Last weekend was March SAT time. Several students in my test preparation course took the test and returned with questions about the prompt topic, which dealt with reality television. When they reiterated the topic, I was perplexed, as this question didn’t fit the usual prompt format from the College Board. I was under the impression that the purpose of this sole subjective part of the exam was to demonstrate the student’s ability to apply what he learned in a writing exercise. In the past, the essay question directed students to respond to the prompt with reference beyond their personal experiences, citing examples from literature, history, or current events. The March SAT question appears to be a new genre. Look below:
“Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular.
These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled.
How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?
Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?”
The emphasis on a response based mainly on knowledge of or immersion into popular culture is profoundly disappointing. Furthermore, it appears rather anti-intellectual. Rather than provide the opportunity for a student to develop a cogent, concise response that shows his knowledge of academic subjects like literature, the arts, and history, the question expects the student to sink to the depths of “feuilleton” (reference- H. Hesse’s Magister Ludi: the Glass Bead Game).
Is this yet another instance of the “dumbing down” of American education? How sad!