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 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.
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?"
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
front page of reddit right now.. https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/5mr6ws/shakespeare_i... ;P
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
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.
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.
You're essentially bikeshedding  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.
> 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.
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.
The writing was so clear that I didn't even notice the lack of punctuation until it was pointed out.
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
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.
> 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
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.)?
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
>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.
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
Heh! Maybe they could peruse http://wiki.languagetool.org/adding-a-new-language
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.
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 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
edit: Someone else linked to it in the comments: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Immortal_Bard
"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
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.
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
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
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.
I guess what I'm saying is poetry runs on the client?
But, it lets people avoid criticism making it a popular standpoint.
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" 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.
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.
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.
I'm just saying the main context I'm seeing here is goalpost moving.
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.
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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?) :)
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.
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?)
Like, what is the isle then? Yourself?
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.
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.
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.
My solution to that was I never took another humanities class.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
If anything, the stereotype is that engineers are overly prone to answer-seeking while non-engineers are much more comfortable with relativism?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I'm sorry, but being the author doesn't and shouldn't guarantee a perfect score.
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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
(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.)
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'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.
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.
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.
I don't think your response is merely incredible, it's actually a malicious and toxic kind of sophistry.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?"
The professor knows Melon did not write the essay
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.
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.
Maybe creative writing/literature courses should give marks for the most upvotes on Reddit (kidding, but probably more objective than current methods).
Unfortunately, that's much more expensive than a multiple choice test.
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.
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.
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.
If they aren't on the test, chances are they will fall out of the classroom.
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 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.
So she answered so in the tomorrow's test "Explain the intent of the author when he write this novel", and she failed.
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.
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)
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.
On most of the lines, he was overthinking and trying to find out some sort of hidden meaning in it. It was annoying.
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.
There's probably a separate argument about why we'd want to train generations of passable poetry critics though...
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!"
Congratulations, you just learned the difference between making unsubstantiated assertions and producing research.
All in all, it's a great way to encourage group-think. But then again, so are most academic departments.
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.
 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+.
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.
Not exactly a politically viable solution in America.
When you process that view, educational systems make more sense, however tragic.
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?
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