking skills. We’ve focused on creativity and collaboration. We have completely removed anything other than play from pre-school programs. We’ve pivoted away from a focus on answers in maths class in order to emphasise the need for multiple and convoluted ways of solving simple problems. Up and down our lands, teachers are withholding facts that can easily be Googled.”
“Excellent,” commented Ba Ba, “that sounds great.”
Colin ploughed on but with a more urgent tone, “We have denigrated authoritarian teachers who want to drill and kill our students, filling them with rote knowledge. We have designed standards and certification systems that hound these folks out of the profession. We have taken over the schools of education and successfully inculcated new teachers into the expected norms and values!”
Ba Ba was now beginning to sense the frustration. “So what is the problem?”
“Test scores are flat-lining or even going backwards! We all know that tests aren’t everything but we never expected this!”
Ba Ba smiled. “Oh,” he said, “there is a very straightforward answer to that. You must not have been doing it all properly.” Then he had a further thought, “Or maybe the tests don’t measure what’s important. Take your pick.”
Morag could contain herself no longer, “But you never said it would be really hard to get right! You never said that test scores might go down! How do we even know if we’ve done any good at all?”
But Sir Clueless had appeared and was gesturing them towards the entrance of the cave. Initially, nobody moved. Sir Clueless shrugged. “Regulations,” he explained. Resigned, the travelers made their way out in to the cold light of day.