The new SAT exam has parents and students attempting to master the almost impossibly rigorous demands of, umm, the multiple choice question. Want to know how you would score?
Read the following passages carefully. Decide on the best answer to each question.
1. In 1908, Mark Twain wrote that "All schools, all colleges, have two great functions: to confer, and to conceal, valuable knowledge." Twain went on to explain: "What's not divulged is as crucial as what's shown up front. That is, when a man is buying a basket of strawberries it can profit him to know that the bottom half of it is rotten."
What is most important about this statement?
a. Great American writers know that everyone must eat five helpings of fruits and/or vegetables every day in order to remain healthy.
b. Mark Twain was actually born Samantha Clemens and wrote "Little House on the Prairie," which helped to bring on the Civil War thereby dividing forever the U.S. and Canada into the North and the South (except at the passport tollbooth things where The Wall Between the States was abolished).
c. These lines are analogous (you should pardon the expression) to Twain's more famous dictum that "We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like that cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore." The need for education in no way vitiates the need for judgment; caveat emptor applies to the consumer of pre-packed ideas as well as the buyer of pre-packaged produce.
2. "I can't give you a brain, but I can give you a diploma" is a line from what famous piece of American literature?
a. The Bill of Rights. We are guaranteed the right to graduate with a diploma, if our parents have reminded us to wake up, do homework and study hard; if our parents have paid for prep courses, prep seminars and personal tutors; if our parents have written, revised and submitted all our paperwork up to and including our personal essays; if our parents have enough dough to get us into and out of an institution of higher learning the way hostages are smuggled into and out of small dwellings in rebel territories. The diplomatic right is as American as the right to remain silent, which is also guaranteed for those who don't keep up with course work.
b. It is from Frank L. Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," a novel about a backwoods girl who kills the first woman she meets after a psychological break and goes on to be the leader of a group of misfits who kill again; these are incidents the protagonist recalls as only "a dream."
c. It is not from a piece of American literature. It is from a college catalog I just received. Here is my application.
3. What is an education?
a. An "education" is like a "staycation" except in student housing.
b. Education is a word originating either from the Latin "e duco"("I lead") or, as some indefatigably ornery scholars would have it, from the slightly different "educatio" ("the act of breeding, fostering, training") which is a bit of etymological forensics that, while appearing minor to some, might yet point to dramatically different interpretation of the educator's axiological mission. For illustration, see "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" on the subject; a narcissist enthralled by Fascist dictators and the sound of her own voice, she pronounces herself the gatekeeper of the best that is thought and said in the world (in the Arnold Ian sense) and might be an intriguing figure to use as a literary embodiment of the College Board which is, after all, in the business of deciding which students are "la creme de la creme."
c. Pencils down. Yes, you in the back? You didn't have time to finish? It seems as if we just started? You just now thought of what you really wanted to offer as a response, which is indeed so succinct and precise a definition of the entire modus operandi of education that it will reconfigure the practice of teaching as we know it? Too bad. Pass the papers forward.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a columnist for the Hartford Courant.
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