As the mother of a six-year-old, I’ve been learning all about SATs this week, and pondering their relationship (as I do with most things!) to a classical education.
If you’re not familiar with SATs, they’re the tests UK children have to take in Year 2 (and also Year 6, but we’re not there yet!), covering things like grammar, spelling, reasoning and arithmetic. I’ve known about SATs for years, but this week’s parents meeting was the first time I’ve looked at an actual paper – and it was enough to suggest cause for concern among those of us who champion critical thinking.
The comprehension paper (sorry – ‘English reading’ paper) presents a story in several sections, with questions accompanying each section. Some of the questions are quite straightforward (‘What is the name of the boy who lives in the house?’), but others are based on inference. Now, I’m not condemning all forms of inference – but these went too far for my comfort. For instance, there’s a story about a boy who gets out his toys and books in expectation of his cousin coming for her first ever visit to his home; but when she arrives he sees that she’s a newborn baby, and he has to go back to his room and choose different toys. One of the questions asks, ‘Why was the boy surprised when he met his cousin?’ Well, at no point does the story indicate that the boy was surprised; his body language isn’t mentioned, nor does he verbally indicate surprise. He simply looks at the baby, says ‘Excuse me’, and goes off to choose some age-appropriate toys.
Asking children the question ‘Why was he surprised?’ is not just a demand for an inference; it’s an imposition of the question-setter’s interpretation of a situation which could be read in several different ways.
This might not bother my six-year-old, but it bothered me. I was tempted to scrawl on the paper, ‘What is your evidence for this interpretation? What cultural factors have influenced your reading of this boy’s reaction? And do you think it’s appropriate to impose your own reading upon a generation of previously open-minded children?’. I didn’t do that, because the poor class teacher was having a hard enough time trying to explain adverbs to grammar-averse parents. But it made me realise that we are training our children, from an early age, to believe that they need to accept other people’s interpretation of the evidence if they want to succeed in education. No wonder it’s so difficult for us to train ourselves, at undergraduate and postgraduate level, to take a critical approach to published scholarship!
This week’s links from around the Web
From Classical Studies Support
This week I’ve been working (despite my cold!) on introductory podcasts for the modules I’m teaching this year. If you’d like to listen, they’re on the individual module pages, or you can find them all under the Podcasts heading in the Library. Check back for more in a couple of days!
New students might also like to read Participation – a Tutor Manifesto, in which I set out my rather unorthodox views on tutorial participation.
Digging up Roman stuff – Grimsby Live
Making use of Thucydides in Greece – Financial Times
Lego Roman Empire – Falkirk Herald
Buying a broken bust – The Star
Scrapping Latin in Greek schools – Ekathimerini
Roman ghosts in Cheshire – The Express
Discovering a Roman port – Archaeology News Network
A painted tomb in Cumae – Heritage Daily
‘Uncomfortable’ museum tours – Al Jazeera
Upcoming events – The Classical Association
Comment and opinion
How to fatten a rodent – Atlas Obscura
Talking Varro in Toronto – Sphinx
Under London’s streets – Smithsonian
Classics and hate groups – The Baffler
Restoring Aphrodite – Broadway World
Spotting fake quotations – Kiwi Hellenist
Same-sex romance in the Odyssey game – PSU
The challenge of choosing a book cover – Sententiae Antiquae
Teaching Sappho – History From Below
Myth and autism in Nebraska – Mythology and Autism
Talking about vaults – Society for Classical Studies
Textiles and cultural heritage – Institute of Classical Studies
Non-classicists and Homer – Kiwi Hellenist
On disciples and sages – Classically Inclined
The curse of the sarcophagus – The New Yorker
Uncovering first drafts – The Iris
Xenophon and the EU – The Spectator
Classics and Scottish mountains – Mountains in the Classical Tradition
Arachne in Polish animation – Panoply
Talking about Medusa – Institute of Classical Studies
Podcasts, videos and other media
Memory, mementos and souvenirs – Classics Confidential
Carthage and elephants – The Layman’s Historian
Stephen Fry reads from his new book on heroes – Penguin
Talking about Amazons – Ancient History Fangirl
Classics and pick-up artists – Sex Gets Real
Moving a mosaic – Aeon
New video game trailer – Syfy Wire
Mary Beard on The Classical Body – American Academy in Rome
Edith Hall on swans and swansongs – BBC Radio 4
On old age in Rome – Emperors of Rome
Why was Aristotle so popular? – Flash Point History and History of Greece