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

From: Cunningham, Donald J. (
Date: Thu Aug 11 2005 - 15:33:54 PDT

I think I've told this story before, but I'm old so I get a break.


When we lived in Australia, we were driving into northern NSW on the way
to Brisbane and stopped in a roadside park. There I discovered the
"AMAZING weather predicting rock". It was a rock, hung with a chain
from a tripod. The sign next to it read:


If this rock is dry, the weather is fine.

If this rock is wet, it is raining.

If this rock is swinging, it is windy.

If this rock is white, it is snowing.

If this rock is missing, run for your life, it is a cyclone!


How different is this from the AMAZING intelligence predicting test ?



From: []
On Behalf Of Tony Whitson
Sent: Thursday, August 11, 2005 3:56 PM
To: 'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'
Subject: [xmca] Does Gum make us Smarter? RE: FREE TOEFLR iBT Practice


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 outcomes.


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 semiosis.

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