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The King’s Test: An Educational Fable

by Bill Lauritzen

Once upon a time, a King realized that the most important skill in his kingdom was farming, as it provided the food of his people and they would all die without it.

Therefore, this King wanted to find out who was the best farmer in his Kingdom. He went to his many advisers and asked them the best way to do this. They argued and fussed over this for a long time, and finally decided on the cheapest and fastest way to do it, so as not to use up most of the King’s gold in the treasury.

So they told the King that they would make a written, “parchment and ink,” test about farming in which people could choose the right answer from one of several possible answers. Tests were made up and it was required that all the farmers in the land must take the test. It was called the King’s Test and it would be given in three years time to allow people to prepare for it.

However, most of the peasants laughed at the idea. How could one tell who was the best farmer from questions on a sheet of parchment? they whispered. Next the King would give tests in place of the yearly jousting tournament, they joked. The King would determine the best Knight in the Kingdom and the fastest runners in the Kingdom by parchment and ink, they laughed.

In addition, everyone already knew John Tiller was probably the best farmer in the land, and he and he refused to take the test. (Besides, he didn’t like to admit that he could not read very well.)

When the King found out that John Tiller refused to take the King’s Test, he had him brought to the castle.

--Why did you refuse to take the test, if you are the best farmer in the land?

--You can’t measure a farmer with parchment and ink. You measure a farmer by the pounds of produce he can grow in an acre, and how much he can get for it on the market.

The King’s many advisors told the King that John’s defiance would lessen the King’s authority. They said he must take the test like everyone else, or be thrown into the dungeon. So the King had him thrown into the dungeon as his many advisors had advised.

Only the King’s daughter pleaded John’s behalf. She liked John and hated to see him thrown in the dungeon.

Meanwhile, some of the peasants wanted to impress the King so they memorized the words associated with farming and learned how these words went together with each other. These peasants could not have grow a weed if someone had given them some land and tools, but they still hoped that they might do well on the King’s Test.

In fact, a lively business grew up, wherein some of the King’s advisors made extra money by teaching peasants “test taking strategies.” Soon, there were also the “King’s Test Preparation Classes.” For a goodly fee, peasants were guaranteed to boost their scores on the test.

Within a few months schools appeared called “farming schools.” Parchment scrolls about farming were studied in these schools. The students rarely were required to grow anything there. People said the graduates of these school seemed rather “flat” and “like a machine,” that they had no “character,” and a “poor sense of ethics.” These schools never came up with any new ideas, and in fact, many students didn’t want new ideas. They just wanted to memorize those ideas that would help them pass the King’s Test.

The King eventually required all students to attend one of these farming schools so they could learn how to farm. However, many students thought it was stupid to attend a school to learn how to farm, and they didn’t like having to memorize all the scrolls. They frequently got into trouble with the teachers and were sometimes in fights with other students. Eventually some of them joined roving gangs and began to fight and even kill each other out of boredom and frustration. Some of them even killed one or two of the teachers in the farm schools.

When the results of the test came in, the person who did the best on the test was Peter Barren. Peter had taken all of the Preparation and Test Taking Strategies classes, and also was a graduate of one of “the very best” farming schools. The King brought Peter to the castle and in a grand ceremony had Peter made Overseer of The Farms. All the peasants knew that Peter was not a farmer, and they snickered at the ignorance of the King. No one was brave enough to tell the King directly.

Except the King’s daughter. She had been taking food to John Tiller in the dungeon and had listened carefully to John’s words. She angrily told the King to free John Tiller. The King refused.

Meanwhile John Tiller read nature’s signs and smells, as his father had taught him, from the window bars of his dungeon cell, and predicted that there would be a drought. The King’s daughter told the King, but he ignored her.

That summer there was hardly any rain. It was the driest summer that people could remember. Many of the crops died and those that survived went for very high prices. There just was not enough food for everyone in the Kingdom. The people took to the streets and rioted.

That was when the King realized that he had made a mistake. He hoped it was not too late to do something.

The King then asked that John Tiller be brought before him. He asked John what he should do.

--You must use your gold to buy food for the people from our neighboring kingdom. You must put me in charge of all the farms, for even though I cannot read, I know how to farm.

The King did that, and also made John Tiller the new Overseer of the Farms.

In his new position, John shared his methods of farming with all the farmers. He also learned from the King’s daughter about letters and sounds, and words, and which words went with which things and ideas. (In other words, he learned to read.) From Peter Barren and the King’s advisors he learned some ideas, which he found improved his yields.

With their help he also began to keep records. He kept track of which farmers had the most productivity per acre, and found out which methods they were using. He told other farmers about those methods.

Soon the Kingdom had plenty of food. The King was able sell some of the extra food to other Kingdoms, and get some, but not all, of his gold back. John Tiller married the King’s daughter. The King was happy even without all his gold because the Kingdom was prosperous.