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Apr 22 2012

The hare and the pineapple

You may have heard about the infamous question on New York State’s test for all eighth graders that gave them a fable about a hare and a pineapple and then asked them two questions. (You can read the fable and the questions here.) This caused a lot of head scratching by students, parents, and educators alike because the story and the questions seemed to make no sense.

It turns out that the test was based on a story by Daniel Pinkwater, a children’s author who, like Dr. Seuss, likes to write stories that tickle children’s fancy and spark their imagination with nonsense. The original story was about a hare and an eggplant but by the time the test designers had done with it, the story had become twice as long, become considerably unfunnier, the egg plant changed to a pineapple, but the nonsensical aspects remained.

Pinkwater was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about what he thought about the whole thing and the interview is a delight.

For some reason, unlike Dr. Seuss’s oeuvre, Pinkwater’s books did not appear on our radar when our children were young and so we did not read them to our children. That’s a pity because it seems like he is a funny guy with a nice sense of the absurd and his books would have been a lot of fun to read.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    the two questions:

    1. Why did the animals eat the pineapple?
    a. they were annoyed
    b. they were amused
    c. they were hungry
    d. they wanted to

    2. Who was the wisest?
    a. the hare
    b. moose
    c. crow
    d. owl

    Oh! Oh! Oh! <Waves hand vigorously in the air> I know, Professor Singham. Pick me. PICK ME!

    The answer to both questions is “e. none of the above.”

  2. 2
    Mike Haubrich

    In reading Pinkwater’s interview I get the impression that the demand for standards and accountability is driven not by educators but by test publishers.

    Or is that too much of a conspiracy? How much do schools spend on tests that could be spent on paying teachers better salaries, or buying supplies, or funding music and arts programs?

  3. 3
    MichaelD

    Obviously the first question is D cause you don’t eat something if you don’t want to.

  4. 4
    shouldbeworking

    When I was a kid, I had to eat everything on my plate. Mommy said so.

  5. 5
    Jared A

    Actually, I had the same first impression as you, but I did a little digging and found that this is really just an example of over reactionary parents and poor journalism.

    The original news report was apparently based on someone’s recollection of the exam. When they got the real story and questions a day or so later, the online article ubruptly changed without any mention of “update” or “edit”.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/talking-pineapple-question-state-exam-stumps-article-1.1064657

    There were six questions, not two, and they were a lot more straightforward then the originally reported ones. Yes, boring. Somewhat vague. Certainly unimaginative. They would have been much better as exam questions. But really nothing to get upset about, either.

    Oh, and to me it’s clear that the reason they changed the eggplant to a pineapple was to reduce cultural bias on the exam since some people call eggplants aubergines. This way you aren’t biasing the exam against people who grew up in the UK.

    Also, Daniel Pinkwater is great! I started reading him in 7th grade and he kept me sane for the next 4 or 5 years.

  6. 6
    Steve LaBonne

    No, not a conspiracy theory- there’s little doubt that lobbying by test publishers has been a significant factor in the testing craze.

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