Thursday, June 18, 2009

SATs Never Looked so Fun as They do Now

The French "bac" tests preceding higher education are nuts! Check out these (mostly via Yglesias, with his idiosyncratic spelling cleaned up a little):
— Is it absurd to desire the impossible?

— Does objectivity in history presuppose the impartiality of the historian?

— Does language betray thought?

— Explicate an excerpt from Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation

From the "science" series:

— Are there questions that are un-answerable by science?

Like I said, nuts! My first thought is that each one of these presumes a student's understanding of each word's meaning in these questions, and that therefore, the questions are probably pretty familiar to well-studied students, who can probably get through it all by just reciting what they've heard before. Another likely way to get through it all is to bullshit about semantics.

So, in the last one, you've got to define "questions," "answerable" and "science" before you can answer. I have no idea what they mean in this context, but from a scientific perspective the correct answer is, "Yes, science cannot address untestable questions." All that hemming and hawing about semantics seems to be really attractive to folks who put more emphasis on "making an argument" rather than establishing the nature of reality. (And yes, our senses and mental representations of reality are not perfect, which is why we have margins of error, yuk-yuk.)

But is the U.S. system better? I don't think so.

And get a gander at Yglesias' comment section for this--it's awesome. This, from LIJ, is maybe my favorite:

The French are taught to the test just like U.S. students; it’s just that their right answers are expressed structurally rather than in multiple choice. The questions focus on testing the mastery of the logical dissertation form which is drilled in to high school students as being the pinnacle of studied discourse. What results is an idealistic and homogenized academic culture.

I have been in undergraduate classes in France, where professors will literally map out “the right” answer to research papers. I have also been in graduate classes where students were struggling to learn how to form their own thesis questions.

Is the bac model, centered on the logical dissertation, beautiful and rigorous? Certainement. Does it it cultivate deep, independent critical thinking? Malheureusement, non. Should we emulate the French educational system? Vive la difference !

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