Testing, Again

The drive down I-95 connecting to congested U.S. Route 1 was brief. Half an hour. Forty minutes at most.

The whole way to Center City Philadelphia, though, was filled with anxiety.

At the time – and maybe still, for all I know – one needed a Third Class license with Broadcast Endorsement from the Federal Communications Commission to be a broadcaster.

Early in my college career, broadcasting became something I aspired to do. But first, I had to overcome this stumbling block.

The FCC made me take – and pass – a test before I could become a disc jockey.

Preposterous! Outrageous! Apparently, my deep, soothing, melodious and accent-free voice would not be qualification enough to enter the ether.

The FCC, guardians of the “public interest, convenience and necessity,” insisted I pass their test before playing my music. Or at least the music of my generation. (Hmm. Note to self: possible song title.)


Recently, an opponent of standardized public school testing offered this argument: “The overuse and misuse of high-stakes testing has resulted in the denial of diplomas [to] economically disadvantaged children who desperately need a high school diploma to access a pathway out of poverty.”

It is hard to argue in favor of overuse or misuse. About anything. Except, maybe, ice cream.

The rest, though, might give us pause.

The diploma is certification of achievement. Which is not to be confused with actual, genuine achievement or knowledge. The diploma is a proxy that stands in for that which may not be empirical: what one knows may not be empirical, though which skills one possesses likely are.

The test had questions worse than the “One train leaves Denver and the other Chicago . . .”

The man at the FCC office handed back my test. “Take a look at number nine,” he softly suggested.

Returning a minute or two later with the test and again handing it to the G-man, he again gently urged: “Now look at number fifteen.”

Did passing the FCC’s licensing test make me a better broadcaster?


Nor was that the test’s purpose.

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