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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!"

A+

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.

[edit]

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?

[edit]

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.”

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/08/i-am-in-state-of-shock....


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.




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