In 1956, as a senior in high school, the class took a social studies quiz with 30 true and false questions. One student predictably received an “F” on the test. What was unpredictable however, was his score, “0” none right. The teacher lost no time in taking advantage of that teachable moment. What better time to learn the statistical unlikelihood of a perfectly terrible paper. While the popular teacher was humiliating an unpopular student, he had the undivided attention of the entire class, with just one sad exception.
Ever since that day I have struggled with the statistical significance of that test. With a guess on each answer, he would get them all wrong about one out every 900 tries. However, that test gave him no chance to choose the correct answer, because there were no options for him to include the correct answer. The teacher desires one of two answers, but in a true false test there are exactly three possible correct answers, “true,” “false,” and the one that test makers hide. The the hidden answer is “inconsequential.”
There was no way that poor student should have been asked to answer any of those questions because each answer for him was inconsequential. Our laughter however was of great consequence, in a bad way. Whatever the value of the questions on the test, of which I can’t remember even one, the dehumanizing influence we applied that day was deplorably consequential.