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Some test questions in New York schools are just bananas

April 25, 2012
  • Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

Two lamp posts are complaining about their placement on a city street:

“Other lamp posts overlook parks and flower gardens; so why do we have to be bolted down in the middle of the slums?” one says.

“Yeah,” agrees the other. “And all we get to see all day is litter and dirt.”

About that time, a dog walks by and says:” I understand your complaint, but instead of worrying about how you see the world, you should think of others. Ask yourself what you can do for them. How can you brighten their way and make them safer and happier, because that is your role in this world.”

The two lamp posts are silent for a moment before one turns to the other and says: “Look, a talking dog.”

That one knocked them dead at Berkeley Springs Elementary School.

And I only recall it today because of the talking pineapple and the talking yam, which have stirred such controversy in the New York school system.

I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but key the words “New York” and “education” into a Google alert and you are sure to be richly rewarded.

Earlier this year, you might recall, the New York City Department of Education planned to ban 50 words from standardized tests for fear that they would scar young minds.

The words included “wealth” and “poverty” (no sense risking an Occupy Wall Street movement in second grade); “birthday” (some religions do not celebrate or acknowledge birthdays); “crime,” “divorce” and “rap” (obvious trauma).

I remember that when I was in school, if “crime” and “birthday” were the only dubious words we used, our teachers would have been thrilled.

But back to the talking pineapple. The situation arose from a standardized test administered to 14-year-olds, in which the pineapple challenges the rabbit to a race. The other animals place their bets, failing to understand how a fruit with no legs can run. It leads them to suspect a trick.

But sure enough, the race begins and the rabbit easily wins because, of course, pineapples don’t have legs. After the race, the animals decide to eat the pineapple.

So the two actual test questions kids must answer are:
1. Why did the animals eat the talking pineapple?
2. Which animal was the wisest?

I can think of a few more questions, such as, who is writing these test questions, Hunter S. Thompson?

Further, by asking this question, isn’t the New York Department of Education promoting illicit gambling? Isn’t that worse than saying the word “birthday” out loud? And, would you be more comfortable if your child gets these answers right or wrong?

I’m not sure I want a child whose mind is equipped to decipher such a quagmire. They’re the ones who get movies made about them because they can calculate the orbital subvelocity of black holes, but have never figured out how to keep from burning the instant pudding.

But this is not the only instance of talking produce that has stirred controversy in New York City testing circles. Another question involves, no lie, a farmer who is confused by a talking yam.

Frankly, I’m surprised New York kids are allowed to say the word “yam” in school. Yam. There’s something about it. Plus, it opens up the whole yam vs. sweet potato hornet’s nest.

Talking pineapples. Talking yams. When I was a kid, I never thought I’d say this, but — give me the old train-leaving-the-station question any day of the week.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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