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Poet: I can’t answer questions on Texas standardized tests about my own poems (washingtonpost.com)
380 points by danso 77 days ago | hide | past | web | 215 comments | favorite

If she had known the answer, would that make the question any better?

I remember back when I was in high school, I always sort of assumed that the authors of the poems we were tested on wouldn't be able to answer the ridiculous questions on our assessments. But even if they did, I've never been able to figure out what skills these questions were testing. If poems are open to interpretation, isn't it reasonable to think that two equally skilled readers would arrive at different conclusions? Which is to say: Is the answer really objective?

In any case, the state of standardized testing is miserable, and unfortunately from all accounts I have heard it is worse abroad. I don't think this should be much of a surprise to anyone.

> If she had known the answer, would that make the question any better?

If anyone can answer what the 'correct' interpretation of a piece of writing is, it's the author. If they can not, well maybe the authors intent wasn't what the questions are asking.

Of course this is a fundamental problem in the way we teach and test literature. No piece of work has a single meaning because meaning is found in the merging of the work and the viewers background. What we teach is that works have one correct interpretation and if you do not read it that way, you are wrong.

>If anyone can answer what the 'correct' interpretation of a piece of writing is, it's the author.

To echo the other comments questioning that premise, there's also the famous Isaac Asimov anecdote:

Isaac Asimov often repeated an anecdote based on this: He once sat in on a class where the topic of discussion was one of his own works. (He did this in the back of a large lecture hall so he could remain semi-anonymous). After the class ended, he went up and introduced himself to the teacher, saying that he had found the teacher's interpretation of the story interesting, though it really wasn't what he had meant at all. The teacher's response: "Just because you wrote it, what makes you think you have the slightest idea what it's about?"

My high school English teacher met Tim O'Brian once and had a discussion about Going After Cacciato. They disagreed on whether Cacciato had been killed and ended with "George, I wrote the book; I know what happened." To which he replied, "Tim, I read the book; I know what happened."

I remember hearing a similar story about the adaptation of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" into Blade Runner. Ridley Scott was convinced that the protagonist was a replicant. Philip K Dick (and Harrison Ford) disagreed. In my mind, Scott had the more "cinematic" interpretation, and Dick had the more "novelistic" interpretation.

Do you think this is the source of the ambiguity in the movie? I was never convinced either way, even after rewatching the whole thing recently with the possibility in mind from the start. I think it was well done either way.

If I'm not mistaken, didn't the protagonist receive a Voight-Kampff test in the original novel? I remember thinking at the moment that this was a reflection on how Philip K Dick wanted to assure us that humans were very capable of evil (he was apparently very moved by the Holocaust), that the Blade Runner didn't have the excuse of being an automaton to justify the cold blood "termination" of sentient beings.

Sounds like the professor may have been a fan of new criticism[1], which disregards the authors intent. This make some sense to me, because its not really that interesting to try to debate what may or may not have been going through someones head when they created something, especially if that person is long dead.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorial_intent#New_Criticism

Asimov being Asimov, he then went on to write a story about Shakespeare being summoned from the past to take a college course on his plays. He failed, of course.

According to popular legend John Lennon had a slightly different reaction to learning that his lyrics were being crudely analysed by high school teachers. He wrote "I am the Walrus".

professors teach to their opinion

i took a shakespeare course at university where we were asked to read troilus and cressida and compare it to its source troilus and criseyde by chaucer

i wrote that i disliked the piece because it just read like someone who recently got burned in love venting irrationally, noting that i liked shakespeare's version more because he gives the last word to pandarus(o) who uses it to comically complain about his health and i felt this beautifully subverted the assumed tragedy the characters felt subject to in their stories.. woe is me!

i failed the exam

frustrated i went looking for evidence to defend my claim(i).. though contrary to the linked comic i did find some interesting notes

first off chaucer was a source for shakespeare, but hardly the source of the work

chaucer's main source was boccaccio's il filastrato.. which was based off an earlier version known as le roman de troie by benoît de sainte-maure

but the interesting bit comes from boccaccio's version(ii) because the story itself is only 8 cantos long, even the wikipedia page says the work itself is only 8 cantos long!(iii), but there is an additional canto, a ninth canto, wherein the author, boccaccio, addresses the reader and apologises for writing the poem and states he's unsure where it came from but asserts that he was recently dumped

(o) http://shakespeare.mit.edu/troilus_cressida/full.html

(i) https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2012/01/06

(i/2) https://store.penny-arcade.com/products/agree-with-me-tee

(ii) http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/filostrato_griffin.pdf

(iii) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Il_Filostrato

front page of reddit right now.. https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/5mr6ws/shakespeare_i... ;P

Do you think it would have ended the same failed exam if you did that research first and included it in your interpretation?

there's more to the story.. lie by ommission

the course was set up that we would read a work and then write a one page response in class

here is where i voiced my distaste for chaucer 'creating', as was presented to our class, this story while appreciating shakey's subversion of the material

this garnered the 'f' for my opinions about love forlorned

then at the end of each four week period we would, in lieu of exams, choose one work to 'dive deeper on' and write a longer piece

i chose triolus because it was the one piece i got such a low score on

while 'going deeper' i ended up finding, and reading, bocaccio and sainte-maure and wrote about how all four are similar and different and how these comparisons related to my original, correct ;P, intuition

i got a 'd' with complaints to the effects of 'stick to the course material' and 'just drop it'

i think my axe grinding became the professor's honing stone, which is unfortunate that such a circumstance can occur in an as advertised educational environment

Thanks for the additional context - though it's disappointing to hear. Seems the point of teaching this kind of thing should be to encourage people to explore their own interpretations. Having a fixed path for the student to travel seems counterproductive.

i went back and found this old entry from my university days and it turns out i only used the three works: shakespeare, chaucer and boccaccio; as basis for comparison in the paper, stead all four

My thoughts exactly. He had a good intuition, but teachers want substance not opinion - as they should.

It sounds like this is a case of something where substance is opinion; or at least the established and agreed-upon subset of it.

Why did you omit capital letters and periods and misuse ellipses in a post which attacks academic English? These choices would be annoying enough in any post but for this one in particular they undermine your credibility.

You've just called into question a race car driver's driving ability because you saw them not use their turn signal.

Capitalization and punctuation shouldn't be your signals for quality in a comment on Chaucer and Shakespeare and literary history.

I'm demonstrating one natural outcome of your criticism here by using proper punctuation, capitalization, and other grammatical minutiae while knowing not the damnedest thing about the quality or literary history of Troilus and Cressida.

> You've just called into question a race car driver's driving ability because you saw them not use their turn signal.

Note that I used the word "choice," indicating that I understood it to be a conscious decision rather than a lack of competence.

> Capitalization and punctuation shouldn't be your signals for quality in a comment on Chaucer and Shakespeare and literary history.

What makes you think I used them as exclusive signals? My claim wasn't that bad grammar made the parent post bad, it was that bad grammar had a negative contribution towards the overall credibility of the post.

> I'm demonstrating one natural outcome of your criticism...

Your reading comprehension might leave something to be desired, but the fact that a weak building may be built on a strong foundation does not imply that a strong building may have a weak foundation. To be clear: I am referring to your "example," not justifier's post, because I do not believe that justifier has a weak foundation, at least not with respect to grammar, which brings us back to the question of why.

Purposefully employing bad grammar in a post about English is a signal both that the writer holds strong and nontraditional opinions about English and that (s)he lacks the persuasive tact to fight one battle at a time. The way I see it, either quality alone could have led to a justified failing grade on an essay for reasons that have nothing to do with the veracity of its core claim.

Alright, I wrote my reply to you in good humor, but you've clearly taken it personally, so I'll write more plainly.

You're essentially bikeshedding [1] here. 'justifier' wrote an interesting comment that had some actual substance to it, and now you and I are engaged here in a pissing match over the value of its grammar and punctuation, and we're doing that because neither of us is well-enough educated on the actual topic of 'justifier's comment to respond substantively to it but yet we both want to express an opinion about it.

It's an ugly, ugly habit that I see a lot in HN comments, whether it's in reply to a long-form essay or in reply to a newly announced startup or a new programming language. It discourages comments and participation from more thoughtful people because they can expect whatever they write to get henpecked by other people who, having no mastery of the actual subject matter, turn instead to the most trivial-to-understand bits and pieces.

I picked on you at random to try to discourage that behavior a little. And since I'm contributing to that problem now myself, this'll be my last word about it today.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_triviality

Why would you waste your time on advertising your disapproval to obviously intentional cutesy capitalization when there was content to the post? That's like getting fixated on the color of the ink that something was written in. Or not listening to someone who stuttered, or had an accent.

> Purposefully employing bad grammar in a post about English

If this post was about English, everything said in English is about English. The post was explicitly about meaning.

Honestly, I didn't notice that they didn't capitalize things, until it was pointed out.

> You've just called into question a race car driver's driving ability because you saw them not use their turn signal.

They're calling into question the driving ability of a self-professed race car driver, who seems to be struggling with the basics of driving.

> seems to be struggling with the basics of driving

The writing was so clear that I didn't even notice the lack of punctuation until it was pointed out.

didn't he rather call into question someone's claim to be a race car driver based on seeing them not using their turn signal in conditions where use of the turn signal is generally expected?


i also avoid negative constructions.. look through my comment history

you will find it is completely devoid, except now for this comment, of any instances of using: no, not, never, none

do you think plato lacks credibility? have you ever read classics(o) in their original languages? theywereflippantinevenusingspacesbetweenwords(i)

i would ask that if you care to develop an opinion as to my credibility that it be based on my content rather than if i can correctly utilise a ruleset someone else created that i disagree with

but i can respect that some people are unwilling to do so

(o) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classics

(i) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scriptio_continua

I like you.

I also, by and large, avoid capitals when I feel that doing so will not distract - usually that's in chats, notes, and git commit messages - but what you're doing is much bigger than that. It's like, I don't know, vegetarianism for language. It's fascinating. I have so many questions.

What is your full ruleset, if you have it handy? Is this just a HN thing? A social media thing? An online thing? An all the time thing? Do you make exceptions for whatever kind of formal writing you might need to do (research papers, grant proposals, cover letters, posters, etc.)? Are you in STEM, and if not, what is your field? When did you start writing like this? I'm already imagining some vivid clashes with teachers/professors if you started anywhere in undergrad or below.

thanks, i'm happy to answer your questions

> What is your full ruleset, if you have it handy?

ha! this is a funny question.. when i first started doing this i wrote a note taking app that took in a ruleset and ensured you followed it.. i'm unable to find the code right now otherwise i could just drop in the json ;P

inevitably i'll forget something, but here are some highlights: remove negatives, remove absolutes and bias identifying markers when used unnecessarily, write timelessly, lists follow ':' and end with ';', parenthetical ideas are separated by a two dot '..' ellipsis, group ideas by comma ended groups where the last line is without punctuation.. with the exception of '?|!'.. then followed by a newline;

   hn has its own opinions about formatting,
   so this last rule is one i am unable to do on here,
   but i try to compromise as much as i can
   this has often gotten me in trouble on hn,
   because people get offended by all of the whitespace separating my individual lines
   for a while i wrote exclusively in these 'code blocks',
   but i felt the scrolling was too annoying,
   and got in the way of the messaging
> Is this just a HN thing? A social media thing? An online thing? An all the time thing?

to the best of my abilities it is an all the time thing.. it started as a writing thing: digital communications, journals, poetry; but then i decided to do it while speaking too

the extemporaneous aspect of speaking makes it more difficult but i find my ability to communicate clearly and in a way i feel i can be proud of is greatly improved

sometimes i am unable to find an alternative to a negative and will ask the person i am talking to to help me construct the sentence without the negative.. it's also funny when i let one slip and someone close to me calls me out on my shit and we try to reconstruct the sentence together

> Do you make exceptions for whatever kind of formal writing you might need to do (research papers, grant proposals, cover letters, posters, etc.)?

yes, certainly

i do what i can to always stay true, regardless of audience, to the content rules: negatives, absolutes, bias; but in regard to formatting i try to 'play to my audience'

when that audience is such that hypothetically i could be the one consuming my own creations: online, poetry, etc; then i use my writing style as an outlet for expression

> Are you in STEM, and if not, what is your field?

i also eschew limiting oneself to a single field, but i do involve myself in many different fields and stem are definitely some such fields

i do research in number theory, study physics and chemistry, program, do ee, write, produce visual media, play music, study health

my diversifying principle is that if i see someone doing something i greatly respect then i want to do so myself as well.. for instance, i am a huge fan of filippo brunelleschi so i designed my own dome.. i named it the domb, for dumb dome

i had to learn cad and architectural principles and also ended up developing an interesting result in euclidian geometry by working on this dome project

> When did you start writing like this? I'm already imagining some vivid clashes with teachers/professors if you started anywhere in undergrad or below.

it happened after an argument i had with a loved one over an instant messenger app

afterward, this person printed the entire thread and mailed it to me

it was a pretty intense experience, reading that argument.. especially considering when i wrote the words i was thinking they were ephemeral.. in so doing, i noticed some things about myself

first off, though i assumed the conversation was ephemeral the reality was that though the bytes indeed disappeared my words lived on in the relationship i was building with this person

in addition to wanting to nurture the relationships i am in now i also am a lover of literature and those that produce it, and as such have read many journals by writers and i just decided at that point that i wanted to only write things that i wanted a person like me in the future reading from me in some hypothetical collection of my writings

the other thing i noticed was that my best ideas were killed by my simply negating the other person.. an overly simple example: 'do you want to spend time together tonight?' 'no'vs'tonight i'm busy but what about tomorrow'

my intended message was being nullified, or mired in anger, by a lazy and impulsive reply

so this is when i started removing negative constructions from my language, from there i felt a freedom to restrict my language patterns in other ways to better match my thought patterns and help nurture my intended reception

This is awesome. I especially like the practice of removing negative constructions -- that seems like it would be life changing over the long term.

That's fascinating. I figured you must have had some significant reason(s) to make such a drastic step. I'm glad I poked through this subthread and I'll certainly remember you!

>it's also funny when i let one slip and someone close to me calls me out on my shit and we try to reconstruct the sentence together

Hahahaha, that's really cute.

Did you fail the essay because the teacher disagreed with your core claim or because you used the essay as a vessel for an irrelevant grammatical crusade?

honest answer to your question: i followed grammar you would have been proud of for this submission so i assume my grammar had little affect on the grade

but seriously, is that how you want to judge? and how you think people should be judged?

am i the crusader? i am just writing how i like to write, and instead of engaging with the material people question how i present my opinion?

if i were commenting on every comment: why are you using this tired grammatical dogma that is ill suited for the immediacy of our main contemporary publishing platform; then i could agree with your sentiment, but instead this effort to uphold an assumed status quo seems the real crusade here

i am sorry my punctuation offends you, i wish there was a way that i could write how i want to write and you could read it how you want to read it

> i wish there was a way that i could write how i want to write and you could read it how you want to read it

Heh! Maybe they could peruse http://wiki.languagetool.org/adding-a-new-language

I'd say it reads pretty well. I didn't notice the atypical punctuation until I read your comment.

considering the correct circonflexe on « benoît », it just might be that their primary language is more tolerant to avoidance of capitalization

or they might as well had to use some crappy inconvenient input method, like a sensor keyboard, which makes you want to minimize keystrokes.

Anyway, I'd also like to know the answer, I just wouldn't add that part about credibility.

Were your grades corrected with the added information?

I think grading matrixes would be well served it they assess the writing ability of the person. That is, how well can they justify their opinion with quotes and sources, rather than what the interpretation outcome itself.

the grade stayed, i did well enough in the course that this exam was pretty negligent

the bigger issue was that this interaction negatively affected my relationship with the professor.. who was unaware of il filastrato as a source for chaucer?!, and unimpressed that i read two supplemental works that were beyond the scope of the course syllabus

also frustratingly tainted my association with shakespeare since whenever someone talks about academic shakespeare i immediately want to monologue

You got an F because no one cares if you liked the text or not. That's not what academic literary criticism is about.

Which story was that?

edit: Someone else linked to it in the comments: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Immortal_Bard

It is a litte OT and not the funniest joke, but incidentally just now there is this on reddit:

"Shakespeare in school" https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/5mr6ws/shakespeare_i...

The background story seems to be this half-hour video "Cunk on Shakespeare": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YeCpHoy9EQ

I agree with the teacher.

> If anyone can answer what the 'correct' interpretation of a piece of writing is, it's the author. If they can not, well maybe the authors intent wasn't what the questions are asking.

This is the crux of the matter. James Joyce (just to pick someone whose work is heavily discussed) may have made a reference to a common Catholic belief and not realized it because he was embedded in Irish Catholicism. It could have made some metaphor stronger or weaker. When you discuss the metaphor you may be discussing the author's unwitting intent. Thus the author themselves might not be the proper authority (except for their own overt motivations).

Literature isn't special in this regard -- after all we go to psychiatrists & therapists to help us learn about our own actions that we don't understand.

The original author's "I just pause there" answer for the stanza division sounds like a classic example of the author subconsciously building in structural features, or just forgetting why she structured it that way in the first place because she associates it with performances rather than a process of writing now. (It's not as if programmers necessarily remember why every little structural feature of programs they wrote some time ago are still there, after all)

Having Googled the original poem, there's really only one place you could split it into two stanzas, which coincides with repetition of phrases from the first stanza - the only repetition in the poem - and which is where the poem switches from thinking about Monday to it being Sunday at midnight. I don't think the author put the pause there purely to save her breath...

(you can read the original poem - typeset without the stanzas - and the original questionable high school questions here http://www.jiskha.com/display.cgi?id=1394137792)

It's also worth noting that even if the assumed authorial intent is completely wrong (like many other theories of authorial intent attributed to authors who usually aren't around to question it), it's a far more reasonable interpretation than the other multiple choice answers. Though this doesn't really apply to some of the other examples

> If anyone can answer what the 'correct' interpretation of a piece of writing is, it's the author.

Well, that's very much up for debate. The Intentional Fallacy claims that authorial intent is not a valid part of artistic criticism or interpretation. That all you can judge a work on is the internal text and surrounding body of context, not notions of what was going on in the artist's head.

The idea is debated, to be sure.

If the question, and the purpose of the exam, is framed as "why did the author do this or that?", then sure authorial intent has meaning to the question. And I certainly think what the author intended to mean can be culturally interesting. But for the individual experience of the work, intent beyond that included in the work itself doesn't have much bearing. So, to me, this post has a lot to do with the wrong kind of questions being asked of students. Poetry is not all about discovering what an author hoped you might feel and being "right". It's about your own experience of the words and ideas in the poem- or movie or whatever.

I guess what I'm saying is poetry runs on the client?

The ironic thing there is that the entire field of artistic criticism and interpretation is invalid (or at least not provably valid) and thus practitioners have no legitimate basis for claiming that particular techniques are more or less valid than others. The whole thing is built on a foundation of sand, and largely operates as a make-work jobs program for academics who would be otherwise unemployable.

I wouldn't call it "invalid", but rather say that we should not be judging the success of our children on such a subjective item. There is value in such subjectivity, and it's a cultural exercise in which we can discover more about ourselves and others, but it has no place in an objective location like a standardized test.

Existential comics vaguely addresses the point: http://existentialcomics.com/philosopher/Roland_Barthes

Which fails as it assumes text must have inherent meaning.

But, it lets people avoid criticism making it a popular standpoint.

>Which fails as it assumes text must have inherent meaning.

It doesn't assume that. It doesn't matter whether the text does or does not have inherent meaning. The essay's point is that the reader's judgement is just as valid as the writer's.

As an extreme example, the phrase "colorless green ideas sleep furiously"[1] can be interpreted by the reader as having meaning even though Noam Chomsky says it's a meaningless sentence. The author is not the final and not the only interpretation that's valid.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorless_green_ideas_sleep_fu...

With zero context your comment is without meaning. The only thing that separates it from a randomly generated markov chain is context.

Now, that does not mean the Author is infallible. But, discounting the authors intend is like ignoring a books sequels or even the second half of the text. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCeFbK-WEVE

In the end by discounting the author you are left with the lowest form of criticism, how did that make me feel. Which is not actually about the text, just the person writing.

Getting back to your phrase. Someone can assume line noise has meaning, but they are simply mistaken.

If the phrase "line noise" means something to me, why am I mistaken?

Actual "line noise" not the phrase.

probably the ability of people to supply a meaning and agree on that meaning amongst themselves with relative ease might differentiate that comment from a randomly generated markov chain.

That ability is based on context.

Ignoring the author's culture includes their language. Consider handing just that text to an alien along side a few thousand similar, but randomly generated texts.

whoa wait, how did we get from ignoring the author's intent was ignoring all context to that means you are also ignoring the author's culture and ignoring the author's culture means ignoring their language to so the only way you can analyze a text without taking an author's intent into it is by handing it off to an alien with text mining tech?

I'm just saying the main context I'm seeing here is goalpost moving.

I have been consistent in my line of argument.

The written word is a medium of exchange not an independent artifact. If you read a recipe with "Add 3 cups of water." the author's intent is to tell you how to make something edible. So, it means poor 3 cups of water not take three 1 cup containers with water and add the containers and water to the mixture.

You can find examples like this in any lengthy text. But, death of the author is not about exploring that kind of grammatical wordplay it's about shielding the critic from reality. Thus, intent is both considered and ignored when it helps them.

> The essay's point is that the reader's judgement is just as valid as

But it's not. The question isn't "what does this mean to YOU", but "what did this mean to the author".

If I pick words randomly I can say with authority that there is no meaning in the words, and for all your understandings you can't change that the words were picked blindly, and thus without meaning.

> The author is not the final and not the only interpretation that's valid.

As to the author's intent, yes it is. Whatever intent there was is set down with the ink on paper. You come later, as a reader, so your interpretation is at most an addendum and not part of the original.

> [...] can be interpreted by the reader as having meaning even though Noam Chomsky says it's a meaningless sentence.

Sure. But an interpretation isn't a change in the nature of the actual thing. Even if I interpret an elephant as a butterfly it won't fly away.

This entire literary "discipline" (cough) is based on refusing to use an accurate description of the practice. Everyone agrees that a text can invoke various things - even unintended things - in various readers. That doesn't mean you're finding something inherent in the text but in the reader.

That's not really the reason that phrase was thought up tho..

> If anyone can answer what the 'correct' interpretation of a piece of writing is, it's the author.

Why is that?

There are a myriad of ways to analyze a piece, and many focus on reader response rather than authorial intent. You can dismiss reader response as merely incorrect initially, but this becomes complicated when you try to analyze works written by reader response critics. Indeed some authors like Burroughs take this to the extreme, introducing randomness (via cut-up technique) to their writing in an attempt to eschew even the possibility of authorial intent. Burroughs was somewhat limited in his approach by the technology of his day, but it's not hard to imagine approaches using modern technology which remove an author from the system completely.

I am not saying I agree that reader response criticism entirely: just because authorial intent isn't special doesn't mean that reader response is the answer. Frequently reader response is used as a way for critics to use a piece of literature as a soapbox for their own ideologies, and I find that distasteful. But I do think that there's some validity to the idea that authors don't have any special authority to interpret their own work.

For example, look at the song "I'll be watching you". Sting had said that he intended this song to be about government surveillance. But almost universally this song has been (mis?)interpreted as being about a stalker. Any analysis of the song which focused solely on Sting's intent would be incomplete, because the interpretation of the consumers of the song is far more related to its cultural relevance.

You're correct in saying that any interpretation but the one of the author is speculation and therefor shouldn't be regarded as absolute.

> What we teach is that works have one correct interpretation and if you do not read it that way, you are wrong.

That's not my experience. At least in my school days, in Germany, it wasn't common to only accept one interpretation as correct. As long as we could reasonably justify and explain our interpretations we were fine.

Not sure what you mean here, but my experience of studying literature at university was not at all that there is "one correct interpretation". There are a bunch of different critical lenses you can coherently read texts through.

This reminds be of a hilarious problem I once had analyzing a poem in french lit class. Read this and tell me what you think (in english and french)? http://fleursdumal.org/poem/120

I thought the entire poem was sexual -- singular tree being a euphamism for a phallus, and the waves of the sea reverberations of an orgasm. I was given an F and sent to the principal's office. It was then and there that I decided that math was more my thing.

Well... I probably would not have arrived at your interpretation myself, but.. I can see the outline from your comment, and presumably if you went into a little more detail in your analysis I'd accepted it as a totally valid interpretation. Probably helps that I'm on the progressive side of the "death of the author" brawl, and that I am a science student, not a humanities student.

QuercusMax objects in sister comment to interpreting "singuliers" as "only one".. The line "Des arbres singuliers" clearly indicates to me that there are many trees, regardless of whether their "singularity" means they are all "remarkable, unique" or "free-standing, isolated" (which, the more I read it, the more I understand the basis of your interpretation).

In any case, to be accurate, I think your interpretation needed to be compatible with there being many phalluses. (Phalli?) :)

i don't agree with your interpretation either. i mean, you were probably a teenager at the time, and the second line is mentions breasts, which i think primed you to read the other lines through a certain lens. also, you might not've gotten an F just for what the poem said to you, but just from being really badly done, maybe. but i don't see what excuse there is for sending you to the principal's office. just sounds like your teacher was assuming malice and thereby making a problem.

my freshman year of high school i had a project where i had to write some kind of collection of poems. i ended up putting together a calendar, with certain days having a poem. there was some kind of rationale to how i picked the days, but i can't remember. i had an error printing it though, and i couldn't get the last two months to print, but i had met my requirements for the project, so i just turned it in.

this brought me a very long and irritating discussion with two counselors and the vice principal. they thought: maybe i was gay, maybe i was trans, maybe i had been molested, maybe i was being abused, maybe was planning something violent, maybe the whole thing was a big joke, and maybe i was planning to commit suicide. they wanted an explanation, and all i could say was that i was just... writing some poems shrugs.

It says "singular trees", which I interpret as meaning "unique" or "exotic", not "only one". There's definitely more than just what you were reading there; a fair amount of symbolism (sails and rigging? sailors chanteys?).

There's a lot in there for sure. I did my due-diligence analyzing the island theme, describing how Baudelaire is evoking all the senses that bring such fond memories. I also had a lengthy section on how this poem can be interpreted sexually. You don't write that you're inhaling the fragrance of breast and not think sex. In the first stanza the exotic perfume of a woman brings the author thoughts of passion. This perfume makes him fantasize. In the next two stanzas the island is a metaphor of his fantasies. The trees and fruits are metaphors for looking at and touching the woman's body. The sails and rigging symbolize sexual pleasure, and the ocean the sexual act. In the last stanza, he comes back from his fantasy and prepares himself to indulge in the act again to the tune of the sailors chant. Flesh that out in 5 pages and that was my essay. I'm not saying it's the correct interpretation, but you can't objectively say it isn't. And the explanation works so why dismiss it? I can only conjecture that the teacher didn't want to get in trouble. Baudelaire was a pervert and his book was banned for its sexual content. I knew that coming in to the essay so given that context it's not far-fetched. Anyhow, who knows right? He could have whiffed a tit and that made him think of this one time he was on a beach with his friends and it was a super cool vacation. I prefer my explanation where the fragrance brought him to a place that John Mayer is expressing in "Your Body Is A Wonderland".

You've used the terms "teacher" and "principal" - I hope this all happened in high school. It does make it a bit more understandable that a teacher would want to stay away from risky material with a younger group of students.

Of course, who in their right mind would expect that French literature would be a nice safe area of study that doesn't rock the boat of American sexual mores, haha. (I assume this all happened in the US?)

You're going to have to break down the metaphor more explicitly, because I don't think the structure (logical or otherwise) of the poem really points to such a straightforward interpretation.

Like, what is the isle then? Yourself?

You're lucky this is an engineer heavy forum. Around humanities people, your comment is like pouring gasoline in an open flame.

Gee, thanks for giving us humanities people a voice. :/

As an artist myself, I have a huge problem with assessing qualitative analysis using something as mechanical as multiple choice. Authorial intent definitely falls under that umbrella. Rigid assessments would better show the students' ability to recognize the mechanics/techniques of a piece, such as the use of metaphor. And in general, you're really not supposed to speculate about authorial intent anyway.

How so? Crudely generalising; wouldn't engineering types be more susceptible to conclude that there is only one sanctioned way interpreting some text rather than someone with a humanities background? (I happen to be both. Poetry to me seems almost by definition something that will evoke different responses and insights for each reader.)

An engineer is unlikely to have spent a lot of time around humanities academia.

The university that I attended was going through a power struggle at the time that resulted in a feminist takeover of the English and other departments. In my case, a professor in a course required by the general education requirements took issue with an essay I was required to read in front of the class (which was a story about my families experiences as immigrants), shouted me down and said that I would fail the class and there was nothing that I could do to change that. That was putting my major's GPA requirements at risk, so I had to pursue action with the administration. That wasn't an uncommon event.

My takeaway is to STFU around these topics.

Ah I see, I thought you meant a more general comparison of how someone with a humanities or engineering background experiences poetry. I have no experience with US academics (which I presume you are referring to).

Why was (s)he so offended by it?

Spoken languages are inherently vague and open to interpretation and context. As an "engineering type", I would conclude that language is not a good mechanism for communicating concrete details without a lot of scaffolding around it to alleviate the ambiguity. Hence programming, mathematics, diagrams, etc.

On top of that, poems are meant to be "artsy". I.e. They specifically use certain words in odd ways as part of the artistry of it. It's actually a step in the opposite direction of what "engineering types" would want to do to language in order to make it less ambiguous.

The beautiful and fun thing about written language is just how subjective or intentionally vague it is.

After failing an exam, I was told by an upperclassman that the secret to a good grade in humanities classes was regurgitating the opinions of the professor.

My solution to that was I never took another humanities class.

I can definitely relate to that. I did reasonably well in literature classes in high school, but every now and then I'd turn in a what-did-the-author-mean essay on some subject that deviated from what we've been told to expect... and every time I got a (local equivalent of) B from the teacher for "writing well and trying to make an argument", but not an A because "you're just wrong". I had several arguments with teachers over it which went nowhere, and they were never particularly interested in making their case beyond "No-one else wrote that in their essay, so why do you think you're special? You're not.".

Eventually I concluded the same thing - that the purpose of the class is not to have me actually think, form opinions, structure arguments and express them - despite what they kept telling us! - but rather to find out what the established interpretation is, and express that in a way that looks like I'm convinced by it. Armed with that knowledge, I proceeded with future essays, and what do you know? They were all As.

That whole experience really soured me up on that business, though, because whatever I was submitting for my assignments, I knew it was all bullshit from my perspective. And you know what? In retrospect, some of my opinions I strongly held then may well have been wrong in part or entirely... but they were my thoughts and my opinions, the real thing, and backed by real arguments. And if I were that 15 year old kid, with the experiences and the mindset formed by them that I had, not a single thing would have changed about them.

So, instead of teaching how to think and argue and express myself, they taught me that you conform to what someone else expects from you, and hide your deviations; or else.

It's a good thing they weren't the only teachers...

But that experience definitely steered me away from humanities, and towards math and sciences. There, at least, there was clear right and wrong, and any occasional ambiguity would be clearly highlighted as such and acknowledged by everyone explicitly. And if you were right, you could be as obstinate as you wanted about it; and if you were wrong, you'd be shown a very clear and objective reason as to why.

There's a large debate in humanities about whether authorial intent matters which has been roiling for decades. I think it was either kicked off or summarized by an essay called "The Death of the Author."


Crudely generalising; wouldn't engineering types be more susceptible to conclude that there is only one sanctioned way interpreting some text rather than someone with a humanities background?

Sure, but only to the extent that phrasing around "interpreting text" implies that the meaning sought exists in the text, rather than the cascade reactions taking place in readers upon their careful observation of the piece.

The quantification of learning horrifies this statistician. The belief that a standardized test is more objective than say a trained human assessor neglects the subjective nature of human makers of the test. It puts the humans behind a facade that creates the appearance of objectivity but not actual objectivity. The benefit of standardized tests is that they lower labor costs of assessment not that they increase the quality of assessment. It's only with that admission that a reasonable cost-benefit analysis could be done.

Your argument is that standardized tests are more biased than individual assessment? I find that hard to believe bordering on ridiculous. There's a great deal of evidence that standardized exams are less biased as there's a consistent standard of correct answer across the board.

With individual assessment there's far too much room for "I know what you meant" to sneak in. This has come up a lot with job interviews; if you want to interview impartialy, have a fixed bank of questions and grade answers to a rubric.

The argument is that an exam with free form answers is a more objective measure of knowledge than a multiple choice exam. Not an argument about bias.

I think it depends on the subject matter, especially interpretation of art is hard to have one correct answer, an essay test could be graded upon support for the argument etc, where a multiple choice test is really "what did the authors of the test think the author intended?"

Agreed. Unless we're talking about math (logic proofs), we should probably stop using the term, "objective." It's sloppy thinking.

Because standardized tests can be applied to such a large set, the biases of one test maker can be spread to many test takers. Contrast this with individual assessment where the biases of many test "makers" have an opportunity to cancel each other out. This is similar to the logic behind randomized assignment in randomized-control experiments. It's not that the mice are the same, it's that asymptotically their differences cancel each other out. I'd recommend this article: http://stat.wharton.upenn.edu/~rosenbap/heteroReprint.pdf

I find that claim very confusing. If anything my experience with "humanities people" has been that they object greatly to any standardized interpretations of art and have huge issues with the cut-and-dried "analysis" taught by middle- and high-school curricula.

If anything, the stereotype is that engineers are overly prone to answer-seeking while non-engineers are much more comfortable with relativism?

We could talk about the same problem in terms of why they still teach HC11 assembly in engineering school instead of teaching the industry standard arm-cortex. It is because most people in higher education are out of touch.

But learning assembly programming is a valuable skill to a software engineer, and not knowing the popular ISA is not a problem - it is assumed the popular ISA will change during your career and you will cope. The skills are knowing how to interpret an ABI specification, etc. Those will stay with you long after gcc drops support for the ISA you used to learn them.

If the skill of interpreting a poem is useless (I don't think it is), it doesn't matter which poems are used in the lessons.

Or maybe it's because the specific assembly you learn is far less important than the act of learning any assembly.

Learning your first programming language is a challenge, but once you have done that, subsequent languages are easier because you managed to adopt the programming mindset.

You may as well do that using something that's widely being used right now. Doing that to me seems to have obvious advantages. You seem to defend the usage of out of date stuff, with what argument? The one you give does not require using the old stuff.

If it's likely that you will understand the second assembly language you learn much better than the first, it could be better that you learn a commercially dead language first.

Alternatively, the 68HC11 is a very simple architecture, making it easy to learn the essence of assembly. Using an architecture with more capabilities will be easier than learning to do without. (although cycle counting on an architecture with memory latency is much harder)

   it could be better that you learn a commercially
   dead language first.
Why? It does not follow from your argument, you just make that claim - one that I find very strange.

> Why?

Because it's a simpler language that contains the key ideas and skills that are trying to be taught, and doesn't contain other distracting details that can't be taught until after basic concepts are well-understood.

Same reason lots of people don't like using Java as an intro language even though it's wildly popular. Having students type "public static void main..." a hundred times a semester before knowing enough to be able to understand what "public", "static", or even "void" mean is at best distracting. At worst, it teaches students to use programming languages in highly unprincipled ways.

Aren't you making two claims that are unrelated?

1. Learning a simple assembly makes learning a second assembly easier

2. Therefore, it's more efficient to learn a simple assembly first

The 2nd statement does not directly follow from the first, because the total time to learn two languages can still be greater than the time to learn the 2nd language alone, even if there is a synergistic effect. I'm assuming here that the simple assembly is not useful, and the goal is purely to learn the 2nd language.

Like, let's say learning a simple assembly makes learning the second language 35% easier. Then learning both languages is better only if the second language would normally take 3x more time to learn.

However, if every subsequent language is also easier to learn, and you intend to learn many more languages, then maybe starting from a simple language will actually be best.

Talking about x86 in particular, it's pretty easy to define a simple, teachable subset of x86 and then expand from there.

No, the claim is that there's a strict ordering of concepts when learning an assembly (or any language).

The conjecture is that using a simpler language makes it easier to teach the basic concepts, and that more advances features get in the way of teaching those basic concepts.

I'm not saying this is true, just that it's a reasonable hypothesis.

Learning a simple assembly may making learning a second assembly easier, but that's beside the point -- you need the basic concepts before any of the advanced/more complicated features become useful. And if the more advanced language gets in the way of learning the basic concepts, that could justify using a simpler language.

This is a hotly contested topic in CS education research, and we're not going to come to a consensus here.

Because you will not learn the first assembly as well, code you write in the first language is going to be worse than what you write in the second language you learn (even after you learn the second one). It is better to learn one and throw it away.

You seriously claim you have to learn a "dead assembly language" in order to learn it right? Can an argument possibly be any more ridiculous? Can it even be called an "argument", or is it just random noises at this point?

Your second paragraph is true, but is a non-sequitur.

How do you know that the choice of first assembly language is less important, particularly if you are forgoing the opportunity to learn one that embodies more of what we have learned about how to design them?

Huh? how is ARM more "industry standard" than anything else?

Most of the microcontrollers being used in new designs today are arm-cortex. Everybody who does microcontroller work except some pic weirdos is familiar with arm-cortex.

Are you under the impression the only reason anyone would need to know assembly language is to work with microcontrollers?

Yes. Every firmware engineer works with assembly but barely any x86 devs ever touch assembly.

This is the base rate fallacy.

If not for the 86HC11, I might never have used a Vax.

Not sure about that. While I am an engineer myself, many among my family, friends, and family friends are artists, including writers, and as far as we've discussed, none of them like these sorts of questions. Even my English teachers in school complained about standardized tests and indicated that you had to game them and figure out what the test writer wants to see.

it is worse abroad


I'm pretty sure you'll find countries that are not the US that do it much better. I'm willing to countenance that there are countries that are not the US that do it worse.

I've always thought english class is actually cover for a bit of psychology class.

In english class you may discuss, for example, "the sky was rainy and sad stuff was happening, this is the author applying pathetic fallacy". Or, "the lady wore red, and she is the object of desire, so there is a color-idea running through the novel".

The immediate response was "no way the author put that in on purpose!". And a little debate ensues about how authors do often meticulously insert details to keep a thematic thread like that going. Famously, there's a character grid from Catch-22 floating around, that basically lays out the traits and how they were injected throughout the plot-line.

More commonly, though, what we write is imbued with the same biases that psychological studies try to extract. So an author may write a story where every male character speaks in a way that gets interpreted as "in this novel the men represent War". And the author may pipe in to say "I did NOT intend it like that!", and this is fine.

However, it wouldn't really be the end of it. Maybe the author revealed some subconscious opinions. So this is why I've always thought that "reading too much" in english literature was just doing a little bit of armchair psychoanalysis, where you are the doctor and the patient is the author, and their book their story.

(I'm a bachelor in mech eng and a masters in chem eng and haven't taken english since highschool though. take with handfuls of salt)

edit: A student a while back sent a letter to various authors and asked them if they deliberately inserted symbolism in their work. It's a cool read.


The task is to draw a thinking cat. You can complete this task in a million different ways.

What you (should) get judged on is the technique used. Does it look like a cat, are the shadows properly drawn, are the proportions of the cat in order, does the cat look like it's thinking like a human would, etc.

What is irrelevant is if that cat matches the image the teacher had in mind when she came up with the task.

I agree that should be the task. Unfortunately, this is a multiple-choice test, so the task is more "guess what I think the poet meant". There's no room for technique here.

Yet some people consistently do much better on these exams than others. There is definitely a skill to it.

I should probably stay out of a discussion like this, but I once worked as a teaching assistant in a Japanese high school. Some of my students were studying for university entrance exams and the English sections were ridiculous. As a native speaker, I was not able to read everything in the time allowed. It became very clear to me that the test makers were not interested in whether or not the students could read English. They were interested in whether or not the students were clever enough to find the correct answers without reading the English.

So I taught them how to do it.

Now, the questions I often ask myself is - Would it have been better to let my students fail the entrance exam, knowing that English would not be required in their major? Keeping that in mind, was it wrong for the test writer to write a test that favoured clever application of technique over English knowledge? What were they selecting for and what was the best way to determine it? Why is English even on the entrance exam?

Similarly, why would anyone have a test about poetry on a standardised exam if their intent was not simply to discover how well the students could jump through hoops?

"Open to interpretation" means the same thing as "undefined behavior in the C programming language": i.e. only overly pedantic programmer nerds stick to the assertion that it could mean "anything."

When a work is said to be open to interpretation, it means that the author has their expressed opinion, but that it may also suggest other things about the author that they are not willing to admit about themselves.

For example, no interpretation of Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" will draw the conclusion that Card is a fan of Jurassic Park, or that he takes his tea with three sugars, or any such thing. There's just no evidence in the work to suggest one way or the other. But you could take his assertion that the book is about camaraderie and the struggle of good versus evil at face value, or you could take the themes of preemptive, hyperviolence he uses to read between the lines and realize that Orson Scott Card is actually a fascist neoconservative.

That's what "open to interpretation" means. A particular work does not exist separate from the person who created it, and people are not reliable narrators on their motivations.

> If she had known the answer, would that make the question any better?

Of course not. But the fact she doesn't (or, to put it another way, the fact that she does and the right answer is not among the listed options) highlights the absurdity of the question.

Where is 'abroad'?

Usually Europe in this context. Sometimes Asia.

For most of the Multiple Guess standardized Testing the correct question/answer pair is found by correlating that question/answer with others where the high scoring test takers scored the same way... and differentiated from other low scoring test takers who get it wrong (some other answer). Testing houses have been using Big Data and correlation for many decades!

As a result, if you take the questions as part of a meta test, you can make some assumptions about answers that are "too easy" and instead choose one which is more correct (because high scorers tend to use it). That often means that correctly used, obscure but field relevant, vocabulary is actually the right (highest scoring) answer choice.

I do not think the issue here is so much how good the question is, as what it does to the notion that studying literature teaches critical thinking.

It seems to me that there are two ways this can go, neither of them good:

1. The education board's interpretation effectively becomes canonical. While I have some appreciation for the idea that the author's view is not the only one that counts, substituting precisely one alternative does not strike me as having any legitimacy.

2. Students are imbued with the idea that any answer is as good as any other, so long as it looks like critical thinking. That does not transfer well to any area where critical thinking has to deal with some form of reality.

> If she had known the answer, would that make the question any better?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Reasoning here is the implications which goes in single direction only: since she doesn't know the answer we can conclude the question is bad; had she known the answer, the question might be good or it might still be bad.

Perhaps the point is to show that you can think about the way that the words are being used and produce an interesting hypothesis about the poets' intent and technique. It doesn't have to be 'correct', just demonstrate the ability to thoughtfully analyse a text.

Poems are not open to interpretation. Most are written with a clear motivation. Test questions ask "what was the author trying to say" and "how did they say it".

I read parts of the article, skipped a bit, read the questions 32-36 and her remarks. And I don't think there is anything wrong with the questions.

Maybe she's just trying too hard to make a point, but in many cases it seems like she just can't read or doesn't understand the question(?).

E.g. 36 - "The poet reveals the speaker’s feelings mainly by –", then she goes on to say that most of the answers are viable, but clearly the question says "mainly", indicating you are supposed to choose the "F using similes and metaphors to describe them" since there's much more of those.

About 35 - "The imagery in lines 16 through 19 helps the reader understand –" she says that

"And of course there’s an argument to be made for A, I did shift into this mood TODAY."

But the question is about lines 16-19, which don't mention any attitude changes, so A clearly can't be the right answer.

Etc., etc.

I'm sorry, but being the author doesn't and shouldn't guarantee a perfect score.

A lot of the remarks before she tries to take the test are a lot more damning, but I read her remarks on her attempt the same as you. Plus, there is actually no evidence provided that she got the wrong answers anyway! She didn't say which answers she'd finalize on and didn't give her score, she just went through the familiar process of considering all viable options (and multiple choice format sort of requires that multiple viable options exist at first glance). The article would be much stronger without her attempt to answer the questions at all, but of course would then not have such a good clickbait headline available.

I will grant that it may be bad form for the test questions to ask about authorial intent, rather than about the actual effect the author achieved, and this actually puts the author at a disadvantage here because she is coming at it like a fact finding mission -- what was I thinking on that day in the late 90s -- when they are not actually testing that.

The problem isn't that the author doesn't know the answers, it's that the test is looking for 1 correct answer. The point of reading and analyzing poetry is in the process and being able to explain your reasoning coherently.

I uh, apologize in advance for the wall of text. It started out shorter.


- I don't think the questions are unreasonable - I'm not surprised the poet says she can't answer them - I agree with you that the point of analysis is the process, but that gets tested in writing assessments - reading assessments get bad rap because people forget reading/understanding the questions is just as important as reading/understanding the texts


Before reading the whole article (so before reading her analysis of the questions near the end), I followed the source links from the first section to try answering the 5 questions about "A Real Case" myself.

I got them all correct and (discounting the initial time taken to read the poem) spent more time scrolling up and down in the pdf to refer back to the text than I did thinking about the questions.

This is a reading assessment for 7th graders. Perhaps all the commotion in the article and in the news and in this thread is because people are assuming that it is assessing 7th graders' abilities to read and understand poetry. I don't think this is true at all. I think it's assessing 7th graders' abilities to read and understand questions.

The question of whether the ability to read and understand poetry is of lasting value may be up in the air, but the ability to read and understand questions is an essential communication skill in modern life, imo. The material the questions are about is - not quite incidental, but honestly no more than half of the picture.

The single question that I spent more time on than all the others combined was 35. Maybe my approach to answering a question that I considered poorly worded (at first) might be of interest.

Here it is, with the stanza it concerns included and the highlighted lines marked:

  --> My mood’s as welcome as
  --> incoming dog breath,
  --> or a terminal case of split ends.
  --> I sparkle like a dust rag,
      I could attract mosquitoes -
      maybe - not friends.
  35) The imagery in these lines helps the reader understand-

      A) the shift in the speaker’s attitude
      B) the speaker’s unpleasantness
      C) why the speaker has no friends
      D) what the speaker thinks of others
And the issue there was that one of the two possible answers, B, implies the other, C. If the speaker is unpleasant, that is a perfectly good reason for the speaker to have no friends.

I eventually decided on B for two reasons:

1) Friends are only ever mentioned after the highlighted lines. To put it in programming terms (sorry!) a first-time reader streaming the poem (i.e., the way most people read) would lack a mental "parser" labelled "now the speakers's talking about friends" with which to process the highlighted lines. My experience is that most straightforward writers (the ones we can reasonably expect 7th graders to parse) do not expect their readers to manage their own mental "heap" of unexplained information and compare all of its contents to each new bit of information received as reading proceeds. When unexplained information does come along ("Where did my bike go? I parked it right here!") it's usually clearly labelled as such, so the reader need only maintain the heap of "information the author labelled for me as unknown". This is both less work for the reader than figuring out the labels on their own, and requires them to remember less. When this sort of labeling is not done, it's called a mystery novel.

[Aside: of course, writers who are not targeting 7th graders can and do write however they want; a favorite example of mine is Neal Stephenson, who seems to take perverse pleasure in quietly building up a narrative out of elements that he introduces so familiarly and with so little fanfare or detail that you swear he must have explained this thing a few pages back and you just missed it somehow, but after checking the previous 50 pages you can't find any mention of it so you eventually give up and continue and 150 pages later you read a paragraph that tumbles around in your head for a few seconds and then it clicks snugly into place in your heap and completely illuminates the question you had earlier. And I love him for it.]

2) Most of the rest of the poem is composed of atomic ideas expressed in one or two lines (with the exception of the first stanza that keeps the "sickness" ball bouncing for 5 lines). To match the rest of the poem, it seemed more likely the highlighted stanza expressed four nearly-independent thoughts: I smell bad, I'm irritating, I'm boring, and I'm unattractive. In that structure, the concept of friends is restricted to the "scope" of the final thought, and only used to illustrate just how unattractive the speaker is. None of the other thoughts are involved. As such, C is unrelated to the highlighted lines but B is still a good match.

Of course, most of this was unconscious when I was doing it. I wrote down B with about 70% confidence and kept going, because that's what you do on a timed test. Now that I put my reasoning it all down on paper, I'm much more confident in the result. (It helps that it turned out to be correct!)

If I recall correctly, I got a perfect score on the reading section of the SAT. I helped several of the international students at my school study for that section specifically, and my top recommendation was that they read books. I imagine that I'm to the left of the bell curve of reading speed/comprehension; I had read Ivanhoe by age seven or eight and the Lord of the Rings by age nine. (the hard part was getting started; after my mother had read the first two or three chapters to me, I got hooked and read the rest myself.)

Still, I have no aspirations as a poet or author. Likewise, I'm sure there are many superb poets who are quite terrible at analytical thinking. If poet was truly unable to answer the test questions confidently, I'm not surprised. On the other hand, if the poet could actually answer the questions just fine but was being hyperbolical to frame a strong point about how test writers are ignoring author intent and the result is bad test questions, that would not surprise me either. (After all, it makes sense that an author would take the conservative position in the "death of the author" discussion!)

You [my parent commenter, if you're still here!] stressed that the the problem with the test is that it has 1 correct answer for each question, and so cannot accurately test the test-taker's ability to perform a process for which the point is not the result, but the ability to justify the validity one's process.

I agree with you!

But testing someone's ability to justify their analysis is called a writing assessment. What we are dealing with is a reading assessment.

This assessment measures the test-taker's ability to internalize the analysis process performed by the test-writer, apply that process to the text themselves, and demonstrate that they were successful by accurately predicting which conclusion the test-writer arrived at.

In other words, this is testing the test-taker's ability to accurately and productively process thoughts that originated outside of themselves. This is something that 7th graders are not very good at without practice. (This is one contributor, I think, to why bullying is common at those ages - kids have not yet learned to empathize.) This is a good skill to learn, and a good skill to test.

to somewhat illustrate your point regarding parsing.

I didnt read the article. I read question 35. I read the four lines you highlighted. I read the four potential answers. I reread the four lines, and then reread the answers. I chose B near immediately. Only after I read lines 5 and 6 did I realize C was even relevant. Even after reading C, I came to the conclusion you eloquently illustrated.

>In that structure, the concept of friends is restricted to the "scope" of the final thought, and only used to illustrate just how unattractive the speaker is.

I also agree with your general thesis. The poem is irrelevant, the test is testing your ability to parse instructions, not just poems.

Interesting, your point makes sense.

I agree with the author that the poems selected, and the questions about them, are awful. I also got a perfect score in a reading standardized test (ACT) many years ago but I had no idea how to answer the questions in the article.

I agree. The questions seemed perfectly reasonable to me. No test is perfect, but if I had a student who couldn't get these questions right, I'd say their reading comprehension was pretty suspect.

I agree the author reached a little far. These questions are OK if ask we are checking is basic reading comprehension. Not great, but OK. Poetry seems like a weird fit for that kind of assessment though. The content of poetry is usually more complicated than the raw understanding of the words. It seems that these questions want to assess the more complicated inferences and such, they just fail to effectively do so.

Predicted, mostly, by Isaac Asimov in 1954:


(TL;DR with spoiler: Time machine brings Shakespeare back to the current age, where he takes a class on his own work and is flunked.)

I've been only a tangential reader of Asimov, though definitely respectful of his contributions to the literary canon. This sounds fantastic to check out, thank you & also for the summary preview.

I found the full text here [1] for who is interested

[1] http://www.angelfire.com/weird/ektomage/otherwriting/bard.ht...

> I’m just down with a sniffly case/of sudden-self-loathing-syndrome … an unexpected extra serving/ of just-for-now-self-hate.

How do these terrible poets even make it on to the curriculum / standardized-tests?

The author suggests:

> My poems are a whole lot cheaper than Mary Oliver’s or Jane Kenyon’s, so there’s that.

What about all the classics in the public domain?! I read a lot independently as a kid but I recall that we didn't read a single English 'classic' in school until grade 7 or 8 (everything else was scholastic co. for teens / young adult junk..)

I don't have a particular side to take on the standardized testing debate, but it's probably worth mentioning that countries with extremely successful public education systems (China, USSR) used a great deal of it -- so at the least that's probably not the problem with the US public education system.

I always thought it was because the test makers want the text samples to be obscure enough that most students will not have read them. Otherwise, it would give an unfair advantage to those that have read and considered it outside the time they are given for the test.

> How do these terrible poets even make it on to the curriculum / standardized-tests?

Snobbish much?

We went from Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost to something that sounds like lyrics from a '90s grunge band. I don't quite think OP's criticism is unwarranted.

If a lot of the people who criticize using old dead white people as literary texts - which, having worked in Education I know is a "hegemony" hot-button issue - it's not like other brilliant works translated (or not) could be used. Neruda, Marquez...they're completely deserving classics and, I guess the real problem here, just as hard to study and work through as any of the other traditional texts. Kids don't like hard, never have, but that's the essence of education and brain growth - challenges.

So let's go straight into calculus because kids should be exposed to the good stuff, and skip going through the developmentally appropriate material that prepares for understanding and absorbing the advanced material.

I'd like to see some scientific studies that prove that teaching the classics, and skipping the "terrible" stuff, is a useful way to teach literary skills, as opposed to pushing a class (snobbery) agenda.

Why are those classics developmentally inappropriate? When I was a kid growing up, we read Pushkin - undeniably one of the greats, but very accessible.

Without further debating the merits of the verses in question (I thought it was self-evident)... I think it would be an accurate characterization that the author of this editorial will not be read or remembered half-a-century from now. Therefore if the purpose of education is to provide something of enduring value, I do not think it strange, or snobbish as you put it, that we should prefer to have Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and Langston Hughes in our public schools.

You might find that you personally dislike them but than that too has helped shape your esthetic views, education should indeed bring you to encounter significant milestones of cultural and literary heritage; at the very least to give a student some understanding of the landscape.

>I do not think it strange, or snobbish as you put it, that we should prefer to have Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and Langston Hughes in our public schools.

Yet you provide no argument supporting these choices. The only reason Shakespeare endures as well as it does is due to the dose administered to children in the school system.

Why does the history of a culture or a nation endure? Why do children know about the civil war or slavery in the south? Why not the list of American Idol winners?

I don't think your response is merely incredible, it's actually a malicious and toxic kind of sophistry.

You still haven't provided any motivation for why Shakespeare should be chosen over other poets.

Are you really not trolling?

Likewise you haven't provided any motivation as to why the Civil War should be taught in history class instead of last year's American Idol winners (If you tell me prominence in popular or cultural memory, than indeed Shakespeare occupies the same place).

Shakespeare endures well because he endured for the readers, theater goers, actors, authors, poets, artists, film-makers and academics after him. Of course you could say that they are all also brainwashed by schooling and wouldn't have cared about Shakespeare (this doesn't pass the litmus test though, author's that were popular solely based on being forced in schools haven't endured c.f. Chinese or Soviet education with ideologically shaped curriculums).

No, I'm not trolling. I'm pointing out that there seems to be very little objective criteria for choosing what poetry to consume. So far it seems your argument is that it's taught because "that's the way it has been done".

The civil war is taught in the US because it had a huge impact on the development of the country. The tensions in the south today relate directly to it (confederate flags still fly today). American Idol winners are irrelevant in the context of history so equating them is silly.

Did Shakespeare's work result in the overthrowing of a government or something on that scale I'm not aware of?

Shakespeare's work has had a broad and enormous impact on art and culture through out the centuries (English and Foreign) - that you are aware of the impact of the civil war (you were taught) but not the former (Wikipedia is a reasonable starting point), is a gap in culture and education but the point stands analogously.

The classics are a lot more intricate and thought out. You'd break a 7th grader's neck, if you wanted them to interpret that correctly on their own.

I thought a lot of what we learned about poems in school was overly prescriptive, and my friends and I could often invent and justify other meanings. But, unlike with multiple choice, in assignments and exams we were supposed to do exactly that. Exploring what something "might mean" is one of the ways to get into a poem. I mean, I still thought that how we studied poetry was not a very good way. But now I see it could have been much worse!

Indeed. I don't know why that sort of thing is on a standardized test anyway. We are having enough problems ensuring that all students have basic functional literacy.

If they can read a paragraph from a credit card application and understand it, that will go a long way towards increasing their overall successful functioning in society. Let them do poetry interpretation on their own time and according to their own interest.

I'm not saying that schools shouldn't teach poetry, but it shouldn't be on a standardized test either. What's the point? You want to expose kids to culture, but it may not stick, and that's OK.

That which isn't tested, isn't taught. This is particularly the case if the test and the curriculum are sold by the same vendor.

I could see a scenario where "elite" parents complain that their kids spent a year in school being drilled on reading credit card applications, at the expense of things like literature and poetry. (I'd probably be one of those parents, and in my locale, educated parents are constantly complaining that the school curriculum has too much drill work and not enough liberal arts). So, in order to broaden the curriculum, the tests have to somehow be broadened.

I suspect that the best education is also the hardest to test. There will always be a conflict between education and testing.

"There will always be a conflict between education and testing"

It's pretty much inevitable, if the results of the testing have consequences, for teacher/student/school system/etc. that what is taught will often excessively focus on testing outcomes.

Unfortunately, it's hard not to do this to at least some degree at scale. Without standardized testing of some sort, there isn't a lot of feedback for how well the process is working and you more or less fall back on trust the individual teachers and schools and everything will be just fine--which isn't the case in the main.

It seems like maybe we're already back at that point. We went from trusting the teachers and schools, to adopting a test that measures household income, to hoping that we can trust the teachers and schools to educate our kids in spite of the tests.

In the UK schools are rated in League Tables so parents can choose where to send children.

This incentivices teaching to the test rather than teaching a rounded education and then testing the functional aspects.

So in order to ensure pupils are exposed to culture, you must put it on the test to make sure it gets covered.

I imagine the US uses a similarly shitty system of school funding allocation.

It raises the question "what is school for?"

Like the sibling comment I would wonder about teaching things that are not tested. Poetry exploits some awesome features of language, cognition, music, speech etc. It might be possible to integrate it in a more meaningful way in a general education, than just "interpretation" for its own sake.

In the comedy movie "Back to School", wealthy business man Thornton Melon hires Kurt Vonnegut to write an essay for him on Kurt Vonnegut for English Literature class. The professor knows Melon did not write the essay and tells him "Whoever did write this doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut!." He got an F.

  The professor knows Melon did not write the essay
So the F actually is for not doing the work, not for the submitted paper. Whatever the professor said was not the reason why he gave an F, given the context it was aimed at the cheater! Which is why he gets an F.

That's part of the conceit of Melon -- that his dishonesty is somehow justified/excusable because someone else is also imperfect...

Uhm... what??? The professor had to evaluate somebody's work. He did exactly that, the guy didn't do the work => grade F. THE END.

What fantasies of your own do you bring into this? Get off those drugs!

PS: Each time you downvote - and I know it's you, nobody reads this old thread any more and definitely not to react within minutes - I see that you actually read my reply. Do you use http://www.hnreplies.com/ to get notified about replies? Nice to know I can still reach you.

[removed and replaced by this cat: http://i.imgur.com/f1yeHVO.jpg]

I think because you're missing the point - which was on topic.

It wasn't about the "F", it was about the teacher's reply to KV's essay about himself, saying that the author (KV) didn't know anything about KV .

Missing that wouldn't cause the downvotes on its own - but combined with comment about the offtopicness probably did it.

At least I got to see a cat

Why the hell for-profit companies are tasked to set up the tests? This will invariably cause disasters like this. As the article says, first they will chose only the cheapest material available. Next, they will chose cheapest employees they can possibly get by to write the tests. They might even outsource whole thing to "reduce costs". For-profits may possibly work only when end goal is well measurable, system can't be rigged and monopolies are viciously squashed. This almost never happens in education (and prison management) because of layers of bureaucracies. The problem here is not standardized tests but the fact that test creation is outsourced to for-profits. Once a for-profit gets in to driving seat they will do everything possible to make sure they can't be driven out. They have already made requirements that their test questions are "copyrighted" and can't be published or even examined by 3rd parties and on so on. In other countries, they usually have committees of senior teachers who then sets up tests with mutual agreement for token extra pay. Why do you need for-profit for setting tests?

I agree that it's useful to expose children to literature and art, but it feels like there's no way to objectively test it...

Maybe creative writing/literature courses should give marks for the most upvotes on Reddit (kidding, but probably more objective than current methods).

An essay in which the student has to present an argument would do finely. You ask "is this a reasonable interpretation, and does the student defend this interpretation in a logical way using the available evidence?" Not perfectly objective, but doable.

Unfortunately, that's much more expensive than a multiple choice test.

Why are we testing anyone on poems? The point is to be exposed to the possibilities of inducing emotional transformation through cultural creation and consumption. What is there to test about that other than, "did you feel it? Could you make something yourself that would also feel like something was happening? Do it." There's no proper interpretation, no expert opinion worth anything at all except for the salary the expert manages to squeeze out of people overly wed to the concept of correctness.

I agree that it's ridiculous to ask a student to interpret a poem on a test and expect them to interpret it in any way that resembles the test creator's interpretation.

But there are some things about poetry that are not subjective and that are related to the art of writing it and thus worth teaching.

In particular, metre/scansion and rhyme/rhyme schemes are crucial aspects of the art that can be identified objectively. (Analogous to expecting a music student to recognize syncopation or read musical notation.)

You can also test recognition of metaphor and simile without requiring interpretation thereof. With allegory you get into issues of cultural exposure to the source of the allegory, but if that source is something else in the curriculum you could ask a student to identify the allegory without interpreting it subjectively.

And of course, many of these techniques are used by effective writers of prose (which we generally hope for students to become) - just typically more sparingly.

You can also (as with visual arts and music) teach students to identify poetry of different styles or from different eras.

Basically, you can teach and you can objectively test recognition of a lot of techniques used by poets. These standardized tests may have been ridiculous, but that doesn't mean that including poetry on a standardized test at all has to be ridiculous.

You can teach and test recognition of all of those components, I agree, but none of it has anything to do with whether or not the poem is achieving anything.

I am not saying that there is no context within which analysis has meaning, but that sort of component analysis I think is a misapplication of a certain kind of thinking to a medium that does not benefit at all from it.

If we knew the components of good poems we could actually produce them with some consistency. We can't. So to teach it that way is only to turn poetry into a cypher for a different activity altogether.

I guess thats fine, those skills may be needed for other areas of life and are worth developing, but it doesn't seem like learning about the function or creation of art, so in turn seems like a takeover of the field for the sake of something else entirely. I dunno, maybe its all good, but it seems like something potentially valuable and encouraging is being sacrificed for the sake of analysis.

I perceive those concepts more as tools for writing poetry than for interpreting it. (Though in Shakespeare, for instance, scansion can affect interpretation.)

Obviously the tools aren't necessary or sufficient to create good poetry (just as understanding big-O notation and recursion is neither necessary nor sufficient to write good software).

But they're tools that can be used to improve understanding of others' work, and to craft and improve one's own.

That study has a description: squeezing all the life out of poetry, leaving a dry meaningless husk. Its possible to recognize poetry for what it is, without deconstructing it to death. I'd like to take that class.

But understanding those concepts gives you the tools to construct and improve poetry of your own.

> Why are we testing anyone on poems?

If they aren't on the test, chances are they will fall out of the classroom.

If they are on the test in that way chance is that they are not present in the classroom at all despite their apparent use there.

> [do you] remember the question about a “talking pineapple” on a New York test in 2012?

This story about "The Hare and the Pineapple" seems to have been debunked credulously some time ago: http://ideas.time.com/2012/05/04/what-everyone-missed-on-the...

I can of course understand that it hints to the sentiment of resentment about the state of standardized testing.

> The fable described several animals assuming that the pineapple must have a trick up its sleeve that would enable the immobile fruit to win the race, and when they discovered that it didn’t, they ate it. Test-takers were asked: Why did they eat the pineapple? The correct answer: because the animals were annoyed. And who was the wisest of the animals? An owl that was never mentioned in the passage [of the Daily News article].

> The item [The Hare and the Pineapple] went through a regular review process and has been used since 2004 in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, New Mexico, and Florida as well as Chicago, Fort Worth and Houston. (Alabama used it for seven years, Delaware for five.) And in the parlance of the industry, the questions “perform” as they are supposed to — both in New York and nationally. That means it reliably measures the ability of students to read a passage and answer questions or make inferences from it and that the series of questions can differentiate between higher-performing and lower-performing students.

The analogy is variable naming.

The skill they're testing in language arts on standardized tests is similar to skill of naming variables, objects, functions, in programming. Famously called one of the only 'hard' problems in coding.

Sure you could use your own house rules in your code and the program would execute perfectly. And sure you could follow some mechanistic system: CamelCase for classes, snake_case for functions.

But how descriptive, how much to abbreviate, how much to abstract into a concatenated phrase representing an algorithm is subjective, but worthwhile to learn nonetheless. Knowing the correct answer to this multiple choice means noticing the context, and picking out what matters the most.

It reminds me a story of an Japanese test. A Japanese school was going to test student from the text of Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka. It so happens there was a daughter of the author in the student. She came back home and ask her father what was he thinking when he write that novel. The father, who is also the author, said, "I was trying so hard to meet the deadline."

So she answered so in the tomorrow's test "Explain the intent of the author when he write this novel", and she failed.

There is a wonderfull joke in talmud when two rabbis argue about some problem. One says: Let's call Jehova and ask him directly! So Jehova comes but the other rabbi tells him: God go away, you did your thing now let us wise men discuss about this. God says oh my god you are right and he leaves.

The original is much more evocative: http://jhom.com/topics/voice/bat_kol_bab.htm

Seems to be about on-par with the way high-school English is taught, honestly (at least in my area). I remember my English teacher dedicating a full class period to the FIRST TWO WORDS in "The Scarlet Letter" (the words being "A throng"). I found it absolutely nonsensical and told her as much, but even though much of the class agreed, she shut down our complaints and kept teaching this way.

Later in the year she began scrutinizing yet another book at the molecular level, but one of the kids in our class was the son of this book's author. He ran our teacher's analysis by his father, the author, and the guy found our teacher's reasoning hilariously inaccurate.

I'm all for teaching kids literacy, but there's only so much meaning that can be gleaned from any given passage of text. At some point you're assigning meaning where there really is none, and I felt this was prevalent in some SAT questions and other standardized tests I endured during K-12. This was in a very well-regarded school district: CHCCS in North Carolina.

I still can't understand how standardized testing is useful for anything. The only true result of an educational system isn't apparent until years later. I assume it's popular for political and business reasons (testing companies are all for profit) which ultimately have nothing to do with children learning.

> I still can't understand how standardized testing is useful for anything.

It's the only fair and economic way to assign limited slots in post-secondary institutions. Assigning them subjectively leads to racism and corruption (see: Harvard et al. setting Jewish and now Asian quotas and the many undeserving rich/famous students that are admitted instead)


Perhaps related, an old piece by Richards Feynman on bad physics text books: http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm

Years ago, I volunteered with a high school drama department and helped them design and build sets, lighting, etc. At one point, I went along on a competition where they delivered a piece written by the director.

During scoring, they got near perfect marks across the board on delivery, characterization, etc... and were hammered on "interpretation of the author's work." I asked one of the judges about it at the time and was told "they obviously didn't study the author's other works to understand his intent."

Our education system is broken.. in silly and sometimes dangerous ways.

I remember my teacher teaching us a poem, dissecting it line by line. It took 1 month or more to complete the poem.

On most of the lines, he was overthinking and trying to find out some sort of hidden meaning in it. It was annoying.

It's the same problem as any kind of training or testing system: The people employed to build and manage it are neither in prestigious nor high paying jobs, so there is little competition for their position, and little incentive for creative, thoughtful people to fill those positions.

It actually gets worse, because the bureaucracy mires everything in so much red tape that innovation becomes all but an impossibility, as any independent thought is quickly stamped out.

So yeah, it's no wonder that the tests are written by the dim witted and unimaginative.

Personally I had sort of an epiphany when I discovered tvtropes.org . I discovered a different way of analyzing a work of art. A purely descriptive approach. I find this collaborative medium attempting to decipher why something works or doesn't work in an art piece far more productive than what I was thought in school (in Romania) about about literary analysis and attempting to extract meaning from any word. I would comment more about this but I don't have the time now.

Regardless of what you think of the tests, it might just be possible that writing poems and analysing them is not an identical skill. I'm pretty sure that most professional sportsmen can't analyse why they play a particular shot or pass (other than "it looked good, he was open" etc).

There's probably a separate argument about why we'd want to train generations of passable poetry critics though...

cixin, your comment is presently [dead], it seems like you've posted too much since your account was created (your comments seem fine to me).

I was wondering the same about why cixin was dead. Interesting heuristic in the HN codebase there. Is it a permanent death or does it back off after a cool down?

Users with a fair amount of 'karma' can vote to bring it back (which is likely what happened here).

any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich

English 101, Homework Assignment: Write a 8 page literary essay about book-X

I presented my thesis and draft to the the instructor. She told me that I was completely wrong and that this paper would receive an inadequate grade. I admit, like all my other English papers, this one was BS, too. That doesn't inherently mean it's incorrect, though. I went to the library, sifted through a bunch of academic journals (which the instructor believed to be the only legitimate source of truth, unsurprisingly), and found an article with a thesis and supporting evidence that paralleled my argument! I showed the instructor this paper, and just like that she said "oh, okay. The thesis makes sense." I received an A+ on the paper.

Informatics 101 'Social Networks', Pop quiz! "HTML is for the following... (check all that apply)"

Times up! The correct answer is "specifying the LOOK and FEEL of the webpage."

It was 2011, and the professor of this "Social Networks" class, ironically, had been throwing 'Web 2.0' all over his powerpoint slides. I politely consulted him after class, as to not embarrass him that HTML with inline styling is frowned upon, and styling should be specified in CSS stylesheets. It was a matter of principle, rather than pragmatism, that I wasn't penalized for this invalid quiz question. He responded "we can talk about JAVA and the document-object model if you'd like." I immediately dropped the course.

Oh, and he has tenure. (Fortunately in the 'Informatics' department, rather than my own Computer Science department)

My point with these two anecdotes is that in the case of the 'Social Networks' professor I could have, in theory, filed a complaint to university should the professor refuse to acknowledge the invalidity of his grading and material. The English professor asymmetrically held power. My grade is dependent on what she deems a valid interpretation. Sure there's a "rubric", but the same thesis I had went from a D to an A+ in a matter of seconds.

In both cases, I grew my distaste of academia. Despite abhorring my English class, I do appreciate nonsense literature. It satirizes the intellectuals randomly throwing around fancy words like 'Web 2.0', 'Java' and 'document-object-model' in the same sentence, the intellectuals who base validity solely on academic authority, the intellectuals who try to standardize intellect. I leave you with the poem Jabberwocky, by the master Lewis Carroll.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!"

" I went to the library, sifted through a bunch of academic journals (which the instructor believed to be the only legitimate source of truth, unsurprisingly), and found an article with a thesis and supporting evidence that paralleled my argument! I showed the instructor this paper, and just like that she said "oh, okay. The thesis makes sense.""

Congratulations, you just learned the difference between making unsubstantiated assertions and producing research.

This is a classic appeal from authority. Is the idea worth discussing/debating/exploring? If not, leave it. If so, explore it. But this "professor's" opinion is tied to someone else who published as the authority.

All in all, it's a great way to encourage group-think. But then again, so are most academic departments.

You missed the point. Those journal articles themselves are also nothing but unsubstantiated assertions. They may in turn cite other journal articles, but if you keep digging all the way down there's no provable factual basis to any of it.

What was the impact score of the paper he showed to the instructor? Did they do a rigorous search of the space to determine whether the paper was "correct" or "incorrect"?

It sounds to me that the reaction in favor was as knee-jerk as the the reaction against the thesis in the first place. This isn't "producing research" or "making unsubstantiated assertions"; it sounds like pandering to the instructor's bias.

Who did the author of the paper cite?

I remember I wrote a paper in college about how Odysseus' crew being turned into pigs by Circe was a thinly veiled reference to cannibalism. It was probably the least bullshit English paper I've ever written[1], but my professor was so offended by it that she wouldn't even accept it and made me write another one.

[1] My best grade on a literature paper was a complete load of horse shit where I compared the mountain in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain to a black hole. A+.

Problem is that knowledge can't be measured because it's not a list of contents that can be checked off. Deep knowledge in one area is by its nature integrated with other areas. Thus exams and testing make as much sense as ranking authors by spelling bee.

In some sense, this problem at least indicates we're trying to do something right.

Some knowledge is both necessary and testable: arithmetic, geometry, algorithmic solutions to common problems and properties of those algorithms, spelling of common words, basic grammar, many scientific facts/ideas/techniques.

The learning objectives of Common Core and other curriculum are ambitious -- they want to capture that "deep knowledge" you mention, and are often informed by input from subject matter experts.

However, the realities of modern schooling and assessment are not sufficiently resource-rich to fulfill and measure fulfillment of those standards.

Well physical quantities like length, time can be measured. Also fungible goods like wheat, oil. But knowledge is differentiated, non-homogenous and subject-specific. So it isn't measurable. Memorised facts like spellings, historical dates and common types of exam questions can be counted but these aren't useful in themselves. Knowledge is information that can do things.

I feel like knowledge is one of those "I know it with I see it" type things. It can be assessed, but not systematically via a multiple choice standardized test. Which puts a lot of trust in the judgement of teachers.

Not exactly a politically viable solution in America.

"I know it with I see it". Yes indeed. One has to interact with a person to know that he knows stuff.

The questions are surely absurd, and common core is a disaster. But I do not understand the (self-)basing of the author. Self-hatred and self-doubt are very usual emotions for teenagers, so these poems actually are very much relatable for 7/8 grade students.

The question of that one poem of hers that she would prefer not to be used only is a small side-issue, the main issue she writes about is that many questions are made-up and arbitrary, you cannot answer them from actual knowledge.

Woody Allen has covered this problem in one of his movies. This clip is under 3 minutes and worth watching in my opinion.


Tests aren't for students, they're for administrators.

When you process that view, educational systems make more sense, however tragic.

If I could just change one thing in education. I would outlaw multiple choice questions.

If you can answer the questions in the test correctly your level is the at least the highest level that can be measured by the test.

Why would it be a reasonable assumption that her level is the highest that can be measured? Should the test be changed so mediocre people can get the maximum score?

Analysing poetry was the stupidest thing I had to do in school.

jusy like with IQ tests the right answer is not the most logical or deepest, but the most naive.

That is so true. Frustrated me so much as a student, and even an adult taking interview tests as a software developer. If you happen to know more about the subject than the person who wrote the test question, frequently (or at least from time to time) you will see questions with multiple correct answers, and end up having to guess.

One of the trust destroying parts of my K-12 was poetry interpretation. It became clear very quickly that we were being "given" the desired interpretation during class and not really taught to actually interpret the works.

I once challenged the head of my high school English department over the interpretation of a particular poem. They had weighed it down with layer upon layers of symbolism and interpretation but never able to answer the fundamental question of whether or not we were inventing meaning and attaching symbols and thus creating interpretation or the author intended this in his work.

I wasn't saying that our analysis wasn't important, but I still feel it's an important distinction that the pedagogy wasn't making and I got the feeling that compliance to the accepted interpretation was more desired than being able to interpret the work yourself.

Eventually I got so upset, I went and did some research and hunted down some interviews with the author which discussed the interpretation and in those interviews he explicitly called out the specific line of interpretation we were being taught as both nonsense and not at all what he meant in that particular piece and not how he generally writes.

I printed out these interviews, including revelation that the title had been added by an editor years later, made copies, highlighted the relevant sections and turned them in instead of my analysis paper and took the F. It broke all of the trust I had in the education system after that and I very much turned "off" as a student after that.

Later in college, when I felt my grades were more important to my future, I killed that little bit inside myself that fought the status quo and just regurgitated the accepted interpretation. I even became so good at it I found myself into various honors lit courses as a CS student. But I knew it was mostly nonsense and I honestly feel kind of ashamed at having learned to excel in the subject by become such a bullshit artist.

The experience was so poor that it's left a lifelong bad taste in my mouth for poetry and various other artforms that lend themselves to deep analysis and interpretation. It's largely ruined modern art for me and I find myself veering away from "intellectually challenging" works because I'm not sure if the meaning I'm getting is real, or if I'm supposed to give in to some popular interpretation -- which inevitably makes me feel like I'm being snookered.

Interestingly, modern analysis of that same poem now seem to agree with my young take on it and not the hard-line we were being force fed in high school (an invented anti-communism attachment) - but it seems only after the author made a particular point at becoming very vocal against the status quo. So small victories?

   so much depends

   a red wheel

   glazed with rain

   beside the white

   ~William Carlos Williams

English teachers serve to train a new generation of English teachers. Its a strange stable loop that formed in our educational system. The rest of us look on in confusion as they babble about imaginary features of written works that only they are competent to adjudicate.

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