ADVERTISEMENT

When I became a professor in Wisconsin, some colleagues took me to lunch. I was surprised to hear them order beer. Most of us wouldn’t do that in New York. What if someone smelled alcohol on an educator’s breath?

Succumbing to peer pressure I asked the server, “What kind of beer do you have here?”

“Foreign or domestic?”

“What’s the domestic?”

“Miller.”

“What’s the foreign?”

“Budweiser!”

Budweiser was brewed mostly in Missouri in those days. Now it’s even brewed in Manitowoc, Wis.

I felt a little deja vu when I recently visited an old favorite bar.

“Any beer specials?”

The server gestured with her pen toward a board that read: “Beer Specials. Domestic bottles $2.75. Domestic drafts $2.50.”

“Great. I’ll have a domestic. A bottle of Sam Adams, please.”

“That’s not domestic,” she said.

“Yes it is,” I replied. “It’s brewed in Boston.”

“No it’s English or something,” chimed in the bartender.

Shocked, but willing to take advantage of a teachable moment, I replied, “Sam Adams was a hero of the American Revolution.”

I waited, but my comment was met with blank stares.

I punted on second down. “OK, what domestic beers do you have?”

“We have Bud, Coors and Molson’s.”

I couldn’t help myself. “Molson’s isn’t domestic. It’s brewed in Canada!” I gestured with my thumb to a sign on a wall. It read, “Molson’s Canadian.”

The server’s expression and body language let me know she’d grown impatient with me and thought I was being a jerk. Remember the days when such places gave you the impression they wanted your business, or at least a good tip? Then again, maybe they were in a hurry to get home on a Sunday night. Perhaps they’re bitter because they aren’t being paid a living wage.

The bartender broke the dumbfounded impasse with, “We consider it domestic.”

I thought, not only did they flunk vocabulary and history, they flunked geography and business, too.

My Dad’s a very wise man. He taught us, “Never argue with your barber.” I figure never argue with your cook or server either or you could end up with some “special sauce” in your food or drink.

“Well, we are only 20 minutes from the Canadian border,” I rationalized. “OK, I’ll have a domestic Canadian.”

Later, when the server asked if I wanted another beer, I declined. On the way out I told the hostess, “I wonder what happened. This place used to be crowded.”

I keep thinking about that server and that bartender. After all, they’d attended school during a pretty dark time in the annals of American education. Long term, the Bush administration’s education policy might prove to be an even bigger disaster than its foreign policy and domestic economic policy. No Child Left Behind is leaving even more kids behind. The Obama administration, for all its campaign promises, has pretty much left the Bush education initiatives untouched.

Every educator knows a test can be “reliable” and still not be “valid.” These days far too many kids are graduating culturally illiterate because their teachers spent far too much time and energy teaching to invalid tests.