Evaluating political language in the age of information overload

Wednesday, 11 March 2014

Seeing the amount of spending on political advertising rise to historic levels is certainly cause for serious concern, but perhaps even more threatening to the future of our democracy is the effect these messages have on our psyche. How are we to navigate the morass of messaging we are bombarded with from all sides of the political spectrum, the sole aim of which is to change or strengthen our opinions and biases about x, y, and z, when our minds have been attrited into a catatonic stupor?

I would like to propose that media literacy has actually gotten easier, not more difficult in the current political climate. It isn’t cynicism that brings me to this conclusion. It’s the realization that at the end of the day, there are only a few variables that reliably affect the opinions of the “average citizen”. You might be thinking, “It’s all about the money.” And it is, but there are two important concepts you need to keep in mind when evaluating political language.

Have you ever asked yourself how you form opinions about a particular issue or candidate, or what it would take for you to change your mind about the candidate or issue? The two most significant variables that are likely to affect your opinions about “Candidate X” or “Referendum A” are (more…)



elephant classroom

Thoughts on College Board’s efforts at making the SAT more “fair”

Thursday, 6 March 2014

When College Board, the largest non-profit standardized testing company announced recently that it has found a way to make the SAT fairer, I was all ears. Like many, I was not ready to drink the Kool Aid just yet. After reading their planned improvements to the SAT starting in 2016, I can say that I am not at all confident that their efforts to level the playing field will have the desired effects. As always however, it is bound to be a mixed bag. Unfortunately, it will likely not level the playing field among students taking the SAT, which is of deep concern to students, parents and teachers alike.

First, the economic inequality, which is at the heart of the issue, reflected in the disparity of SAT scores of economically disadvantaged vs. the affluent will always be there so long as inequality persists. Trick questions or obscure vocabulary words are not the obstacles to students’ success on the SAT, nor is it test-taking strategy or methodology; the opportunity and financial resources to prepare for the test early on and as often as possible in one’s academic career is what yields success. This is the elephant in the room that no one seems to want to admit about the entire entrance exam industry. Overall, those with the financial resources to prepare for the SAT will always perform better on such exams, regardless of content.

The notion that the content is somehow the problem only sheds light on the uncomfortable realities that many students are coming from schools that barely graduate 50% of their seniors on time, or that the high school graduate illiteracy rate is nearly 20% – which is instructive considering the illiteracy rate of prison inmates is over 60%. Additionally, making written communication (essay response) an optional portion of the test will only serve to (more…)