Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
I Can’t Answer Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems (2017) (huffpost.com)
617 points by ilamont on Apr 29, 2019 | hide | past | web | favorite | 443 comments

I always though how silly it was for teachers to pretend they got the correct answer in a text analysis of a century old author. Apparently it's even true for authors that are still alive.

Some things seemed so far fetched, so random, so made up. And yet it was supposed to be _the_ right answer. When I offered another one, even knowing the official one but disagreeing, I was graded as failing.

Hell, I'm pretty certain most writers just wrote something, and never though about it more. Not all of them are pondering, rewriting every line. And even the ones that do don't necessarily do it for the result the teacher expects.

And as a kid, you certainly can't say a classic author is not interesting. You can't say the text is boring, that you don't see talent in it, that you didn't learn anything from it. It has been validated by society, hence it's good. Now you have to say why you think it is, even if you don't. Actually you have to say what you know what the status quo is, which means repeating something you read elsewhere instead of forming a opinion from that and what you think. The opposite of what's school is supposed to teach.

We wonder why fake news and bullshit work ? It's because we teach kids to repeat popular opinions and make up things because they look good. We teach them that not only there is a price to pay for not doing that, but that we are ok with being the ones making them pay it.

People that felt like that usually went the science road. It's not a bad thing, but it's a positive feedback loop. It means fields in desperate needs of honesty and pragmatism are only welcoming bullshiters and conformists.

Those classes are all about conformity. It's about learning how to play the game of life and not going against the grain. "smart students" learn to read their teachers and know how to feedback the expected answers even if they don't agree or believe in it. A lesson that's very much needed in life.

A lot have not learned this lesson and this is why many of us on this site still marvel at the bullshit companies raising millions and wondering HTF! Because those "smart founders" learned how to feed BS that their audience expected back to them.

I learned this lesson when I took humanities, it was so stupid, but I knew exactly what the teacher wanted to hear when we studied architectures & paintings. It was all subjective and her own opinion. I fed her back her crap and I passed the class.

If you haven't learned this yet, it's not too late. The world is full on chicken shit.

I disagree entirely. Traditional humanities courses are in general about learning intellectual history, contemporary thinking, and critical thinking.

Mistaking the worst-case for the central tendency is a classic fallacy that is easy to fall into when expressing contempt.

Bullshit companies don't raise millions of dollars because people study poetry or art history. They seem to raise millions of dollars because there's a long tail of bad startups and a long tail of bad investment decisions, and the intersection of those can be cherry-picked to create the illusion that "the world is full of chicken shit".

The world does indeed contain some chicken shit, but chicken shit is not the central tendency of the world. Terrible startups get funding less frequently than good ones. Good technical ideas often raise millions of dollars and thrive, but sometimes they fail despite their merits. Sometimes "chicken shit" succeeds, sometimes good ideas fail, but it's foolish to mistake the exception for the rule.

But again, all this has very little to do with poetry.

I feel it's more like there's chicken shit everywhere always, but most of it is inconsequential and unremarkable. The exceptional cases (e.g. Theranos) draw attention again to the existence of chicken shit and the dangers of constantly buying into it.

> It was all subjective and her own opinion. I fed her back her crap and I passed the class.

I had an English class I thought was like this. I generally tried not to do that unless I had to, but given this English teacher had given me a D and C- on the first two essays (which is all we were graded on), I decided for the third essay I would get as much help as possible directly from her to see exactly what she wanted and try to provide exactly that, since she obviously didn't want my opinion. By the third visit during her office hours, she had very little feedback and thought it looked good. I got a C+. Visiting her afterwards I had her review the essay to give me pointers on what I could have done better. Her exact words, which I remember to this day, were "all I can say is it doesn't feel authentic."

That class broke me on the subject of English. It was the last required English class for my major, and I made sure not to take another elective in English (and I rather liked the subject before that). Sometimes you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

I had an experience similar to that in high school. When my grades started falling in it, my mother set up an appointment with the school counselor and the teacher; the teacher didn't bother to show up. I was immediately moved into a different class with a different teacher...

...who was excellent. Who had fun getting students to come up their own ideas. Who didn't treat teaching as a day job to be gotten past with as little effort as was possible.

I had a similar experience. I was graded 56/100. The only comment was "Good job, almost an A paper."

> Those classes are all about conformity. It's about learning how to play the game of life and not going against the grain. "smart students" learn to read their teachers and know how to feedback the expected answers even if they don't agree or believe in it. A lesson that's very much needed in life.

> A lot have not learned this lesson and this is why many of us on this site still marvel at the bullshit companies raising millions and wondering HTF! Because those "smart founders" learned how to feed BS that their audience expected back to them.

> I learned this lesson when I took humanities, it was so stupid, but I knew exactly what the teacher wanted to hear when we studied architectures & paintings. It was all subjective and her own opinion. I fed her back her crap and I passed the class.

> If you haven't learned this yet, it's not too late. The world is full on chicken shit.

> "smart students" learn to read their teachers and know how to feedback the expected answers even if they don't agree or believe in it.

Telling something even though you don't believe in it for personal gain is called cunningness.

I see many people misunderstand smartness with cunningness, people who are smart can be cunning as well but they chose not to.

I learned this in freshman interpretation class in college. In the beginning I fought against the TA (English PhD candidate) teaching the class and I ended up with Cs on my assignments. Then midway through I started playing her game.

"Oh yeah, that cushion represents a vagina; the broom a phallus! Cinderella has a conundrum - her Electra complex will remain unresolved because her birth mother is dead and her father will continue to replace any dead wives by marrying anew. How can she overcome her predicament?! In this version Perrault introduces the fairy godmother as a foil to the mother in Freud's complex. Now the godmother helps Cinderella obtain her own princely phallus and win a bloodless coup over her foul stepmother! Actually in the end all the ladies get a phallus!"


Joking aside, it took me another decade to have this sink in and apply it in life. I still deal with this foolishness daily. The originality of the and variety of the "chicken shit" determines whether or not I stick around at the job or in the situation the chicken shit is flowing.

Seems like a perfectly reasonable comment, nevertheless being silently downvoted. Mysterious.

This is soo very spot on and exactly how I felt about a lot of my humanities classes in college. I almost failed the first one, then learned how to play the game and did a lot better. Sad but true.

I always say I loved engineering classes simply because 1 + 1 = 2, not much room for debate there.

Your comment encapsulates most of the controversy and disagreement in this thread.

Many engineers and technically-oriented people are naturally inclined to accept a fixed worldview: binary logic, set theory, F = ma and not F=ma^2, etc. If you reject the accepted worldview of physics, computer science, math, then you're a crank. Following a set list of rules is a safety blanket. There are no alternatives ("no room for debate") so that quiets the mind.

The world of the humanities doesn't have a fixed view and that can result in discomfort. Even everyday life doesn't have a fixed view and it's part of the language game ( from Wittgenstein) we play.

Unfortunately, most interesting questions in life don't have single, un-debatable, simple answers.

They do, actually, if you choose a consistent set of basic axioms. Just as in math.

Problem is, unlike math, there's no particular objective reason to prefer some axioms over the others, and so there's substantial disagreement over which ones are "correct". And, of course, depending on which ones you choose, the conclusions derived from them can be radically different, opposite even.

But this is still formalizable - you can make statements such as "from an utilitarian perspective, X is the preferred course of action". You don't have to agree with that perspective for the conclusion to be testable and practically useful.

> Unfortunately, most interesting questions in life don't have single, un-debatable, simple answers.

Because as soon as they have, they stop being interesting.

"... are all about conformity."

You give them too much credit, imo. That would be way to clever, too much 'conspiracy'-like.

But, I agree that if you go against the grain, confront their bs... you're toast.

Nothing to do with conspiracies, just human nature filtered through the "never enough time or money to do it well" conditions.

There are some awesome educators out there who can inspire their students to think and explore the world.

There are far too many more who assemble a syllabus of their own viewpoint and expect their students to just absorb it.

This might be too flippant, but I'm not sure how much stock I would put in any academic/intellectual that hasn't directly challenged at least one professor/advisor/mentor/peer's thinking with rigorously researched/reasoned/argued scholarship.

It is worse than a conspiracy really - it is emergent bullshit from groupthink which is all about rationalizations. A conspiracy at least serves a purpose.

I suspect the bad humanities teacher is a result of university politics in the "office politics" sense allowed to degrade and stagnate.

Essentially if it takes those who are good at the bullshitting game to advance and compete for tenure bullshit becomes the defacto qualifier.

Making matters better yet worse for "optimizing" in both senses are those who actuly are sincerely interested in thd subject - I have had decent ones who would give good marks and respect those who differed philosophically but could give sincere and articulated explanations and justifications.

Another lesson the poet learned from these studies is that these tests are about having the means to pass them, by which I mean having the money to buy the correct answers (whether that be in the form of written answers or a tutor who has seen the answers and knows how to guide your student to the right answer without explicitly communicating it).

It’s the college enrolment thing all over again.

Which is ironic, considering humanities are supposed to be about exploration of ideas and creative thinking.

Liberal arts / liberal education is less about "creativity" and more about "getting people to be capable enough to understand the national legislature and have a non-garbage political opinion". The liberal arts in America were seen as a prerequisite of a democracy.

Yes, but only if the result of your exploration and/or your ability to creatively think conforms to the educator(s) viewpoint.

Really liked this post and really hit me deep, given that I grew up hating all "arts"-based subjects only to discover in my 20s that I loved them, but lacked the correct mental model to appreciate them growing up.

The concept that education on arts can bias certain mindsets definitely resonates with me as I struggled with English as a child and I recall struggling to grok what a "sentence" was: once a teacher explained it as being "about a line long" then proceeded to punish me when I took that too literally and put a full stop at the end of every line.

"Hell, I'm pretty certain most writers just wrote something, and never though about it more." On this particular point, to provide an alternative perspective on the subject, I have had an academic music professor argue to me that even the creator of any art may not be a good objective critic of their art within the context of some wider academic framework. This could be due to at least two reasons:

1. the artist was too emotionally involved in the art so is unable to unbiasedly critique it

2. the framework/wider context of analyzing a piece of art may take shape later after the initial inception of the art.

In any case, I'm probably talking a bit past you - any person who adopts an assertive position "the author did X because they intended to achieve effect Y" is at best lazy and worst wrong if they're unable to back up that assertion with some kind of evidence (e.g. autoanalysis by author or letters/interviews)

The flip side of this that it's not limited to the arts. I came to love math later, more and more as I got into higher-level math, because I realized lower-level stuff tended to be taught in this way that is very focused on minute almost irrelevant details. If people had started with big-picture principles and worked down, I would have been much more into it earlier.

I had a stats professor in college who said (in a course on nonparametric statistics) something like "there are two types of statisticians out there, those who are horrible at arithmetic, and those who are great at it." His point was just that it's possible to get very abstract math concepts really well and also be kinda sloppy with other things.

I guess my point is that early exposures to anything can really bias people's perceptions a lot, even when it's not representative or necessary. Vocational stuff I think can be like that too: early exposures to different types of careers can be really biasing even when your understanding of it as a broader field is really misleading.

This is one of my favorite takes ever on the way we teach literature K-12: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2112

I definitely had some English teachers who were simply bad. Your 'sentence' experience resonates with my teacher who insisted that the five sentence "hamburger" paragraph format was inviolate and marked any paragraph shorter than five sentences as 'incorrect'. (Good luck obeying dialogue rule that way...) But I had a lot of others who actually knew about their topic and cared about teaching it well. A lot of them were open to multiple interpretations of stories; one even managed to competently outline "death of the author" and explain why "the author intended..." wasn't always the right way to look at things.

That was where the problems of the classroom format became painfully obvious. The way we read books wasn't centered on keeping kids interested or even promoting deep analysis. Rather, it was shaped by the need to assign reasonable amounts of homework, and to practice writing brief essays without referencing the text - because that's what standardized tests require. The length and pace of book discussions was based on how long it took to finish the book at 30 pages/night, which also encouraged discussions that were completely invalidated by the next days reading. And the ideal "result" of a book was 40 minutes of writing on a single thesis which had to be simple enough to produce without opening the book.

The result was that we simply didn't learn a lot of useful things which didn't fit the format, like contextual analysis or studying an author's canon. Meanwhile, lots of the things we did learn - close reading, deconstruction, death of the author - came through in ludicrously contrived examples that made them seem idiotic. Failing to teach a subject is a shame, but actively leading students to hate the subject is shameful.

I thought you were headed to a thesis that testing is driving teaching, which would be supported by examples like, "practice writing brief essays without referencing the text - because that's what standardized tests require"

That's definitely part of what I'm driving at. I didn't mean to blame individual teachers, and on re-reading that should have been clearer. If I were to distill this to a thesis, I'd go with:

"Education, particularly in literature, is seriously worsened by structural limitations teachers can't control."

Standardized tests are a big part of that, and I do think "analyze this book in detail without access to the text" is a singularly useless task that actively rewards shallow thought. Multiple choice analysis questions are another problem, especially "what did the author intend by this passage" questions which set people up to totally misunderstand 'death of the author' later. Less directly, test questions like "compare and contrast the handling of death in two novels" put teachers under pressure to cover laundry lists of themes so that their classes will have something relevant to write about - which gets in the way of any other kind of focused study, like reading theory or following one author across multiple works.

But standardized tests aren't the only structural pressures which crop up regularly. I mentioned consistent homework and daily class periods - discussing "yesterday's reading" for a book like 1984 is a ridiculous approach, but there's relatively little room for finishing and then discussing books, or choosing a few key check-ins mid-book. (And these problems all tie together: with more time for theory, you might do that in class while reading at night. With better cross-class organization, you might offer lots of reading some nights while shorting other classes, then no reading on other nights.) Short grading periods and always-visible Blackboard grades drive time-wasting assignments; I've heard plenty of teachers say that they gave out tasks just to have baseline grades for the first interim report. The lack of block scheduling means every class is effectively <35 minutes, making it hard to show films or discuss serious themes without numerous interruptions.

I could go on at enormous length, but that's the gist. For all that schools demand cutting-edge educational practices (which are often bunk), testing and organizational demands leave teachers with worse learning arrangements than your average book club.

Funny story: Most people today agree that Fahrenheit 451 is about (for some definition of "about") the evils of TV, consumerism, and mass-entertainment culture. Bradbury agrees.

Back in the dim, distant past, many people thought it was about censorship. Bradbury, in an interview at the time, agreed.

Thanks for getting the history on that story right. I see the urban legend version all the time, where students say it's about censorship and shout down Bradbury when he explains the "real" meaning about mass entertainment. As far as I can tell it never actually happened, and the whole idea that people are ignoring the author falls apart when you find out that Bradbury has changed his own interpretation.

I don't know that the two readings are incompatible, either. They fit together quite nicely in a reading about voluntary censorship, where popular disinterest makes it easy to peel away information and silence voices on the margins. But it's interesting to see how the focus between the parts shifted, even in Bradbury's mind.

Fwiw most people here won't be able to give a hard and fast definition of a sentence; this is why we have Recurrent Neural Networks.

> Some things seemed so far fetched, so random, so made up. And yet it was supposed to be _the_ right answer. When I offered another one, even knowing the official one but disagreeing, I was graded as failing.

I absolutely agree with this. This was a constant source of frustration for me in literature classes. I enjoyed exploring alternative solutions and answers. Most science teachers encouraged that, even though there mostly was a "right" answer and I was missing some (mostly unknown to me) details in alternative theories. Exploring alternatives helps (me) to understand the problem and solution better.

But in the most subjective classes possible - literature analysis - where nobody really knows what the author meant, alternative opinions were considered wrong. And my only task was to repeat the teachers or text books opinion. Frustrating is an understatement.

This part of the article captures the issue perfectly:

> I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there. Note: that is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it.

I think that part of the article actually perfectly captures why the author's argument is wrong. Nobody cares why she put the stanza break where she did. That's not what the question is asking. The question is asking about the objective effect of the stanza break in the context of the poem. All the student is being asked to do is recognize that there is an (objective) shift in subject from one stanza to the other, and recognize what those subjects are. Moreover, the student is only being asked to choose the best answer out of the four presented, not to derive the "correct" answer.

Out of the answer choices, only one (C) fits:

> A. compare the speaker's schedule with the train's schedule [incorrect because the first stanza isn't about the speaker's schedule]

> B. ask questions to keep the reader guessing about what will happen [incorrect; the only questions in the poem are rhetorical]

> C. contrast the speaker's feelings about weekends and Mondays [correct, because the first stanza mentions feelings about the weekend, while the second is about dread for Monday]

> D. incorporate reminders for the reader about where the action takes place [incorrect, because both stanzas take place in the reader's bed]

More generally, even though the question says "why did the author...," the REAL question is "can you detect patterns well enough to understand that the test makers use very particular skin-deep definitions of 'compare/contrast/purpose,' and how to tease out something that will please them from a set of unstructured data."

Is that a legitimate question? Kind of. In fact, it's very close to the type of thing that most professionals are required to do in the business world, etc., interpreting written words based on weird rules and psychology for one's survival (in said workplace). If you see it as a test of the skill of adapting one's thinking, rather than a test of poem interpretation a la Common Core, it has some value.

Is it ethical, though, to present it to children in that skin-deep way, and get them frustrated because they may intuit that there's a deeper level to what they should be learning, but they never have the mentorship or context (or privilege!) to understand it as anything other than an arbitrary, authoritarian "gotcha?" That if you try your best to follow the instructions without the bigger picture, you are doomed to be imperfect? I think it's not ethical at all. And it's a damn shame.

Once I was introduced, via an SAT prep book, to the idea that the objective was not "what is the right answer to this SAT Verbal section question" but "how would Priscilla, who is the blandest person imaginable, answer it," I crushed it. 1490 on the PSAT, 1600 on the SAT.

I am not brilliant, but am a fantastic test taker.

"Midnight" by Sara Holbrook

    When it’s Sunday
    and it’s midnight,
    the weekend
    put back in its chest,
    the toys of recreation,
    party times
    and needed rest.

    When I lie in wait
    for Monday
    to grab me by the ear,
    throw me at the shower,
    off to school
    and when I hear
    the train at midnight
    from so many miles away . . .
    when it’s Sunday . . .
    and it’s midnight . . .
    the train
    in passing brays and boasts
    it’s steel-track-straight,
    on schedule,
    arrival times to keep.
    And I meander to its rhythm,
    flopping like a fish.
    Why can’t I get to sleep?
    Why can’t I get to sleep?
(I personally have never really understood poetry. Possibly because I don't have a sense of rhythm.)

To go along with the text, a quote from the article: "Only guess what? The test prep materials neglected to insert the stanza break. I texted him an image of how the poem appeared in the original publication."

Asking author's-intent questions without checking the author's intent isn't great, but asking students to explain a stanza break that doesn't exist is a particularly exciting sort of unproductive.

> (I personally have never really understood poetry. > Possibly because I don't have a sense of rhythm.)

The first thing most people think of when they think 'poetry' is patterns with a fixed meter and maybe rhyming patterns, but there's a great deal of poetry that doesn't really have either. Instead, those poems use line endings to give breaks and maybe an overarching pattern. Some of it is quite good at making use of those breaks, and they can form a rhythm of a sort, but it's not necessarily an obvious one.

This poem, though, is... weird. It almost seems like there was an attempt to use a rhythm, and then it got busted up by line breaks to try to do something else, and in the process both context and rhythm got broken to the point of making it hard to read.

This being the first time I've come across it, I can't say I'm a fan of the poem. It's alright, but there are strange choices made by the author that I can't get past.

> Nobody cares why she put the stanza break where she did. That's not what the question is asking.

I agree that this is true, but it's worth pointing out that the question does actually say "allows the poet to". Recognizing that the poet's intent is irrelevant means deciding to ignore the explicit text of the question in favor of obeying the internal logic of standardized testing.

Taking the question at face value, Holbrook's objection is just fine: the stanza break allows the poet to take a breath. She put a sentence break between the Sunday and Monday sections to contrast them, then added the stanza break for a different reason altogether. (Yes, the breathing point is between those two sections because they contrast, but if we're being that picky we might also argue that it's not 'allowing' contrast but accommodating an existing contrast.)

I get that most students will answer this correctly, and certainly the other three answers are more wrong than C. But I don't like the idea that "best answer presented" is an adequate standard for simple factual claims. Moreover, I watched English teachers and professors go through agonies trying to teach death of the author, largely because questions like this actively undermine any attempt to think clearly about the difference between text and creator.

Before I read the answer, I guessed it was C, even though I hadn't read the poem—because it's the only logical statement about what breaking a poem into two stanzas can do.

My point wasn't about multiple choice tests, where I have to cross out false answers to get the right one. That this is testing the wrong skill and again only reinforces the question-creators opinion, even though I might disagree with that opinion, is a completely separate topic to rant about. (side-note: Where I'm from we nearly ever had multiple choice tests)

It's that there are multiple valid alternative interpretations for the same piece of literature. One is C), while the other one is "allows the poet to add a break, when reading it out loud." Being multiple choice, it's not the best question for this point, but the authors comment is a perfect example that seemingly objective interpretations might have nothing to do with the authors real intentions. Thus I argue that they are not that objective and there a multiple valid interpretations.

You are right that, for the purpose of this exercise, the author's intent is not the issue (though it explicitly is in the next question.) This question is not the best one to make the point; take, for example, question 35 -- personally, I would pick B but can understand why someone might pick C, which might, for all I know, be the nominal answer.

The worst cases seem to be where the question-setter has a fixed idea of what the right answer is and does not understand the subject deeply enough to see that there are other issues. This has happened to me in technical interviews, as well as a test-prep class that I almost got thrown out of.

Question 35 is testing whether you know how "metaphors" work. B is correct because "putting toys back into the chest" is a metaphor for the weekend's fun-and-games being over. C cannot be correct because it's referring to the text's literal meaning ("organizing things") without giving effect to the "metaphor" call-out in the prompt.

Maybe we are looking at different versions of the article (or did you intend to reply to ascar?) In the test quoted at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/standardized-tests-are-so-bad..., Question 35 is this one:

35 The imagery in lines 16 through 19 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

Sorry, I thought you meant "next question" in my link, not the article. As to Question 35 in the article: that is testing if you know what "imagery" means. What is imagery? It's using words to convey a sensory impression or feeling. B is the only one that describes a sensory impression or feeling.

> A the shift in the speaker’s attitude

It's not A, because the cited lines contain no reference to any shift. The rest of the poem implies a shift or mood swing, but the cited portion helps you understand the current mood, not the shift.

> B the speaker’s unpleasantness

> C why the speaker has no friends

C assumes facts not in evidence. The poem doesn't say the author has no friends. It says she is in a mood where she could not attract friends. The imagery is directed specifically to the author's unpleasantness. One can speculate that, as a result, she has no friends, but that's not necessarily true. B is the more direct and thus better answer.

> D what the speaker thinks of others

The text is talking about the author, not others. You can speculate what the author thinks about others, but that's not what the question is asking.

Interestingly, it looks like the author actually did get this one wrong.

I think her answers to several of the other questions are a bit obtuse - she's not actually unable to answer the questions, just showing how several answers could potentially relate while ignoring an obvious best. But her response here chooses C as 'obvious', then discusses how B could also apply. Even with a solid rationale for rejecting C, it's not a fantastic sign if a professional author addressing her own work genuinely gets the answer wrong.

You are construing 'contrast' as a typographical phenomenon instead of a literary device. We can perhaps forgive the poet for overlooking such a shallow idea.

I guess because of exactly how weak the 'right' answer's justification is, that they have to defend it so vigorously.

"I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet)..."

But why does she pause there? A lack of breath? (She's going to be unconscious by the end of the second stanza.) To emphasize some kind of separation in some aspect of the poem?

I have this strange feeling the author is being intentionally obtuse.

Many teachers are pretty crappy.

For these sorts of topics, there are no right answers, although there are certainly some wrong ones. Your job, as a student, is to learn to, and to demonstrate that you can, think about the material, to have some sort of insight beyond the surface features.

You can certainly say some author is not interesting to you; you can say you didn't learn anything from it. You cannot say the text is boring or talent-free; that's the same as saying there is one right answer. And keep in mind: the reason a classic is considered a classic (Hiawatha not withstanding) is because other people found it interesting, talented, and learned from it.

One difficulty is that a good answer and a wrong answer are not immediately distinguishable, especially from the student's side. The teacher's job is to, among other things, explain why an answer is wrong without pushing some "one true answer". That's hard.

Unfortunately, many teachers are crappy. The current US primary and secondary school system tries really hard, with its standardized testing, to enforce crappiness, in the name of fighting other kinds of crappiness, so...yeah.

P.S. There isn't a grand conspiracy out to get you. Well, the probability is really low, anyway.

Very few actual social dynamics are "a grand conspiracy".

That's what they want you to think.

>I always though how silly it was for teachers to pretend they got the correct answer in a text analysis of a century old author.

Some elements of analysis are verifiable, like when someone provides meaningful context around lines in Shakespeare, but once you get past very elementary discussions of literature the notion of "right answer" is kind of over.

My primary degree is literature; above dumb-freshman courses, the emphasis is on analytical thinking about the text, and on the rigor of that thinking, not on the supposed correctness of the analysis.

But, of course, this interferes with your thesis, so...

No OP, but I read his thesis that low-level courses should also be putting the "emphasis on analytical thinking about the text," but instead focuses on the "supposed correctness of the analysis"

I don't see that your comment interferes with his thesis at all.

Yeah I came to say something similar. Good art education (at least with criticism) is really focused on the strength of the arguments and the strength of the expression of those arguments.

It doesn't. I just think I would have liked you as a teacher, and most I met didn't not have your point of view.

To be clear: I'm not a teacher. I've been in software for 30 years.

Lots of people my age in the biz don't have CS or MIS degrees. Most of the degrees back then were lagging real-world tech in a huge way, so we mostly taught ourselves. Our degrees are in things like physics, or math, or engineering, or political science, or (like me) literature & creative writing.

Specialization is for insects. ;)

> And as a kid, you certainly can't say a classic author is not interesting. You can't say the text is boring, that you don't see talent in it, that you didn't learn anything from it. It has been validated by society, hence it's good.

That is because that statement is both not useful in the context (you're there to pick it apart) and reflects pretty badly on your understanding, clearly the text has some depth, even if not consciously included, to be analysed. If your conclusion was "rubbish" when you're meant to be making a point about subtext, you're failing, its pretty simple.

People include subtlety in their art even if they don't intend it. Things can not be fantastic but still reflect society, the author, your own experience, which is the point of literature analysis.

Some are, but I think many don't.

Text analysis is a lot like wine tasting: there is something to it, but it's way over the top. And if you put a brand new text and put 10 experts on it, they will come up with different interpretations. They will even claim terrible wine is good because of the bottle.

There is also a huge mentality implication. See for example your reaction: you assume my understanding is bad while knowing nothing about me.

And I just criticized people drawing definitive conclusions about other people so distant we know little about them. The example in the article supports this and beyond, and while a few data point is not evidence, it calls for a debate.

I think it's perfectly ok for kids to be wrong about their text interpretation if they produce a personal constructed analysis. First because it's pretty hard to prove there is only one right analysis and you got it. Second because the process is as important as the result. Good teachers target that, but few do.

There's wine tasting and than there's blind wine tasting. The latter has some things going for it as a proper endeavour. The former is just a pastime that's more about finding nice words than actually tasting wine.

Except your comment was about refusing to engage in the activity, analysis of the themes and subtext.

The whole point is that of a subjective analysis, with infinite interpretations which aren't objective views of the text, but a product of the interrelationship between: the text, the context of the text's writing (inc authorial intent), the analyser, their context, and the context of the academia around the text pre existing. These aren't objective measures, but the aim is to have something to say, to have enough insight into the world to link ideas up and make something up that sounds convincing.

Saying the book isn't as good as other people said it was isn't that, and it isn't really very useful, even as a personal opinion, and is completely missing the point of the exercise.

I still remember one poem from high school we were supposed to guess a meaning of. The author was still alive at the time. It was about black crows soring on the sky and landing on a gray cement floor.

Teacher went all out saying its about dark thoughts and existential crisis etc.

I actually met the author and asked him about the poem. She said, she just likes crows because there was a lot of them in the city she grew up in.

Thats it. I even wrote THAT interpretation as my answer to some test later on and i got a failing grade.

Told the teacher about my visit and discussion with the author. But he said he does not care because thats not whats written in the answers spreadsheet.

After that i realized majority of such teachers are retards and should be fired. Unfortunately our education system is so underpaid, getting anyone half decent wont happen.

"...And yet it was supposed to be _the_ right answer. When I offered another one, even knowing the official one but disagreeing, I was graded as failing."

Funnily enough, Death of the Author is well established critical theory in English literary interpretation (criticism). On Academic merit, if you have appropriate evidence in the literature to support your theory then your theory is valid and discussable on its interpretive merits. This is taught at the college level.

I would like to have English classes teach critical reading in the classical sense of english literary theory much earlier. But I'm really not sure how to begin to teach someone how to interpret before I show logical steps towards singular interpretations first.

>And as a kid, you certainly can't say a classic author is not interesting. You can't say the text is boring, that you don't see talent in it, that you didn't learn anything from it. It has been validated by society, hence it's good. Now you have to say why you think it is, even if you don't. Actually you have to say what you know what the status quo is, which means repeating something you read elsewhere instead of forming a opinion from that and what you think. The opposite of what's school is supposed to teach.

I completely agree with this, but just want to note that it's possible to do this properly. Usually this happens in college. The societal approval must still be taught, but it ends up being a discussion unto itself. "This writing style was popular at the time, and people had the following social expectations for men and women of the upper class, and these were informed by the following social movements, etc, etc." A real discussion of why this work gained so much esteem allows for constructive criticism, or might even help a student to understand a work that would have otherwise been impenetrable.


If anyone's read "The Rape of the Lock" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rape_of_the_Lock), this is a great example of a work that would have been impossible for me to understand without a great literature teacher an some historical and contextual education. The social norms, expectations, and how someone would politely and indirectly talk around them would have been completely impossible for me to grasp if I were left to my own devices.

Why must societal approval still be taught? And who gets to decide what society approves of? Hint: "Society" isn't the answer.

Because it explains why the work gained popularity, and what the nature of that popularity was. Why are you reading it today instead of something else?


There's no reason societal approval must be taught uncritically. Maybe I used a poor term. I just meant that some historical works are seen as great literature. And the values that society currently held at the time, and subsequently must be part of the staying power of a given work. Obviously other things come into play as well such as writing style and quality.

I agree with you and think the term should be "important." There are works most would agree are important but not everyone would agree are good or "great" in an approving sense, like Joyce, for example.

I'm all about teaching about societal approval as long as it's labelled as such and put in perspective. I think that actually it would have helped me a lot to have it labelled that way: I would have respected the teacher more, and learned about the way humans work sooner.

I appreciate the classics, but I would always get in trouble in school for asking how the teacher knew this is what the author meant. Even before I knew what a skeptic was, I was a skeptic. :)

I also was not being a smart ass. Many authors have additional writings that add color to the writing being studied.

> I also was not being a smart ass.

It really bothers me that you even have to clarify something like this. Students should be skeptical of what they're being told. That doesn't make a student a smart ass - it makes them a critical thinker. Teachers who take offense when their "authority" is innocently questioned are doing a massive disservice to their students.

There's two types of people who ask the questions

1) Those that want a response that they can consider. These are critical thinkers.

2) Those that don't care what the response is. These are smart asses.

In schools the latter are far more common, and far more likely to speak out

Note that the difference is not necessarily obvious. I was once in several classes with a guy who would ask questions that were just slightly off-topic and odd---possibly about differing interpretations, possibly just trying to completely derail the class. I still don't know which of the two cases was right. I do know he managed to drag the class so that we missed rather a lot.

AI classes, by the way.

Quite, and I'm sure that many actually inquisitive students are shot down enough to beat the inquisitiveness out of them, on the errant assumption they are a smartass.

I'm also sure that a student who is one day asking a genuine question, is the next day beign a smart ass. I certainly used to do that.

Kids are terrible. When there's 30 of them in the room, half of them who don't want to be there, it's even worse.

To be fair, I have been guilty of being a smart ass, and I can totally imagine other people being one when confronted to bullshit.

It's not a productive reaction, and you grow out of it, but it's not a surprising one.

I agree. Plus the classics are too often talked about like this one homogeneous corpus.

But they span on over 2500 years, with huge objective, quality and target audience differences.

I can appreciate Seneca and at the same time don't give much credit to Kant. You could reflect deep into To kill a Mockingbird and see Flaubert as dry and over hyped. And you should be able to say that in class without being threaten with a bad grade. Even if you were hypothetically wrong, if such an absolute is possible in this field.

> I always though how silly it was for teachers to pretend they got the correct answer in a text analysis of a century old author. Apparently it's even true for authors that are still alive...

This also happened to Flannery O’Connor. She once wrote the following to an English Professor:

“The interpretation of your ninety students and three teachers is fantastic and about as far from my intentions as it could get to be.”


Note that she does not intend it approvingly. She's using "fantastic" to mean "of fantasy", as in, "not grounded in reality".

Despite her claims to the contrary, I do find her tone "obnoxious". Their fault was not in their interpretation, but in asking the author to confirm it. A great story will "go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it", but I find it self-important for a writer to declare that their piece achieves that lofty goal.

I agree with her assertion that their interpretation is dull and simple, but if that's where they've settled, it's as valid as any other. I feel like she's said, "No, I've written a great work of art, and if you've reached a boring conclusion from it, that's your fault." I find it dismissive of her to say in two sentences that there's "no lessening of reality" but simultaneously "not meant to be realistic": that's a cheap way to excuse vagueness.

It's not that difficult for a work to be open to multiple interpretations the longer you look. You can achieve that with ink blots. So if they find merit in the work, they should keep reading to appreciate that merit more fully rather than ask an author to affirm their decryption. But I feel like she hasn't engaged well with the work they have put in: she's dismissed it entirely and missed an avenue they have a right to explore.

I had this experience in "music appreciation" in college. I was supposed to get the same feeling from the music that the "expert" in the book did, and was wrong if I didn't.

I failed that class. I never bothered re-taking it.

That was not my experience. I went through a libertarian phase in college and wrote lots of papers that were rather contrarian. I always got "As." Of course you can't just say "the text is boring" or that "you don't see talent in it." That's a really dull thing to say. You need to be able to understand the status quo well enough to be able to articulate it on its own merits, and then go beyond that to explain why you disagree. (And that's an important life skill! If you can't articulate your opponent's argument as well as they can, you can't hope to persuade them to change their mind.)

I can write you a 20 pages essay about why a text is boring and why I don't see talent in it, with detailed analysis on the style, fit, comparison with similar intent and pieces of art and explain the reason I think the usual analysis is overblown given the weakness of the text.

If a teacher find intensity and depth in a text that has little substance or nuances in the most obvious lines, I'd argue that it's actually the most important point to make if you want to say something that matters.

Of course, to win the meta game is to know that is not actually the most important point to make if you, as a student and human being, want to open more opportunities in your life.

I feel the same way about much of Computer Science. So much nonsense was forced into my head as the "best practices", from OO development to Agile to cloud snake oil to crypto scams.

And then on top of that it turns out the CPUs are designed to be inherently insecure so all those amazing mathematical proofs in perfect penmanship were a waste of time.

I feel like OOP, Agile, "cloud" as a concept, and cryptocurrency/blockchains are not computer science topics.

The way in which blockchains are implemented, sure, that's math, applied as cryptography, applied to achieve distributed consensus, which is very much computer science. But you specifically mention crypto scams, which is much more applying the general concept of distributed consensus to different areas, and I think that's where it jumps out of the realm of computer science.

Maybe a better label for the "best practices" for the application of computer science is "software development". I think that, as an area of instruction, is more inherently subjective.

OOP design is usually part of a CS curriculum (at MIT it was, at least) since it has some theoretical framing and applies to a wide variety of practical problems.

I don't think I've ever heard of a class in crypto scams or Agile.

A pure CS curriculum probably won't, but one aimed at Software Engineering or whatever name you'd pick for CS + industry-applied stuff might very well have a class that includes Agile and other development techniques. (Our legal classes also touched on it)

I mean if you want to get into the nitty gritty details yeah I think the biggest waste of time of all was the years implementing and tweaking linked lists in C. Not sure who decided to define that as "computer science" at the time, but I have trouble with those definitions too.

CS is very new though, and already pressured by immense economical interests.

Give it a thousand years.

It's true that there are bad choices when it comes to text and interpretation. That doesn't implicate testing, but test construction, which is often poor.

I still distinctly remember a surreal class discussion in high school (more than a decade ago) where classmate after classmate of mine in an AP English class responded to a verbal question about a phrase expressing regret over not doing something as though it'd actually been done and the regret was about having done it. It was like "WTF, most of my classmates have problems with basic reading comprehension?" The question was basic, and the teacher basically went row by row to try and get an answer, and it was clear that a huge proportion of the class so misunderstood the text that they didn't even know how to respond to the question.

> We wonder why fake news and bullshit work ? It's because we teach kids to repeat popular opinions and make up things because they look good. We teach them that not only there is a price to pay for not doing that, but that we are ok with being the ones making them pay it.

Luckily, you are overestimating the effect of education.

Kids don't pay enough attention to be so indoctrinated.

No, I don't think he is. I've run across enough dull people who say things like "think outside the box", to understand the power of conformist indoctrination. I think you're underestimating the formative power of educational systems to teach through punitively reinforced repetition. Children are being failed for expressing creative interpretations of something that purposefully offers its audience multiple and sometimes conflicting interpretations. Most will abandon attempts at expression in formalized settings and shift their brains into parroting memorized interpretations offered by their teachers. In this case the teachers are training their students based on interpretations offered by the state.

Kids pay attetion like they eat stuff - not how you want them to neccessarily or what would be rational even.

One thing I noticed about socialization processes is they are about teaching things they are too afraid to teach directly like when and how to lie and when hypocrisy is acceptable.

If you practice some vice while expecting them to be virtuous you teach that the "good behavior" (say you serve them broccoli and water while you have fried chicken and soda) is childish and vice is to be preferred when not forced.

I think the meta teaching is more important, and more impactful that the information taught.

Well, this is the way I saw it as a student: the purpose isn't to provide "the right answer," the purpose was to understand the test, give the answer that they wanted, and use school as a springboard to better things. If you treat it as a system to be gamed you don't have to worry about what the truth really is.

I actually was always better at English than I was at math (much better). I even won an NCTE writing award in high school, and found math difficult. But I studied physics in college because I'm someone who can't stand BS and don't like the way English is taught at the college level. The idea of pure, simple truths deeply appeals to me.

But I feel even writing this is heresy. Maybe I'm just being a smug STEM type and I don't appreciate the world of literature. Maybe I just don't get it. But I went into college wanting to understand things, and making a game out of extracting hidden meanings from books just didn't offer anything I was looking for.

This article is fun to read. Incidentally, my daughter just took a test for a gifted program. She didn't study for it as recommended by our school district. She scored 95% in one subject. But the qualified cut-off rate is 98%!

My eyes just rolled looking at that number. That means they only pick 98 and 99 percentiles. For a first grader to score that high, she needs to answer the exam perfectly. If you have some statistics training, you'll see this score is like shooting yourself in the foot. You're more likely selecting prepared test takers than gifted students.

I congratulated my daughter on her score. We went out for dinner and got tasty pastries for dessert. Life is too short to waste our time on these dumb tests.

> She scored 95% in one subject. But the qualified cut-off rate is 98%!

> My eyes just rolled looking at that number. That means they only pick 98 and 99 percentiles.

Either one of these is wrong, or they somehow managed to craft a test where the score percentage matches the score percentile, which while possible to engineer is somewhat improbable and also contradicts the next sentence:

> For a first grader to score that high, she needs to answer the exam perfectly.

Irrespective of one’s current grade level, it doesn't require answering an exam perfectly to get a 98%. It might to get a 98 percentile score (depending on what other people taking the score get).

> If you have some statistics training, you'll see this score is like shooting yourself in the foot.

If you have some statistics training you'll recognize the difference between percentages and percentiles and which of the former corresponds to a perfect score.

The test-retest validity of IQ tests (which tests for gifted programs either expressly are or are equivalent to) is such that it's not unreasonable at all to think that people will consistently score at about the same place based on ability over a short time period (over a longer span there'll be some variation) and that being a prepared test taker isn't a particularly significant factor, though anxiety about testing or the particular test could depress scores and soothing that is the main benefit of test prep.

Yes, the levels most districts use a gifted cutoff are very high (usually 97th-99th percentile). Yes, that means very few (1-3%) will make the cut. No, this doesn't mean the people that make the cut are just test-taking prodigies.

It's a form of Goodheart's law [1]. If you use the test scores to select for gifted students and the requirement is this high you will only select for highly test prepared students (the set of prepared and gifted or prepared and capable students). You're final student selection will be higher correlated to preparation and less to how naturally gifted a student is. This is not necessarily a bad thing though.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodhart's_law

You'd expect a first grader who is highly prepared for a test to be likely to be gifted, correct?

Up to maybe 90-95%, I'd agree. Past that... well, that last 5% is often weird bits that you have to specifically have come across before.

For something at a first grade level, consider, say, spelling bees. I read a lot as a kid, and correspondingly did very well on things like that, but across the hundreds or thousands of words these things go through... well, the people at Scripps aren't just reading lots of books.

It's also been my experience that the people who implicitly understand something tend not to want to bother with recommended prep. That was me for CS courses, some calculus, and english/writing, where I got high grades but often not top of the class. I was on the opposite side for history and statistics (and outscored at least some of the people who are far better at those subjects than I am).

Basically, if you're gifted and already have knowledge of a subject, you probably don't really want to spend lots of time studying it. This leaves you vulnerable to the weird 5% of edge cases you haven't seen before. If you don't know the subject, and have to do a lot of prep, you're going to come across those cases during prep.

If the optimisation problem is “pick a set of kids that can finish the curriculum quicker as measured by standardised tests” then any effective screening test is likely to select for “test taking prodigies” since that is the leading measure.

RE percentage vs percentile: I think you may be wrong here. Take for example, uni exams. 40% is the pass mark here in old Blighty. The exams are standardised and the 40% threshold is not a percentile. In fact, it makes almost no sense at all to stackrank every cohort of test takers. It wouldn’t be fair at all not comparable over time. I think the parent poster is correct. Doubtless the empirical distribution of real scores are used to decide cutoffs for grades, by 99% in the parents posts very likely refers to a percentage.

Gifted classrooms are funded by a budget and have a certain number of seats available. In must be a percentile selection (mixed with subjective judgments, diversity, etc)

Anyone with the same percentage score will obviously be in the same percentile ... so if you have a limited number of places and everyone scores the same mark, then the fact that you’re filtering by a percentile doesn’t help you in the slightest: it’s tantamount to picking at random.

If none scores 99% then you just don’t take anyone ... in your method if everyone scored 0% you’d still take a bunch. I don’t think that makes any sense.

Differentiation between candidates with equal scores is probably done by going through applications and whatever subjective info is provided there. That can be effectively random, but there's not much of an option at that point.

> in your method if everyone scored 0% you’d still take a bunch.

Yes, and they will. My understanding is it's still a normal school, just with a special selection of students; what are they going to do, shut down for the year?

Lol, this is getting a bit hypothetical... but running a "gifted" programme for a selection of kids that score 0% in the test sounds like a waste of time. I think you'd reasonably be better off just not doing it.

I was in the gifted program when I was in elementary school and I don’t recommend it. It took a kid like me who was already prone to social isolation and isolated him further. I voluntarily left the program after 2 years and was playing catch up socially and I wasn’t any better off academically. Don’t put your kids in that program.

I think there's a right and a wrong way to run these programs. Some schools just pick a couple of outliers and make it obvious they're outliers. If you're going to group some kids by ability for some classes, do it to everyone. Yes, a few kids are really advanced. A few others are almost there. Don't make the first group so uniquely isolated at the expenses of making the second group miss out on similar opportunities entirely. I see the benefit of keeping everyone together some of the time, but I'm screaming inside when I see my daughter reading at a 3rd grade level next to kids who still don't know the alphabet, and her teacher has to keep them all in one big reading group. She has an alternative but it's strictly an addition to all her other work: which is how it was for me, so I got A's in the gifted program, and D's in my regular school work because it seemed pointless and stupid. My high school was only told about the D's so it took me 2 years to get back into Honors classes. Whoever designed that program was not gifted.

Let everyone spend some time grouped by ability. Don't just burden them with more busy work. And please make sure the teachers running special programs have a clue what they're doing to kids...

edit: Furthermore, I always thought it pathetic that I went from being a very average student in 2 other countries, moved to America and was suddenly seen as a gifted genius who was years ahead of my peers in math and science. I've obviously never seen it that way - I think kids are capable of for more than the American school system expects of them, but their intellectual growth is being stunted at a very young age.

The right way to run a gifted program is to have class placement tied to ability, not to age. If someone is good at math, put them in the next higher math class. If someone is good at reading, bump them up. It works well for under-performing kids as well: if they fail math, they can retake just that class and continue in the rest.

This keep gifted kids challenged while not pushing anyone through too fast.

There is one more thing that is important that most people miss: a "gifted" student (whatever that means) mixed in with the rest challenges the other students to do better.

Do you support putting intellectually challenged students with the rest to encourage them to do better?

That is a complex question that cannot be answered as a one size fits all. "intellectually challenged" can mean many different things. In some cases yes - it is good for the "smart" kids to learn to deal with the "stupid". In some cases no, the "stupid" just hold back the "smart". Note that this is all levels, the above average student sometimes needs to be at a lower level than the very smartest, and sometimes together.

There is a difference between subjects as well. I've been in choir with some "intellectually challenged" kids who had great voices: I was the one being challenged.

I was looking for a kinder way to phrase it, but someone with an intellectual disability. Someone with an IQ in the range of 35 - 50.

You're trying to waffle. Have your cake and eat it too.

If you can recognize the fact that there are times when you're just holding back some students, then propping up a gifted student in a normal class to "inspire" the rest is doing a disservice to that gifted student.

We aren't talking about children who are simply "smart", we're talking about children who are so far beyond their peers, it's clearly noticeable. It's the opposite end of the bell curve. Because we're talking about children who are testing at 135 or above.

I was fortunate enough to get into a GATE extracurricular program when I was in elementary school in the East Bay, a long time ago. In my case, I got to socialize more with some peer groups, visit a planetarium, make oddball things, get a good grasp of the sciences way ahead of the regular school curriculum, and participate in a problem-solving program that influenced my thinking for the rest of my life.

BUT: in retrospect, those programs are mostly for kids who just happened to be fortunate enough to be born into the right circumstances at the right time. East Bay public schools were pretty good at the time, I was born just in time to learn about computers just ahead of the rest of the world, I had a somewhat stable home life, and my family supported learning and nerdy hobbies.

I was a social outcast for most of my youth too, but that had less to do with GATE and more to do with my family's obsession with being smarter than everyone else, which made me an insufferable, lazy little jerkwad. It took getting out into the world in my late teens to begin realizing just how much of an idiot I really was.

So, YMMV, but if I were a parent I'd at least give a local GATE program a try. (But also sports.)

> more to do with my family's obsession with being smarter than everyone else, which made me an insufferable, lazy little jerkwad.

Massive props to you for having the self-awareness to make that realization. So many people don't.

And so many smart people fail to realize that being smart is just one gift among many. And all things considered, once you reach a certain minimum, other attributes are probably more important in life success (like work ethic, and social ability). It took me until my mid-20s to make that realization.

Did California's GATE actually have a purpose? I was in it for 13 years (~1982-1996) and it seemed completely and utterly pointless. No extracurriculars, no meetings, no resources... it seemed like a smart-kid inventorying service for (insert random conspiracy theory here). Worse, I was constantly pulled out of class to take IQ tests and then bored to death because I was 3 years ahead after coming from a private school that had phonics and aggressive material plans (Challenger).

I would imagine it varies a lot. I went through three different programs in my midsize town growing up, with different class sizes and teachers. They varied in many ways and one way was the attitude of other children. When the program was large, like a magnet school, there weren’t social problems. When we had a class of 12 kids in a school of 300 we were ostracized.

I stood out so much in normal classrooms that it was difficult to participate. I was about three years or more ahead of everyone, reading at a college level in fourth grade while some students still struggled to read compound sentences. I felt very fortunate to be put in a class with a few people my age who were at a similar level of intellectual ability.

I was in a similar situation. My elementary school recommended to my parent that I skip a grade and join the [GRADE+1] cohort, which would remove me from my (already small) group of friends. This ended up happening over my strong, for a 10 year old, objection. In the first quarter I deliberately engineered my grades to be all C’s (was previously a straight A kid) which triggered school admin to reverse the decision. I consider this my first “achievement unlocked” moment.

It was the best thing that happened to both of my step kids. They met great people, learned amazing things, socialized with people who had common interests and talent. Best of all they stopped hating school and flourished.

I only regret it wasn't around when I was young.

I was in "GIFTED" in elementary and middle school.

The elementary school one was amazing, and I would recommend it to anyone.

The middle school one was mediocre at best. I liked it, but it wasn't actually any better than regular classes.

So it can vary pretty wildly, even in the same school system.

Agreed and can vary even on teachers in the program.

But I've never heard of it being worse than regular school, worst case, you're with other gifted kids.

I was also in the gifted program and the thing that helped me the most was getting involved in youth sports like little league, rec basketball, and soccer. It allowed me to be friends with both the smart kids and athletic kids. I can't stress enough how important youth sports are for kids

Let me guess. You don't have a coordination problem?

I do. I received about a year of therapy for the fact that my left hand quite literally doesn't know what my right hand is doing. That helped. But being clumsy still made school sports really unpleasant for me.

Just because sports was right for you doesn't mean that it is right for everyone.

For any given activity X, there will be people for which X is not a reasonable thing. That doesn't mean X isn't a good thing, it just means it isn't for everyone.

If schools do not take into account those people for whom X is not reasonable, it's entirely possible for the marginal net benefit to be negative. E.g. the students who benefit most from sport would do plenty of exercise anyway, but the students who are most harmed be sport will end up permanently hating exercise.

OP stated "I can't stress enough how important youth sports are for kids"

Based on a sample size of one.

For any given activity X, there will be people for which X is a reasonable thing. That doesn't mean X is really important, it just means it's important for one person.

Here are a number of things youth sports helps foster:

1) leadership qualities

2) coping with adversity

3) how to win and lose gracefully

4) coordination (all sports take practice)

5) fights childhood obesity

6) forces kids to be around other kids instead of in isolation

7) Experience working with a team from an early age

These will work for any child, not just me.

Yes, it fights childhood obesity. None of the rest is universally true. Let me go through them one by one to demonstrate.

1) leadership qualities Constant reminders of how I was at the bottom of the totem pole didn't develop leadership for me. You develop leadership by doing something you are good at, not bad at. My positive experiences only happened much later in life.

2) coping with adversity I got lots of practice with adversity. Particularly when my physical challenges made me a target for bullying. I never noticed that the experience helped me cope with adversity though.

3) how to win and lose gracefully If by luck I wound up on a winning team in PE, it was clear to all that I did not contribute to the victory. I got practice at losing, but never noticed that the other children learned to be particularly graceful at winning.

4) coordination (all sports take practice) Did you notice the bit about my having a medical problem which required therapy? Yes, physical activity builds coordination. But the way it was done in school did not build mine. I wound up fixing that as an adult.

5) fights childhood obesity This I grant. Though it was superfluous in my case. Everyone in my family is skinny until at least 30.

6) forces kids to be around other kids instead of in isolation Given the way it made me a target for bullying, isolation would have been better.

7) Experience working with a team from an early age For me it was so demoralizing that I never felt like I was really part of any team until I was in my 30s. And when I did, it was programming that got me there, not sports.

These will work for any child, not just me. Bullshit. I am a definite counterexample to your theory. As you would have known if you paid attention to what I said before.

I am strongly in favor of all children who are physically capable of it getting exercise. But competitive sports are NOT a good idea for everyone.

> leadership qualities, coping with adversity, forces kids to be around other kids instead of in isolation, Experience working with a team from an early age

Got all that from IT club (adversity being when things didn't go well - bugs, network crashes etc)

> how to win and lose gracefully

LAN parties

> coordination

rock climbing

> fights childhood obesity

Not eating junk food seemed to work for me. I wouldn't be so arrogant to say that works for everyone though.

In your case, you had a condition that prevented you from competing on a level playing field with other kids your age. I see your point. You're right that sports might not be for everyone, but I will argue it will do good for most. I'm suggesting that if you become a parent to an able-bodied child, that you enroll them in sports. Additionally, at that age, the difference between the best player on the team and the worst is that the best player is probably practicing with their dad a few additional times a month. As a parent, you can bond with your child and help them be the best player on the team by spending time with them and helping them practice.

In middle school I was placed, by standardized testing, into bonehead classes, where I was extremely bored, not because I was so smart that I knew it already, but because it was boring. I took a writing elective course, impressed the teacher sufficiently that she got me into eighth grade honors English, where my dear teacher lectured on grammar like it was a game of chess. I lived it, but I struggled to get my C. Getting extra credit for reading Chaucer, on my own initiative, probably made the difference--or more likely my teachers good will and support. Teachers count.

Not sure I would have ended up where I did but for their intervention.

>where my dear teacher lectured on grammar like it was a game of chess.

The greatest teacher I ever had was a middle-school english teacher who marked strictly on the basis of attendance and participation, never opened a textbook, enthusiastically read aloud from books of his students' choice as if he were performing them professionally on stage for half the class time, and spent the other half of the time just casually discussing the books with the students. The first words he said to the class on day one was "I don't want to hear the word preposition, and I don't think you do either."

Actually the sentence diagramming was useful introduction to a type of analysis. Not too different from computer science foundations of programming languages, automata, etc

I would argue that sentence diagramming is of dubious use outside of an ESL or primary school class. And even then the English language is such a self-contradicting mongrel tongue that it's effectively rule-less.

It's a living, evolving, consensus language. It can't be nailed down to an algorithm. It's a language in which writers who break the rules become legendary. Would James Joyce or Charles Dodgson or the Bard himself have diagrammed a sentence? Heck no. They played with grammar and spelling the way a child plays with a pile of lego: with enthusiasm and imagination and a gleeful disregard for the instructions.

I was awkward, and it was about the only place I could focus entirely on academics and be among peers that valued that.

My identity is complicated (and queer) and while my adolescence would have been a mess no matter what, having something that I could work hard on and had meaning - grades - made a ton of difference. At a school where everyone was an awkward geek, I didn't stand out.

I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

I am sorry that your experience was so terrible, but the plural of anecdote is not data.

For a counter-anecdote, my experience of gifted programs is that it was the first place where I wasn't bullied for being more interested in books than sports. This didn't help me fit in with other kids my own age, but it did wonders for my self-confidence and significantly improved my odds of having a decent life.

My wife's experience is similar.

The moral is that gifted programs are not in and of themselves good or bad. What they are is good for some kids and bad for others. The trick is figuring out which is better for any particular kid.

> the plural of anecdote is not data.

... and the definition of experience is not anecdote.

I think that 2 years of experience qualify as data. Anecdote is when you walk in a street and slip casually in a banana skin once.

I'd actually like to see a study on slipping on banana skins. When I was young I heard the phrase and soon after I tested it. Banana skins aren't that slippery unless the medium under it, or the shoe above it is slippery.

Admittedly, this is just my experience, and probably not statistically significant

In my experience, banana peels are quite slippery, especially when they form that 'layer of slime' (when the banana becomes quite ripe) and on a smooth (though not necessarily inherently slippery) surface.

Since you asked for a study, here you go (though I cannot speak for its correctness):

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29253796 https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/trol/7/3/7_147/_pdf

Wow, that is awesome! Thanks for the link. HN delivers again.

For anyone who doesn't want to download the link, the abstract states:

"We measured the frictional coefficient under banana skin on floor material. Force transducer with six degrees of freedom was set under a flat panel of linoleum. Both frictional force and vertical force were simultaneously measured during a shoe sole was pushed and rubbed by a foot motion on the panel with banana skin. Measured frictional coefficient was about 0.07. This was much lower than the value on common materials and similar one on well lubricated surfaces. By the microscopic observation, it was estimated that polysaccharide follicular gel played the dominant role in lubricating effect of banana skin after the crush and the change to homogeneous sol."

The type of banana you get at the grocery store now is called Cavendish. When the slip on banana peel meme was invented, the common banana was the Gros Michel, which has a more slippery skin.

Yeah, memes where widespread in 1960s, 15 years before the term meme was coined.


Personal attacks will get you banned here, regardless of what or who you're responding to. Would you mind reviewing the site guidelines?


>I am sorry that your experience was so terrible, but the plural of anecdote is not data.

Actually it is. Data is just many individual anecdotes collected. They just need interpretation.

No, it really isn't.

Having a representative sample is essential to being able to do statistics. And collecting self-reported anecdotes does not constitute a valid sampling technique. It doesn't matter how your massage your observations afterwards, GIGO still holds and what you received was statistical garbage.

>Having a representative sample is essential to being able to do statistics.

That's orthogonal. Whether the collection is representative or not individual data elements are still anecdotes.

(Plus, not all data is used for statistics, nor do we always have an advance knowledge of what is representative -- e.g. when researching an unknown domain).

Submitted data is still data, just at worst biased. Which may or may not be important.

The question is always what bias and whether collecting much less data yourself is preferable. Your non-submission sampling tactic may be biased too. (E.g. telephone questionnaires select for people having free time on demand. Emails select for people with bad spam filters and present in mailing list. Walking to ask has other limitations such as range and again availability. Asking third parties may be biased too, just like asking first parties.)

Usually when there are lots of unique submissions the question of bias or lack of representation can be put to rest.

If e.g. there are racial biases compared to baseline population due to submissions, this can be taken into account. Likewise if there is his due to some school districts responding less or more. You will have to handle these issues anyway.

If you guess what the representative sample might be, you may be committing scientific fraud...

You shouldn't blindly perform standard statistical analysis on such data with the usual techniques. But to declare it statistical garbage is simply going too far.

In fact, anecdotes are the way in which we are able to make sense of the world at all. We do not as individuals do most of our learning via explicit statistical analysis.

Your essential point, however, stands in the sense that one should certainly not act as if anecdotes are statistically unbiased. And your average person is terrible at proper statistical reasoning. People tend to over-emphasize their own experience. (Though this is evolutionarily and historically useful - a feature, not a bug). So, yes, someone presenting their own anecdote or set of anecdotes as data is often misguided.

But there are, in fact, many studies (academic or industrial), that, are, in fact, just that! Collections of anecdotes. Self-reported experiences via surveys, error reports, reviews, and the like, which can be mined for data or looked at to see if there are any patterns.

There are issues such as "WEIRD" (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) samples. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioral-and-brain... There are three basic approaches: Ignore the problem and use the results as-is. Declare the sample hopelessly biased and throw it out altogether until you can find a more representative sample. Or acknowledge the bias in the sample, but continue to use it along with careful annotations as a low-confidence best-guess until better data come along. The last is the obvious best approach in an ideal world, though biases such as motivated reasoning and poor reporting by the media often means that reporting such partial results can do more harm than good.

For a more mathematically grounded approach, you could apply Bayesian reasoning: take into account your priors (including the best guess of your expected bias in your sample compared to the distribution from which you are sampling), and figure out exactly how much evidence each anecdote constitutes. It might not be much, but it's something.

I'll close by mentioning that the quote is actually a misquote: http://blog.danwin.com/don-t-forget-the-plural-of-anecdote-i...

“I said ‘The plural of anecdote is data’ some time in the 1969-70 academic year while teaching a graduate seminar at Stanford. The occasion was a student’s dismissal of a simple factual statement–by another student or me–as a mere anecdote." - Wolfinger

I don't think that's always true. I found "gifted" programs much less isolating that regular school. I was lucky enough to participate in some summer academic programs, and while I still had a lot of social difficulty, at least there was a feedback loop where people would engage with what I was saying and I could evaluate and adjust my behavior according to people's reactions. I remember gaining a lot of social confidence in those summer programs and going back home and starting the school year thinking, I'm finally catching on, I've learned how to engage in this back-and-forth where I interact with people and watch their reactions to me, I've learned how to learn, only to go right back to being isolated and mystified in school, unable to see a relationship between my behavior towards people and their behavior back towards me.

For me, I needed to have a little bit more in common with my peers before I could even get traction socially. In fact, it might have been a net negative for me to be surrounded by other kids and cut off from them at the same time, because it messed with my confidence so badly. In the long run it is proving harder to unlearn the bad habits that stemmed from that than it was to learn basic social skills when I got the chance.

I have a friend who was in a gifted program when he was growing up. (They didn't have them when and where I grew up. Hmph.) As I understand it, they effectively took the gifted students and put them into their own school.

He says it didn't do much academically or in terms of later life, but it did do something he values very much: it gave him a normal childhood.

According to him, they took the ostracized nerds out of other schools and combined them so that some of them were the jocks of their school, some were the nerds, most were run-of-the-mill students, and so on.

He's pretty damn smart.

As another anecdote, I was in one and do recommend it. Yes, the social isolation is a real thing and you have to work harder to meet other kids outside the program. However, I made lasting friendships with others in the program who remain my closest friends today. I think I covered more ground academically and it set me up well to take advanced classes in middle school. Note, this was in a well-funded public school and over 15 years ago so your mileage may vary.

I was in the gifted program in elementary school and it was the absolute best part of school. I was normally completely bored but "horizons" was the only class I got to learn at my own pace, explore what I found interesting, and be with other kids like me.

I doubt the value of gifted programs. All parents innately want their child to be "gifted" but they don't understand what this program really means. They basically just accelerate by full grade or two while raising the expectations for each kid to another level. This is unnecessary burden on kids with a high risk that they can lose confidence or even burn out at tender age not willing to learn anything any more. I think there are probably 1 in 1000 kids who are going to earn PhD by the age of 18. May be gifted program is great for them but for everyone else parents should probably actively avoid them.

> They basically just accelerate by full grade or two while raising the expectations for each kid to another level.

That's...not accurate. Gifted programs tend to increase the degree of personalization more than anything. Yes, most people who qualify for gifted programs at probably going to end up targeting at least a full grade up in each core curriculum area, but the programs don't do a straight bump.

> This is unnecessary burden on kids with a high risk that they can lose confidence or even burn out at tender age not willing to learn anything any more.

Gifted programs are actually targeted narrowly at a segment that is more at risk of burning out by being subjected to the unmodified mainstream curriculum.

> I think there are probably 1 in 1000 kids who are going to earn PhD by the age of 18.

There pretty clearly are not.

I was part of two programs. First from ages about 8 to 12 then another from age 13 to 15.

The program from 8-12 was what you described. Lots of random subject areas. Programming, history, chess, I learned how to build a mud brick hut (built a scale model and everything). Lots of self direction.

The program from 13 to 15 wasn't like that. It was more of a straight bump. We approximately did 2 years worth of core curriculum in one year and were then a year ahead for the remainder.

Unfortunately then at age 16 I and everyone else from that program re-entered the regular classrooms and had to do much of the same year's material again. It was really, really stupid.

My elementary school "GIFTED" program didn't attempt to teach us at a higher grade level at all. Instead it introduced us to different ideas and challenges that normal classes didn't cover. It was everything from an egg-drop contest to programming to creating slides for a report to adopting a manatee to solving "logic problems".

That's exactly what some kids need though. Forget about loaded terms like "gifted", some students just pick up the material more quickly and rapidly become bored to tears. Doesn't matter why- are they good at studying? Is the material presented in the way they learn best?- they need to be challenged.

Here is a data point for you. The high school dropout rate among kids with an IQ of 130+ is approximately 20 times the high school dropout rate among the general population.

Gifted programs reduce that.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gifted_At-Risk for more data points.

I was accelerated by two full grades in primary school when my parents realised that _not_ asking about gifted and talented support was going to cause me mental health issues.

My family and my school did _not_ raise their expectations of me unreasonably. I quite enjoyed the rest of my school life, where I performed quite well but I certainly did not have perfect grades or come top of every class. Didn't win the dux/valedictorian award in my graduating class of ~30 kids in my rural high school, that went to a regular non-accelerated classmate.

I don't regret it in the slightest.

What "mental health issues" you might have experienced? boredom? You were apparently comfortable working 2 grades above so I'd say you were good fit for those programs. Parents who push their kids in by doing massive prep might get different experience.

I can't really remember my state of mind clearly, I was a 6 year old when I started partial acceleration in reading and maths in Kindergarten, and a 9 year old when I was generally accelerated from Year 3 to Year 5. My family tells me that I made it very clear that I was unhappy at the time though - mostly the boredom.

Conversely, I know people who were recognised as gifted students but who weren't generally accelerated out of concern for their social skills or whatever, some of them ended up having problems later on and should probably have just been accelerated and pushed out to higher education faster. And I also know people who are pretty clearly gifted, but went through school in the normal fashion and were entirely happy with that, good for them.

I think the key thing is it has to be about the needs of the child, not the egos of the parents.

Anyway, point is - gifted programs are useful for the kids who need them. And as a rural kid with a limited selection of schools and little by way of gifted program resourcing, I'm glad for the handful of teachers who made my individualised educational plan happen regardless - their special ed programs need more support, not less.

How did you get along with your older peers? An age difference of two years is quite a lot in primary school.

It depends on the gifted program. I was in one in high school and rather enjoyed it, though it was a pretty wide range of "gifted" (top 10% of my age cohort). I wouldn't characterize my experience as raising the the grade, but rather by diving into different material alongside different people. The material was ostensibly advanced/sophisticated sure, but it was categorically different from what would be encountered in the higher grades at the same "level."

A friend of mine was in a much more rigorous gifted program (through Stanford) and I think it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He had a very poor home life but he's phenomenally brilliant (he's one of a specific handful of people I've personally met who I use that term for). All he really enjoyed doing from the time he was 12 was reading math and physics books. Going through the gifted program put him on a path that exercised his talents in a way that he found personally very fulfilling. He ended up finishing undergrad at Harvard before the age most kids become sophomores, and then completed a PhD from Harvard before the age most people even begin one.

Then he went on to work for the NSA and, later, a hedge fund. Those things probably look soulless to a lot of people, but he's very happy.

gifted programs in lower income areas are often the only path for decent class rooms that kids there will have.

The "standard" class rooms are often too interrupted, occasionally by violence. I once saw an 8th grader tackle the hell out of a large administrator. The 8th grader was giant too though.

>>She didn't study for it as recommended by our school district.

Kind of reminds of those fortune telling scams. i.e. The cards that you deal yourself will tell you the future. They tell you not to do it a second time in a row though ( for obvious reasons)

You showed too much respect for something not worthy of respect in my opinion.

That's weird that she was expected to study for it, sounds like it was just testing if she was "ahead of grade level". So yeah, doing it wrong.

When my step kids were tested they were interviewed by a psychologist for a couple of hours and did various IQ and aptitude tests. The report was quite thorough.

I mean, you could have a separate "prep test" which is an entirely different purpose and would have to be really super secret on questions and answers including timing.

Essentially, this checks if you bribed the right people to have the answers for previous tests or even this one, connections and decent enough memory.

Welcome to America's latest educational scam.

A test to gauge progress is supposed to be almost fully secret and unpredictable to not bias for people cramming previous answers.

Many school gifted programs follow Mensa requirement of top 2 percentile. I'm not sure the % score was mapped directly to the questions answered correctly.

There are somewhat few notable people from MENSA... It is not a great standard for giftedness, more of a smart people club. People who do things are more often than not either too busy to join this club or see no point in it.

What I'm reading from your comment is that you have a strong, implicit association between "giftedness" and "notability" - perhaps the latter taking the form of socially recognizable achievement.

Speaking as someone who was in a gifted program in my youth (and who knew others in more advanced programs), I would like to caution against this perspective. My achievements are not notable, and I would not use that as a heuristic for determining whether or not a particular program/standard is successful or useful. Yet I found my experience to be very positive. Despite the fact that not all programs are created equal, I would generally recommend a suitable one to any parent with a gifted child.

I understand MENSA is a bit loaded since it can come across as pretentious, so let me reframe the example for you. Take a look at past winners of the Putnam exam. Most of them are not nearly as notable as cperciva[1], but they're all demonstrably gifted.

Giftedness is not about being entrepreneurial or about how you apply your intelligence in a notable way. Programs designed for gifted people are not trying to create a class of people who are more impressive. In general, they try to foster natural talent in a way that cannot typically be accommodated in the modal classroom setting.


1. For those unaware I'm referring to Colin Percival, an HN user who designed scrypt and developed Tarsnap. He won the Putnam.

I guess that means what you mean by 'gifted' or 'notable'. Being very creative, having the confidence to express this creativity and most importantly, being both capable and _willing_ to have a high workload over time is probably correlated to having high IQ, but I strongly doubt that they follow in lockstep. Perseverence and hard work seems to be more correlated to "success" than IQ.

IMHO there's a lot of smart people that compromise their health and well-being by forcing themselves to work too hard at being notable, and in itself I don't think these are the best objectives to strive for in life.

Sounds like a doged bullet. You might however still want to consider not enroling her in a normal school since they will surely waste her talent.

So what is not "normal" school?

Private school? Home schooling?

Expensive both and you do have to handle making connections and socialization...

I agree on home schooling having a socialization problem. Private schooling is kind of the opposite: the most measurable effect of private schooling are the connections formed, followed by similar effects of having a more wealthy demographic.

I was homeschooled for most of my pre-univeristy education. I disagree with the notion that homeschoolers have a socialization problem. In my mostly rural Ohio county of about 50,000 people, there were around 50 families homeschooling about 100 kids. There were regular events like drama and chess clubs. I never felt like I didn't get enough socialization.

I took the test in elementary school, and was in the gifted program for almost my entire public school life. I vaguely remember the test, and it doesn't seem like something that could really be studied for - practiced maybe. It was very IQ test like when I took it many years ago. Perhaps it has changed.

You seem to have a bias in this case. Obviously the will accept higher scores before lower scores. It would make no sense to eliminate anyone who scored above 98% based on an assumed “they cheated or trained too much” assertion. Just to include the “addequately but not too good students” who are scoring around 95%, which must be objectively better because that’s where your daughter happened to land. In the alternate reality you would be on here complaining that your daughter didn’t get in even though she had a perfect score and instead a bunch of kids with only 95% got in...

I hate to break it too you, but there’s no conspiracy or broken system, a lot of other kids just scored better than your daughter.

I took the GATE exam in elementary school (which has a similar 98th percentile cutoff) and the test was an absolute joke. Lots of ambiguous pattern matching that I managed to cheese through because I had a decent sense of what the test "wanted" me to put down (FWIW, I didn't end up getting anything out of it, even though I scored in the 99th percentile, because the school closed the program the following year for "lack of funds"). Really: don't read too much into that test.

>because I had a decent sense of what the test "wanted" me to put down

I think this is what they are actually looking for

I agree. The test was for pattern matching. The student succeeded.

is the 98% a percentile or a percentage of available marks? In that case it does seem like a poorly designed test. Tests I've seen which are designed to discriminate those at the high end of ability tend to be much harder, not have pass requirements in terms of marks (they may still take the top 2 percent of the curve, but this will correspond to ~75% of available marks instead of the high 90%)

Is the test out of 100%?

I did a maths exam once where the top score possible was 120% (ironic!). The idea was you could ordinarily complete only enough to get 100%, but if you did complete more you got the marks for it.

Why don't they make it harder and differentiate more easily?

> I did a maths exam once where the top score possible was 120% (ironic!). The idea was you could ordinarily complete only enough to get 100%, but if you did complete more you got the marks for it.

Was your test developed by Spın̈al Tap? What is the purpose for doing a test this way?

She may have dodged a bullet - some GATE programs are rubbish, others excellent and it's hard to know what you'll get.

Gifted programs were mostly just designed to segregate white students from minority students.

98% sounds a lit like overfitting

Former US poet laureate Billy Collins wrote a poem about this sort of thing:

The Effort

  Would anyone care to join me
  in flicking a few pebbles in the direction
  of teachers who are fond of asking the question:
  "What is the poet trying to say?"

  as if Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson
  had struggled but ultimately failed in their efforts—
  inarticulate wretches that they were,
  biting their pens and staring out the window for a clue.

  Yes, it seems that Whitman, Amy Lowell
  and the rest could only try and fail
  but we in Mrs. Parker's third-period English class
  here at Springfield High will succeed

  with the help of these study questions
  in saying what the poor poet could not,
  and we will get all this done before
  that orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch.
It continues on for a few more stanzas; consider purchasing a copy of Ballistics for the full poem. The rest of the book is filled with memorable insights as well.

My two reference materials on this topic are:

(1) Bruce McAllister's symbolism survey - a 16 year old high school student straight-up asked bestselling authors whether they put symbolism in their work, with various replies - https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/12/05/document-the-...

(2) Ogden Nash's "Very Like A Whale" - Nash wrote a short, rhyming essay about how frustrating it was that authors sometimes try to use rhetorical techniques to convey meaning obliquely - http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~pahk/poems/021221.html . It always makes me giggle.

I found it at http://jatodd.pbworks.com/f/The+Effort-Billy+Collins.pdf and I got a strange delight out of the irony seeing it dissected (on page 2) :)

I once asked a co-worker what they liked about poetry.

"It's like reading a short story, but the author has less time to make their point."

That was a fun place to work.

My own effort, written when I was in high school:

    A poem is a thought that tried
    In vain, just once, before it died
    To reach the page's right-hand side

    Past the right margin a poem may poke,
    With the help of HN's mighty block-quote.

I like this!


I wonder what he was trying to say with that poem ;)

Too bad I can't read it because HN quotes suck on mobile and don't work with the brave browser in Android.

@dang fix your mobile css and styling.

> Too bad I can't read it because HN quotes suck on mobile

HN quotes are fine on mobile. But, just to be clear, this is how HN does quotes:

“quoted text”

And this is how HN does code blocks

  def this_is(code)
HN code blocks abused for long prose quotations suck on mobile (and aren't appealing on desktop, either), but that's abusing code blocks.

You'd have a point if the quote in question was a long prose quotation. It isn't; it's a poem and code formatting is often the only way to get poetry to appear reasonable.

Code formatting does not get poetry to appear reasonable. That's actually the whole issue being discussed.

On the other hand if you don't like each line spaced as a paragraph, as it would be if you try to keep the line structure I. HN non-code text, you can, on HN, use the same convention used everywhere else that it is impossible, impractical, or undesirable to set poetry while preserving the line structure:

“this is a line of poetry / and this is another line / each separated from the next with / a solidus set with space / on either side.”

The whole issue being discussed is that HN made a terrible design desicion when they implemented quotes and code styling for Mobile.

Poetry is not a particularly common use case on Hacker News, though, and I'm not convinced anybody needs to optimize for it.

HN gobbles up literal new lines without code blocks so either the poem would all run together or have blank lines between each line.

Try this instead:


It’s not much better. Still requires scrolling left and right for each line.

The whole poem and questions are here: https://www.jiskha.com/questions/1027961/Midnight-by-Sara-Ho....

Frankly, I think the author is being a bit disingenuous. Question 5 for example: What function does the stanza break serve? She says she put it where it is because she's a performance poet and thought it should go there. One, that isn't the question. The question isn't asking about the author's subjective state of mind, but to remark on the objective function of the stanza break. The subject of the poem clearly shifts at that point from reflecting on the weekend to talking about the anxiety of the upcoming day. Out of the answers presented, (C) is clearly the best answer. Two, the author's point simply begs the question. The break sounds good there because there is a structural break in the underlying poem. Her subjective impression of where the break should go reflects an objective fact about the structure of the poem.

The other questions are likewise quite straightforward. The website doesn't reproduce the full test booklet, but I suspect the prompt does not ask for the "right answer" but "the best answer out of the choices presented." The test is not asking students to plumb the depths of the author's pscyhe, but evaluate consistency or inconsistency between each answer choice and the objective aspects of the poem. It's not an exercise in literary analysis, it's an exercise in reading (knowing the meaning of words) and logical analysis.

Take Question 6: "The train is important to the poem because it represents..." Who knows what the author meant the train to represent? But to an objective observer, C ("following a planned routine") clearly "fits" the text better than the other answers. That's all the test is asking students to figure out.

If you’re a good test taker, the answers they want are clear, but that’s not the point. The point is that applying this model to art, something which has been essential to the human experience for tens of thousands of years, is a stultification of our culture for no better reason than that we want to measure something.

If the goal of education in a democratic society is to produce an informed, well-rounded electorate then cultivating a relationship with art is as important as an understanding of science. It seems like we’re doing something else here though. I would hesitate to dismiss the damage done by a system that produces questions like these at the societal scale.

This is a reading test, not an art test. Here, whatever "art" is in the poem, there is also text with plain, objective meaning and discernible structure. The test is directed to the latter, not the former. And that is, by far, the more important thing to teach children. An informed citizenry in a democracy doesn't need art. They do need to be able to convey their thoughts in a structured, clear manner in writing.

If that's the objective, then give them a piece of technical writing, and then ask them whether the nuts should be screwed tight before or after the wooden pieces are put in their slots.

I think we all know why they're using poetry, though. They want to PRETEND to be testing ability at deep literary criticism.

These tests also usually include scientific articles that are used to test whether students can figure out basic facts presented in an article. But that's only one part of reading comprehension. Students also must be able to understand the structure of the text, themes, use of devices like metaphors and similes, etc. These are higher-level concepts, but still objective ones. And they are present in all types of writing, not only technical articles. This particular set of questions is directed at evaluating those skills.

The tests don't purported to be "testing ability at deep literary criticism." The kids aren't learning poetry, they're reading poetry to help develop general reading comprehension skills. If you look at the STAARS curriculum for Grade 8, the tested skills include:

> Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the structure and elements of poetry and provide evidence from text to support their understanding.

That's exactly what the questions are asking about: the structure and elements of the poem.

>then give them a piece of technical writing, and then ask them whether the nuts should be screwed tight before or after the wooden pieces are put in their slots.

And I'm sure they do get technical writing samples to analyze. Also poetry. Why? Why not! Why not, vary it up a bit. They could have done the same exercise with Rap lyrics.

Again, I'm not sure what the problem is?

>They want to PRETEND to be testing ability at deep literary criticism.

I think you need to manage your expectations. Kids aren't going to give you 'deep literary criticism'.

Then write the questions about a newspaper clipping or a grocery list or something. No need to pillage poetry in search of objective facts.

> An informed citizenry in a democracy doesn't need art.

There's no point in _having_ a democracy without art.

See my reply to him above. I think the demos is taken as a given by him without any thought whence it came.

This is incredibly dangerous and I’m going to push back hard on this narrative. If informed citizens of a democracy don’t need art, how are they supposed to differentiate between propaganda, nationalist myth making, hate speech attempting to clothe themselves as legitimate attempts at artistic expression? When my mom’s nationalized school in Pakistan had dance classes cancelled by the dictatorship, that wasn’t an anti-democratic attack? When they covered up that statue of Justice in Bangladesh, is that OK because citizens don’t need art? When they said that the national fruit of Bangladesh was the jackfruit so why not have a national religion, you don’t think any time to stop and smell the rose of aesthetics reveals that argument to be the equivalent of GW Bush saying his favorite political philosopher was Jesus Christ?

When Milorad Pavic wrote that book “Dictionary of the Khazars” that was not too far from a call from genocide in print, no aesthetic training would have been useful then? Art correlates with history and I daresay you wouldn’t maintain informed citizens of a democracy don’t need to know history. Art tells you something about the motivations of an elite (which some of those citizens might be a part of someday), and what is chosen for a high culture tells you about where the place might be going.

The problem is you're trying to educate millions of kids and you want some common standard to judge them against (to figure things out like college admissions). You can't just say "put down whatever and we'll judge it by how you feel or how I feel".

Besides, you're not testing their artistic abilities, you're testing learning comprehension and and things they learned in English class. Do you know that we're graduating kids who are functionally illiterate? I think that's a bigger problem to tackle than worrying about how poetry is taught to kids.

>The point is that applying this model to art, something which has been essential to the human experience for tens of thousands of years, is a stultification of our culture for no better reason than that we want to measure something.

You say that but what are you basing this on? Just personal feelings?

>I would hesitate to dismiss the damage done by a system that produces questions like these at the societal scale.

I disagree. These are perfectly fine questions. In fact, if you converted to the education system to the montessori-style system that would be disastrous.

My point is that conditioning children to think of art in this formulaic way can only be attributed to ignorance or malice. There is no need to test for reading comprehension using a banal interpretation of poetry.

For evidence of the significance of art in the human experience, check the historical record. The oldest musical instruments are something like 50,000 years old. As far as I know, similar artifacts were not produced by any other hominids. On both the societal and the individual level, creative inspiration has done more to help people exceed their boundaries than any systemized rubric ever has.

>My point is that conditioning children to think of art in this formulaic way can only be attributed to ignorance or malice.

I can believe that that this is your contention.

>There is no need to test for reading comprehension using a banal interpretation of poetry.

You say things as if they were obviously true.

>For evidence of the significance of art in the human experience, check the historical record.


I'm not sure what this red herring is supposed to do for your argument.

If these tests are about text comprehension and not interpretation of art, why use poems then? Wouldn't an advertisement, a legal text or simply a newspaper article serve a better purpose?

I've written some (bad) poems and asked people to tell me what it means for them and got some answers that are wildly different from my own. For example: I once described the sunrise as a "bleeding ceiling of the world", mainly because I needed a dramatic phrasing. But many people I asked thought it was about suicidial thoughts or death. Rather, I just wanted to emphasize the importance of (reaching) the sunrise while keeping the overall somber / grim tone I established in the first and second verse.

Which leads me to 'death of the author' vs. 'authorial intent'. What is the objective meaning of my metaphor? The readers or mine? And is my psychologists guess more valuable than that of a childhood friend of mine?

> Dissecting meaning like this is also where you get into the whole death of the author vs. authorial intent rabbit hole. And you can write whole books about that topic and which is also a quite subjective topic (I'm leaning more towards death of the author, as you might guess).

That is also just another interpretation of the metaphor. A kid on a small island country might not associate trains with a fixed daily schedule at all, because they only know about trains from other media. Your answer only is "objective" within cultures that can make that association between trains and schedules. In duringearly industrialization, the SAT answer might be that the train stands for the unrelenting progress of technology and how it sucks all live out of factory workers (see charlie chaplins 'modern times').

Per your last para, isn't that "the train is important to the exam boards recognised interpretation of the poem because ...". Unless the poet makes it explicit then you're making up facts and expecting people to buy that one, likely false, interpretation.

It's simply not useful to anyone except exam paper sellers and politicians who want numbers to put in election material and don't care how many years of other people's lives are wasted to make those figures appear to mean something.

That sort of lame education system needs putting out of its misery.

    What function does the stanza break serve? She says she 
    put it where it is because she's a performance poet and 
    thought it should go there.
That was just side commentary though. The question wasn't bad because the stanza breaks were arbitrary. The question was bad because the poem wasn't formatted correctly in the test itself.

The teacher was writing her because he himself couldn't figure out where the stanza breaks were and had to ask.

> But to an objective observer

“objective observer” is a phrase that indicates a failure to understand either objectivity or observation, but, in the context of a reader of a written text, a distressingly common failure in the society that views the narrowest forms of biblical literalism (and also, arguably, Constitutional textualism) as even coherent, much less correct.

That's the version that doesn't have the stanza break. :-)

Perfect example of mistaking measuring for knowing. Everything that can be measured can be known, but not everything that can be known can be measured.

Correct answer to the question about capitalization: "I don't know; neither do you; somebody could trivially ask the poet; regardless it's not really of primary importance; and arguably (postmodernism) the answer is up to me anyway."

>mistaking measuring for knowing

Precisely. Another bugbear is questions of the type 'On a scale of 1-10, how convinced are you that measuring is a form of knowing?' with response options 'Not convinced', 'Somewhat convinced', etc.

Or simply: "In the scheme of what I want to do with my life it doesn't matter."

That's a good analogy. It's really hard to "measure knowledge," and in my humble opinion, as someone who once was a teacher, tests are one of the hardest ways of doing so.

> tests are one of the hardest ways of doing so

I've never understood how someone could master a subject and yet be unable to answer any questions about it.

In my experience, people who did well on tests tended to understand the topic, and the people who didn't do well made excuses.

I’ve always had a similar feeling.

In classes where I knew the subject well, I generally did well on the tests. In classes where I had gaps in my understanding, I usually did poorly. In classes where the grades were posted publicly, my general subjective judgment of how well people knew the material matched up with their scores. Not perfectly, obviously, but the correlation has been high enough that I’ve never really been convinced that testing in general is “missing” some critical element of learning.

There might be a really strong correlation, but the deviations from that correlation might not be totally random. That is, there might be people who consistently test above or below their skill level. This creates some weird imbalances that are far from fair.

It would be a lot more acceptable if deviation of test scores from skill were to be totally random for every test.

I can understand biases in a specific test (e.g. cultural biases), but those can (and should!) be corrected with better design and specific accommodations. Do you think that testing as a general method of evaluation is biased though? Because the objection I typically see isn't "we need better test design" it's "there's a component of student ability that cannot be measured by a test".

It is more about things like stressing over tests, dyslexia, ability to sit still for x hours and ability to express yourself in writing.

These all affect how well you test, but do not determine your skill in the subject. Hence, having a disadvantage in any of the above gives you a system disadvantage in the educational system.

The cure for test stress is preparation, i.e. studying. Nothing works better on a test than knowing the material. The rest is just excuses.

That works for most of us, but not for all. It's basically the same as public speech, some people simply will do badly unless they go through some radical change.

I guess, but, all the same, I see a world of difference between a topical test, designed by a teacher, to measure your understanding of what they just taught you, and these standardized tests that have become so common.

For one, the latter are often bullshit, as TFA points out. For two, they measure all sorts of stuff aside from actual proficiency. If nothing else, unless they took all the same classes - literally the same classes - throughout their school careers to date, no two kids got the same education. As anyone who's got the vaguest training in science can tell you, that kind of uncontrolled variability in your population will destroy any validity your measure might have. And lastly, so often these standardized tests really do have hacky questions put together with hack procedures. For my part, I distinctly remember completely stumping an IQ test proctor when I was a kid (yeah, I had helicopter parents). I had 5 cards, each showing a house, with the sun and shadows in different positions. I was supposed to put them in the correct order. So, naturally, my first move was to ask if the pictures showed the north or south side of the house.

There's no standardized test that measures the kinds of reasoning skills that really matter in life, such as the kind you'd use to make an educated guess that a question is being asked by the kind of people who would assume, unwittingly, that east is always on the right hand side.

Maybe the test was really asking you which was the normal frame of reference. Of course, the direction would also be reversed if you were in the southern hemisphere, or were on a planet that spun the other way, or maybe a planet in a binary star system, etc.

I would expect the intelligent test taker to understand the test was not a trick, and that unstated assumptions mean use the defaults.

As for math, there are many ways to teach math, but 2+2=4 in all of them. It is reasonable to assume it is base 10, not base 3, unless the test said "in base 3".

It’s because tests aren’t just testing knowledge. They are testing the ability to express the entirety of that knowledge under completely arbitrary conditions (time limits, schedules, no references, etc.) with outsized consequences for mistakes.

Also good tests are hard to write. I’ve seen T/F questions that could go either way. Multiple choice questions with more than one correct answer. (Professors will tell you to choose the “best” answer. But that’s a matter of opinion in many, if not all, cases.)

I think what someone can DO with their knowledge is more important than what individual bits of knowledge they maintained. I’d rather hire or work with someone who can get things done and knows certain algorithms exist than hire or work with someone who can’t get anything done but can recite the same algorithms from memory. Tests favor the second person. (I was that person in HS calculus. Aced the class without understanding a thing just because I have a gift for remembering and applying rules. I had no idea what I was doing.)

> Also good tests are hard to write. I’ve seen T/F questions that could go either way. Multiple choice questions with more than one correct answer. (Professors will tell you to choose the “best” answer. But that’s a matter of opinion in many, if not all, cases.)

This is why I am so glad that all of my university exams (and the _vast_ majority of exams before that, at least post-Y9/age 13) were open-ended questions[1], then marked by someone who will (likely) know the subject better than you even will. Even if you couldn't get the the answer, but could understand and articulate the starting points, or made a compelling argument but misread or misunderstood part of the question, you will at least get partial credit. The physics exams would also have a standardised formulae reference sheet.

[1] A typical paper would be three hours, answering 5-6 questions, and a typical subquestion can be as open-ended as "Write brief notes about a tree representation of functional arrays, subscripted by positive integers according to their representation in binary notation. How efficient are the lookup and update operations?"

It seems like you'd be surprised to learn that the ability to recall and utilize something under constraints is highly indicative of a person's understanding of that material. The kids who "memorize formulas" aren't the ones getting straight A's. The ones who understand and grasp the material are the ones who will have no trouble performing under pressure, because if they forget something, they can recall it using their knowledge structures.

E.g. Say I forgot the formula for Simpson's Rule on a test, but remember that it had to do with approximating integrals with trapezoids. Someone who thoroughly understands the course material could re-derive this formula in under 5 minutes if they had forgotten.

Good test questions are hard to write. That's why standardized tests usually have lots of them so deficiencies with individual questions become statistically irrelevant. At the end of the day, we aren't trying to probe exactly what the students know. We aren't trying to read minds here. We just want an accurate distribution curve. We don't need great test questions for that. We just need some correlation between the correction answers and academic abilities.

> They are testing the ability to express the entirety of that knowledge under completely arbitrary conditions (time limits, schedules, no references, etc.) with outsized consequences for mistakes.

Right. And if you know the material, this isn't a problem.

My understanding is that your experience is correct, but incomplete - it doesn't account for people who don't know the subject, but do well on the test.

Particularly with multiple-choice tests, this is not only possible, but in my experience common. It became a kind of running joke among my classmates that we know our teachers, not the material - over time we just learned the quirks of whoever designed the test and eliminated the wrong answers based on that.

> learned the quirks

Why waste your time learning that? Just learn the material. I'm often bemused by the effort people put into avoiding learning the material, much more than it would take to just learn the material.

Sometimes the material is absolutely unhelpful when doing a badly designed test, and you may even fail them. I had a Calculus teacher that taught 100% from the books but his tests were always 5 special case questions, that you might very well get wrong in under 45' even if you know the bread and butter.

Still learning how to do "Professor X's questions" was a guaranteed ace. Forget the subject, memorize the borderline cases, max grade. Do all exercises on the text book, also, get a second text book and do all of those too, and you might fail the test.

You completely misunderstood; no effort was put into it. There was no active learning, just recognized patterns from prior tests.

I once asked my history teacher why his multiple choice questions followed predictable patterns. Such as, "all of the above" or "none of the above" were always the right answers.

He laughed, and said the stupid kids needed a break.

That's not what I meant. I didn't say "tests are hard". I said "It's hard to measure knowledge using tests", from the perspective of whoever needs to elaborate those.

In the end, tests end up approving a lot of people that learned next to nothing, as I myself succeeded in several by memorizing for the short term. I couldn't tell how many jingles I used to go through tests. In rarer cases, they also bombing someone with a reasonable understanding of the subject that maybe just was having a bad day or was sick.

It might be somewhat safe to take a poor test result as correlating with poor knowledge on a subject.

And it might be safe to assume a high test score is repeatable.

The challenge is to find a test that correlate high scores with good knowledge - not merely with being good at taking tests.

Because rarely do we care about how good someone is at taking tests; we'd like to measure how good their knowledge is. That's hard to do if we only can infer poor knowledge from a poor test result, but not good knowledge from a good test result.

A perfect system is hardly necessary. Just a good system. Tests have worked for a thousand years. People wouldn't use them if they were useless.

What does it mean to do well on a test covering a subjective subject?

If you have to ask, you don't know the subject :-)

I've never understood how someone could master a subject and yet be unable to answer any questions about it.

How about spoken English? I know a great many people who are able to express themselves clearly and gramatically - surely mastery of spoken English - but ask them what the rule is for order of adjectives or some such and many of them would even need to double check what an adjective is.

That's hardly being "unable to answer ANY questions"; try asking them which is more common: "the big red car" vs "the red big car", do you think they'd be unable to answer?

That's not a question about the English language. That's asking someone to use it.

The question of this nature about the English language would be "how do I know what order to put adjectives in?" and the answer would be something along the lines of "opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose".

I do think they would be unable to answer. The rule of course then goes deeper, into ablaut reduplication and so on. People master spoken English without knowing anything [0] about it.

[0] Yes, I know, I said "anything" and now your literalist side is jumping in joy at being able to say "Aha, aha, they DO know at least one thing and therefore your statement is not literally correct!" I don't care.

In the context of the parent comment "I've never understood how someone could master a subject and yet be unable to answer any questions about it.", isn't this your literalist side jumping in joy at being able to say "Aha, aha, I can think of a group of people who have mastered a subject but cannot answer questions about it"?

Except, they can answer questions to show what they know, they just can't answer your carefully selected subset of questions with the exact answers you demand using the terminology you demand.

Draw an arbitrary line around the allowable questions and you can make every group of experts, "people who can't answer questions about it". But what use is that?

> It's really hard to "measure knowledge"

And the idea of doing so is a fairly recent (and I would say toxic) invention. The concept of graded tests, marks and class grades (A, B, C etc) are all only a bit more than 100 years old. They're a product of the industrialisation of schooling.

They are a product of industrialization! But here is what's the nagging thought on my mind. This industrialized schooling has allowed basic human knowledge to be disseminated at a faster pace than ever before. The need to do so caused it to roll back on quality, sometimes greatly. But without this tradeoff, would knowledge be able to reach so many? Is there some sort of balance point to be reached?

I agree that currently, education systems are terrible, but is there any way to maintain them at scale that is not?

That's an interesting point - sacrificing quality for quantity. You see it in so many fields. Like agriculture. Back in the day, every farm was 100% organic. But just try feeding today's population that way. Now you pay a premium for organic. So in some sense maybe education is no different. Just doing more with less, or rather, doing less, for more people.

Another interesting point: People graded on quantity (making pots) made better pots than those graded on quality (one masterpiece).


"Quantity has a quality all its own!" :)

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact