Insidehighered.com featured an article today entitled Fooling the College Board. I thought it was very interesting. It’s about an MIT professor, Les Perelman, who allegedly trained a young adult to write a high-scoring essay that contained various types of errors, including misspellings and inaccurate facts. One of Professor Perelman’s points was that students can be trained to write essays that earn high scores without improving their writing skills in a meaningful way. In fact, Professor Perelman argues that the College Board’s essay requirement is doing damage because, instead of working to become better writers, students are spending time merely learning how to ace the SAT’s essay.
While I am an advocate of doing away with the SAT essay for many reasons, I do not think it is destructive to require a high school junior or senior to draft an essay within certain stated parameters. Attorneys, for example, are asked to write legal briefs that conform to well-established models every day. The trick is to find ways to be creative and persuasive within the form — not such a destructive exercise in my opinion.
Let’s face the facts, most of what we ask kids to do in school is contrived and circumscribed (then graded, averaged in, and added to the high school transcript, by the way):
A train leaves City A at ten o’clock traveling due east at 55 miles per hour . . .
Graph the trajectory of the ball. (You man neglect air resistance.) . . .
In the space provided below, describe Huck’s reaction to . . .
Write a ten page, double-spaced paper on . . .
For better or for worse, the College Board’s practice seems to be in line with how America has educated (and evaluated) its youth for centuries.
Again, I am not a big fan of the SAT essay (or the College Board for that matter), but I would not label it destructive.