[xmca] Does Gum make us Smarter? RE: FREE TOEFLR iBT Practice Test!]

From: Tony Whitson (twhitson@udel.edu)
Date: Thu Aug 11 2005 - 13:55:46 PDT

Phil writes:

I just get hot under the collar when people talk about these tests in the
same breath as talking about educational programs, especially educational


Begging everyone's indulgence: After reading that, and since it also relates
to the 'signs and tools' discussion, I felt impelled to share the following
from an article I'm writing for Don Cunningham's special issue of Semiotica:


Does Chewing Gum Make Us Smarter?


KATIE COURIC, co-host: ... a couple of studies [indicate that chewing gum]
may actually make you more intelligent. ....


JAMIE GANGEL reporting: .... according to this expert, they are...


Dr. KENNETH ALLEN (New York University School of Dentistry): Very smart


GANGEL: That's right. Two recent studies show chewing gum may make you


Dr. ALLEN: We found that the students who chewed gum did better on a written
exam than the students who did not chew gum.


GANGEL: About how much better?


Dr. ALLEN: The difference between a C+ and a B, which is a significant


GANGEL: Larger studies still need to be done, but more schools are allowing
students to chew gum, especially during tests. ... . Even if it does make
you smarter, many argue it will never look smart. But the gum makers are
prepared to try.


What's interesting for us in this Today Show segment is how
unproblematically being 'smarter' is equated with getting higher scores on
tests. If we think of test scores as indicators, or as signs of someone's
knowledge, understanding, or ability, we cannot jump to the conclusion that
the gum-chewers are smarter, without first ruling out the possibility that
chewing gum could have a direct positive effect on test performance, even
without having an effect on the smartness of those who chew gum while taking
the test. That question is not being asked here, however. This is a
discourse that does not feature test results as (potentially useful, but
also possibly questionable) signs of learning or intellectual ability, but
simply and directly as smartness itself, in its objectively documented form.


Could this just be a case of overly glib journalism--or infotainment--that
does not really exemplify serious discourse in and about education?
Unfortunately, the problem here, far from being the exception, is a
pervasive problem in the most serious discourses about education. Diverse
examples are offered in this paper as exhibits of education discourse based
on an implicit positivism, which is explained as a lived ideology dependant
on blind faith in the fundamental positivity of meaning, to the neglect--if
not denial--of the central and pervasive mediating role of sign activity, or

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