The Leek

High school means many things, and one thing it means is the SAT.

(Or the ACT. Or both. And there was the PSAT. I wonder, did anyone take the PSAT as preparation for the ACT? Did it help?)

In the mid-1960s I took them all. And then I took the whole testing game a step furthur than most. I took the Navy ROTC test. That was not it's exact name. But that is what it was.

The prize for passing the Navy test was a full tuition and living expenses for four years in college. In return one then served four years of active duty as a well-paid naval officer. The alternative to being a naval officer was likely to be two years as an army private, at a time when army privates were generally not at all happy with their lot in life. Or their pay.

When I got to the remote test site for the Navy test, it turned out to be the same place where I had taken the SAT a week or so earlier. It was the same building, the same room, the same time, with the same proctor, who recited the same admonitions, told the same jokes, and repeated the same complaints.

For the first two hours the Navy test turned out to be functionally equivalent to the SAT. It was written, published, and administered by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey, the same as the SAT. I couldn't decide whether that made me comfortable, or whether it spooked me.

Then we turned in the mundane test sections that had been tediously similar to all those other tests, and we were issued an unexpected section with questions of a very different kind.

As I went through this section, I realized it was a good thing that I had always read a lot. These questions seemed to be all over the cultural map. But I kept plugging away, until I was startled by a question that should have been innocous.

What is a leek?

Holy cow! This test was culturally biased in favor of people who did a lot of reading! Like me!

In other words, toward people who could afford to buy the Sunday newspaper, and who would read the whole thing, including the cultural supplements.

Fast forward through eight years or so, to a cocktail party in San Diego, with a number of naval officers of all ages, and their wives. It was at a point in my military service when I had to decide whether to stay in the Navy after my mandatory four years. One wife of a senior officer brought up the news that the Navy ROTC test was being challenged as culturally biased, an accusation which she hotly denied. Of course, she had not taken the test herself.

I blurted out, "Well of course it's biased!

The room went silent as everyone stared at me.

I suddenly realized that I would be submitting my resignation the next day.

The Navy abandoned its special NROTC admissions test soon afterward, and replaced it with the standard SAT.