Student Poem:

Standardized Minds
By Niles Xi-An Lichtenstein, Youth Speaks

How can we walk straight
When our backs are bent into boxes
How can we stand
When standards overshadow the individuals
How can we create
locked down behind wooden desks
As future fates rest on the restricted breath of a number two
pencil tip
So the clock ticks with the hands of Master America
Stitching together a society
Hemming in divisions and weaving in stratification
Searching for liberation
But stuck within the abbreviations like SATs GREs
GPAs and LSATs We, the nameless ones
Print our identification
With a consistent darkness
To shade the light of our being
Comprehension based
On two dimensional reflections
Of our circumstances
Knowledge is pressed into tight packages with breakable seals
That conceal unbreakable barrier
Deciphering between classes
This royalty has us backwards
As Prince-ton reviews our King's English
And mathematics only makes sense in the land of abstraction
This land of reality was based on fact
Not fractions
As factions are created between those deemed intelligent
And those who are not
Ivory gates of Ivy league creep open
As cells in Attica lock down
Equations only lead to x's
While life's questions only lead to why's
It's ironic the one's who can't figure the numbers on tests are
the ones
Who end up as statistics
I sit dumbfounded trying to figure out the meaning of fulminate
And wonder if Shakespeare could analyze himself
For a 5 on the AP English exam
But I know he could poetry slam
And so they wonder why we're hesitant
To take tests where the subject matter seems irrelevant
We only use a level of standard
Because we're too scared to ask ourselves whether we're good educators
The national average is around 50%
Yet 50% will get you an F on my test
So when do the graders get graded
Who is held accountable for our failure
As students count the bull passed through schools every day
Cyclical reactions to the same problems
And so the bell curve tolls and we are left singing
Oh say can you see
Jose can you see
Nah, Jose is getting an F
Because no habla ingles
So after the test he is left with no options
Maybe back home he was a doctor
But now he is on the corner of 4th street looking for work
Hastening humans have no time to listen or flip past the first
In their frenetic frenzy
Unless your life's story is on IMAX
Locked into percentiles
In need of melding together the tiles of a person's experience
And uncovering the mosaic they call life
Trapped in our personal bubbles
As we bubble in our answers
To none of our problems

Our hands must release from the mechanical flow and we must
scribble outside the lines
We must paint our infinite responses to multiple choice questions
And scribe poetry in the blanks
Tell me this not everything
Tell me you believe there is more to me than this test
This test will never recount all the pain
This test will never tell you about my daily struggles
Or the passion breathing in these veins
You cannot confine the travelers of soul
There are too many 1600's who have never learned to survive
There are too many trying to survive who have no time to produce
a 1600
Don't ever tell a child they're stupid
Don't ever cage the stars meant to shine
One can never measure the hidden magic locked behind the mind
There is only one test on planet earth
It ends with death and begins with birth

Three hours later
The pencil drops like the weight of a fallen angel
I'm questioning my worth as a human being
Sitting, waiting for you to implant the next string in my back.



— Niles Xi-An Lichtenstein was the 2000 Bay Area Youth
Poetry Champion, and a member of Youth Speaks, a poetry project
in San Francisco. The organization brings young people together
through spoken and written word.