“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question.”
―George Orwell, Animal Farm
Once, I worked in an aluminum building, scoring the standardized tests that they make children take. That year, fourth graders across North Carolina were asked to answer, in an essay, "What is your favorite kind of weather, and why?"
You might imagine there would be any number of ways a child could answer that question. But you would be wrong. There was a right way, a wrong way, and a rubric to grade it.
My cubicle-mates were all victims of the latest recession—middle-aged people with nothing left to lose. We nursed frequent headaches. Under fluorescent lights, we applied the prescribed rubric to the children's answers: Was there a thesis statement? Supporting rationale? Did they stay on topic? Some wrote in tiny, neat letters. Others had looping scrawls wandered all over. I liked the exuberant answers, the ones with explanatory diagrams. There were wild tales of tornadoes or ice storms, a vivid picture of lightning. One child simply filled the box with black scribbles.
All these, of course, got the lowest possible score.
Every hour, the boss gathered up the team to calibrate us. "Now," she would say, holding up an essay, "Can someone please tell me why this is a 'four?'" You weren't supposed to argue it should be a “three.” Calibration was meant to make us all think the same, to ensure uniform scoring. There was only one answer, only one way to see things.
One day, during mid-morning break, I walked out and left. I had no idea how I'd make rent that month. My friend Sam found me walking down the shoulder of the highway, and gathered me into his ancient convertible.
So, what's my favorite weather? When the wind whips your face, you're alive, and you can think what you will.
God of our hearts, who moves through freedom, toward freedom: we gather in Your power, seeking to know Your promise in our lives, through this land. Guide us, Holy One, in our uncertainty and in our over-certainty; let our broken hearts fill with the song of the ages, whose verses are Justice and whose chorus is Love. So may it be. And Amen.