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Subject: Rewriting history . . . for what purpose? rss

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Isaac Citrom
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Drew, are you even surprised?!
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You are right: it is absurd to use a multiple choice question to choose the "correct" evaluation of a historical event; history teaching should stress that there are a multiplicity of views, and equip the students with a way of establishing which they think best in accordance with the sources available. This method of assessment does not promote that in any way.
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Michael Carter
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CapNClassic wrote:
The fact remains, before Bush wall. After Bush, wall obliterated.


What is a Bush wall?
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Damian
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mlcarter815 wrote:
What is a Bush wall?

They were more popular in the 70's and 80's.
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Andy Beaton
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CapNClassic wrote:
The fact remains, before Bush wall. After Bush, wall obliterated.


The fact remains, before Paula Abdul released Straight Up, wall. After Paula Abdul, wall obliterated.

Learn about causation and correlation, son.
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Drew1365 wrote:
It's an opinion, it might even be yours, but the trouble is it's the opinion you must hold if you wish to pass.



I was marked down on many test questions and essays on account of this in High School (and to a much lesser extent, college). Especially in English and Language Arts.
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I thought a bellicose attitude towards the USSR was considered laudable in that case?
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Drew1365 wrote:
Lynne Cheney writing in the Wall Street Journal.


Quote:
If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

—President Ronald Reagan, speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 1987


President Reagan’s challenge to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev remains one of the most dramatic calls for freedom in our time. Thus I was heartened to find a passage from Reagan’s speech on the sample of the new Advanced Placement U.S. history exam that students will take for the first time in May. It seemed for a moment that students would be encouraged to learn about positive aspects of our past rather than be directed to focus on the negative, as happens all too often.

But when I looked closer to see the purpose for which the quotation was used, I found that it is held up as an example of “increased assertiveness and bellicosity” on the part of the U.S. in the 1980s. That’s the answer to a multiple-choice question about what Reagan’s speech reflects.

No notice is taken of the connection the president made between freedom and human flourishing, no attention to the fact that within 2½ years of the speech, people were chipping off pieces of the Berlin Wall as souvenirs. Instead of acknowledging important ideas and historical context, test makers have reduced President Reagan’s most eloquent moment to warmongering.


While it's allowable to suggest that Reagan was being "assertive" and "bellicose," it is troubling to me that that is the "correct answer" on the test. It's an opinion, it might even be yours, but the trouble is it's the opinion you must hold if you wish to pass.

Frustrating.


Are the alternative choices for the question listed anywhere in the article? (I ask as there's a paywall.)
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Michael Carter
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Terwox wrote:
Drew1365 wrote:
Lynne Cheney writing in the Wall Street Journal.


Quote:
If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

—President Ronald Reagan, speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 1987


President Reagan’s challenge to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev remains one of the most dramatic calls for freedom in our time. Thus I was heartened to find a passage from Reagan’s speech on the sample of the new Advanced Placement U.S. history exam that students will take for the first time in May. It seemed for a moment that students would be encouraged to learn about positive aspects of our past rather than be directed to focus on the negative, as happens all too often.

But when I looked closer to see the purpose for which the quotation was used, I found that it is held up as an example of “increased assertiveness and bellicosity” on the part of the U.S. in the 1980s. That’s the answer to a multiple-choice question about what Reagan’s speech reflects.

No notice is taken of the connection the president made between freedom and human flourishing, no attention to the fact that within 2½ years of the speech, people were chipping off pieces of the Berlin Wall as souvenirs. Instead of acknowledging important ideas and historical context, test makers have reduced President Reagan’s most eloquent moment to warmongering.


While it's allowable to suggest that Reagan was being "assertive" and "bellicose," it is troubling to me that that is the "correct answer" on the test. It's an opinion, it might even be yours, but the trouble is it's the opinion you must hold if you wish to pass.

Frustrating.


Are the alternative choices for the question listed anywhere in the article? (I ask as there's a paywall.)


There is a trick for getting around the WSJ paywall. Copy the headline and paste it into a Google search. The article will be the first search result. Click on that link and it will bring you to the full article.
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mlcarter815 wrote:
There is a trick for getting around the WSJ paywall. Copy the headline and paste it into a Google search. The article will be the first search result. Click on that link and it will bring you to the full article.


Awesome, thanks.

And they don't mention the alternative choices. Bummer.

From a testing theory standpoint, multiple choice isn't an awful idea for history if you're just looking at a set of facts, which seems especially adequate for a high school AP test. Picking the best set of descriptors from a specified list does imply some knowledge about the event. A much better measure of understanding is of course an essay asking "Did Reagan's 'tear down this wall' statement represent increased assertiveness and bellicosity?" judged by a content expert, but a computer can't grade that. Yet.

It really depends on the alternative responses as to how problematic this question is. It might be legitimately pretty bad if it's a different set of similar opinions, but if it was among alternate responses like "Reagan was moving closer to compromises with the communists" or something of that ilk, well, that's at least less problematic, right? (Instead it'd be merely a poor multiple choice question.)
 
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Lee Fisher
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Students are asked what change in American foreign policy the speech represents, with the options including “caution resulting from earlier setbacks in international affairs,” “increased assertiveness and bellicosity,” “the expansion of peacekeeping efforts,” or “the pursuit of free trade worldwide.” Concluding that the second option is the best answer requires only reading the speech, not any actual historical knowledge of Reagan or his policies.
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Ken
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The AP history exam includes both multiple choice and "free form" or essay-style questions.

I'd also like to see the other options provided. Yes, the speech was about freedom, but "assertive" and "bellicose" aren't necessarily the worst descriptors for foreign policy towards the USSR under Reagan. Maybe it's not the way that Ms. Cheney would choose to describe that speech, but both are pretty accurate for the way that his administration approached relations. They were positively terrified of him and even thought he might launch a first strike - am I the only one that remembers the really serious flap (and serious response the USSR had) to the "we start bombing in five minutes" quip?

I'd be more concerned if they graded an essay on the subject without taking into consideration any of the other content of the speech than a single question in the multiple choice section.

If you really want to talk about revisionist history, let's discuss curriculum in some southern states that are removing a lot of content about certain founding fathers (like Jefferson and Madison) and characterizing others (Hamilton) in very unfavorable lights.
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mlcarter815 wrote:
Terwox wrote:
Drew1365 wrote:
Lynne Cheney writing in the Wall Street Journal.


Quote:
If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

—President Ronald Reagan, speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 1987


President Reagan’s challenge to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev remains one of the most dramatic calls for freedom in our time. Thus I was heartened to find a passage from Reagan’s speech on the sample of the new Advanced Placement U.S. history exam that students will take for the first time in May. It seemed for a moment that students would be encouraged to learn about positive aspects of our past rather than be directed to focus on the negative, as happens all too often.

But when I looked closer to see the purpose for which the quotation was used, I found that it is held up as an example of “increased assertiveness and bellicosity” on the part of the U.S. in the 1980s. That’s the answer to a multiple-choice question about what Reagan’s speech reflects.

No notice is taken of the connection the president made between freedom and human flourishing, no attention to the fact that within 2½ years of the speech, people were chipping off pieces of the Berlin Wall as souvenirs. Instead of acknowledging important ideas and historical context, test makers have reduced President Reagan’s most eloquent moment to warmongering.


While it's allowable to suggest that Reagan was being "assertive" and "bellicose," it is troubling to me that that is the "correct answer" on the test. It's an opinion, it might even be yours, but the trouble is it's the opinion you must hold if you wish to pass.

Frustrating.


Are the alternative choices for the question listed anywhere in the article? (I ask as there's a paywall.)


There is a trick for getting around the WSJ paywall. Copy the headline and paste it into a Google search. The article will be the first search result. Click on that link and it will bring you to the full article.


Free market at work.
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Salo sila wrote:
You are right: it is absurd to use a multiple choice question to choose the "correct" evaluation of a historical event; history teaching should stress that there are a multiplicity of views, and equip the students with a way of establishing which they think best in accordance with the sources available. This method of assessment does not promote that in any way.



That sounds dangerously like critical thinking! Which is officially verboten according to the Texas Republican Party's platform.

So back to multiple choice it is.
 
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David desJardins
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Terwox wrote:
Are the alternative choices for the question listed anywhere in the article? (I ask as there's a paywall.)


The rest of the question is not included in the column, but the test is easy to find online. (It's been online for many months; Cheney's column is recapitulating old news.)

http://media.collegeboard.com/digitalServices/pdf/ap/ap-us-h...

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.... General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
President Ronald Reagan, speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, 1987

23. Reagan’s speech best reflects which of the following developments in United States foreign policy?

(A) Caution resulting from earlier setbacks in international affairs
(B) Increased assertiveness and bellicosity
(C) The expansion of peacekeeping efforts
(D) The pursuit of free trade worldwide


I would agree with Cheney that the attitude of the people writing questions like this seems somewhat biased, although, perhaps not in exactly the way that she would say. The speech is not even particularly bellicose: the point of the speech was to argue to Gorbachev that the logical corollary to glasnost was to voluntarily reduce barriers between east and west, i.e., it was a request, there was no threat that one might associate with bellicosity. In fact, the same speech is arguably best known for Reagan's call to end the nuclear arms race and to eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. I would say it is characterized by a hope to work with the Soviet Union, not a bellicose attitude at all. Reagan in 1987 was far less bellicose than today's neoconservatives like Cheney or Bolton are today.

Of course, the "right" answer is still better than the others. But it does illustrate how bad our multiple-choice tests tend to be.
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DaviddesJ wrote:
[...](B) Increased assertiveness and bellicosity[...]
I would agree with Cheney that the attitude of the people writing questions like this seems somewhat biased, although, perhaps not in exactly the way that she would say. The speech is not even particularly bellicose [...]


On reflection, I think that the choice of the word "bellicose" is an attempt to appear impartial: "assertive" has positive connotations, so they chose a negative word to go with it; as you say, "bellicose" is a poor word to describe that speech.

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lfisher wrote:
[...] Concluding that the second option is the best answer requires only reading the speech, not any actual historical knowledge of Reagan or his policies.


Good point. It is a textbook example of a really badly set exam question.
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On reading the article, I think that while the criticism of the question is correct, the author has an equally skewed idea of what history is about: she seems to think it should be taught to promote a feeling of the "wonderfulness of us" as her criticism of the exam is less that it is a poor method of assessment and more that it promotes a too negative view of US history.

Ironically, given the exam question she decides to dispute, that gives her something in common with the Russian regime that eventually replaced the USSR . . .
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I was two when that speech was given. Kids taking that test were two when 9/11 happened.

I'll bet most of you have memories of the berlin wall. But this actual history for high school students. And they are not being trained to think super critically of the nuances of the language of the answers to that question (nor are they being programmed to think a certain way by it, they're just trying to get into a good college.) They're taught to think this way, about a historical period:

Was this about the USA military operations? No, cross off that stupid peacekeeping one.

Was this about economic policies and globalization? No, not really, that was different stuff, cross of that stupid free trade answer.

Hah, I am clever, now . . . was the usa being timid or assertive. Even if I don't remember the exact answer, I know the berlin wall fell, and the usa DID start spreading trade and engaging in military actions for three decades . . . so, we're gonna go with assertive!

Good job, they answered a question.

What percentage of highschool students can even define bellicose?

I knew it was one of Grand Admiral Thrawn's Star Destroyers so could have probably guessed something close to "aggressive," tyrannical," or "war like." I doubt many kids in my ap us class would have known a good definition for it.
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I can see a case for D as the most correct.
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windsagio wrote:
I thought a bellicose attitude towards the USSR was considered laudable in that case?
Exactly, I thought it was held up as one of the good points of Regan's presidency. The fact he was willing to stand up and confront communism.

Maybe though that is the point, the fact that people are trying to portray this positive attitude as negative.

Of course we need to see the question (tellingly absnt) so as to judge the context.
 
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Terwox wrote:
Are the alternative choices for the question listed anywhere in the article? (I ask as there's a paywall.)


The rest of the question is not included in the column, but the test is easy to find online. (It's been online for many months; Cheney's column is recapitulating old news.)

http://media.collegeboard.com/digitalServices/pdf/ap/ap-us-h...

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.... General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
President Ronald Reagan, speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, 1987

23. Reagan’s speech best reflects which of the following developments in United States foreign policy?

(A) Caution resulting from earlier setbacks in international affairs
(B) Increased assertiveness and bellicosity
(C) The expansion of peacekeeping efforts
(D) The pursuit of free trade worldwide


I would agree with Cheney that the attitude of the people writing questions like this seems somewhat biased, although, perhaps not in exactly the way that she would say. The speech is not even particularly bellicose: the point of the speech was to argue to Gorbachev that the logical corollary to glasnost was to voluntarily reduce barriers between east and west, i.e., it was a request, there was no threat that one might associate with bellicosity. In fact, the same speech is arguably best known for Reagan's call to end the nuclear arms race and to eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. I would say it is characterized by a hope to work with the Soviet Union, not a bellicose attitude at all. Reagan in 1987 was far less bellicose than today's neoconservatives like Cheney or Bolton are today.

Of course, the "right" answer is still better than the others. But it does illustrate how bad our multiple-choice tests tend to be.
"if you seek peace", I think that can be seen as a veiled threat. This is especially true given the rest of Regan's rhetoric, yes it can be seen as a symbol of a more assertiveness and bellicose us foreign policy that actively sought to confront the Soviet union.


 
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They perhaps should have listed four quotes from Reagan's speeches, including the one already mentioned, and asked which best reflects developments in United States foreign policy towards what was then the Soviet Union?

Of course, then the student would actually have to know who "Mr. Gorbachev" is...
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Stuart
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...And what "this wall" was.
 
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