Advice on how to compose English letters to The College Board

Depending on your age and country, perhaps you remember studying for the Advanced Placement (A.P.) exams and getting a 4 or 5, and qualifying for college credits. Which calculus AP test did you take? AB or BC? One woman I started school with passed so many AP exams, that she entered college as a sophomore.

Well this week, The Forward reported on the tempest that has erupted over this year’s AP exam in English Language and Composition. Debra Nussbaum Cohen reports that the 2010 exam requires students to read a passage by the late Columbia University professor and amateur rock thrower, Edward Said.

Said is referred to as a “Palestinian American literary theorist and cultural critic” although the passage cited does not refer to the Middle East.

The late Professor Edward Said throws a stone at Israel

Professor Edward Said is quoted on the exam thus: “Exile is strangely compelling to think about, but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and its native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.”

Because The College Board, which administers the exam, does not allow students to discuss the exam’s questions until 48 hours after the test, Alyssa Blumenthal and Ayelet Pearl waited two days before they started a Facebook page criticizing the exam. The NYC area high school students founded, Protest the 2010 AP English Literature and Composition Free Response Question; it presently has 581 members.

The group administrators wrote that, “The purpose of this group is to show College Board that using politically incendiary quotes and speakers on an AP test is inappropriate (the proper setting for political discussions in education would be in the appropriate classrooms where students can openly discuss – and agree with or refute – the issue). Many argue that the College Board did not have any ulterior motive (some have argued that they specifically go out of their way to avoid controversy), then it is important to show that this quote did have implications. Others believe that using such an inherently political quote was indicative of a bias… Thanks to everyone who has been able to discuss this in a mature and respectful way.” They believe that Said was “an Anti-Semite… Anti-Israel… and an Anti-Zionist.”

Dania Darwish, a high school student at a competing NYC high school, started a Facebook group heralding the use of a quote on exile by Professor Said on the AP exam. Currently it has over a dozen members.

In the words of one Columbia student of Professor Said, “An Advanced Placement exam is strangely compelling to think about, but terrible to experience. Not scoring well is an essential sadness that can never be surmounted.”

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10 Comments

  • all college entrance exams, sat’s and ap tests are bs

    want to see what an alleged grad student at az uni wrote to norman finkelstein? he was so taken by this message that he posted it on his website

    05.13.2010
    Dear Professor Finkelstein,

    After a productive year of activism, I hope, and having the had the pleasure of hearing you speak twice in one week, I’ve decided to put some of my thoughts down in writing, for what it’s worth. Please feel free to forward or post these thoughts, if you think anyone might be interested in them.

    Best, John

    “Palestine needs its own state if there’s ever going to be justice.”

    I’m an organizer with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Arizona, and I have been actively involved in organizing around the issue since the fall of 2008 (informally involved since 2003). I have had the pleasure of visiting the anti-Apartheid weeks at UCLA and UCSD, and I have been impressed by their educational activities; I have relayed many of their excellent ideas to SJP members in Tucson. But in conversations with activists at UCLA and overhearing activists at UCSD, I feel that I must, in solidarity, offer a constructive critique, for what it’s worth.

    In my mind, the Jewish state of Israel has very little legitimacy; it exists on the lands of Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Jews (the Palestinian Jews, whose mother tongue was Palestinian-Arabic, whose culture was Palestinian); the Palestinians with Israel citizenship don’t have full rights, not to mention the Israeli military occupation of the Occupied Territories: E. Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza. But we live in a world of many illegitimate states. Is the fundamentalist tyrannical state of Saudi Arabia legitimate? The Shi‘a minority there might say otherwise. As Norman Finkelstein asks, speaking in Tucson and San Diego, is the United States ‘legitimate’ on half of Mexico? If you say you are for ending the Jewish state today and not for ending these other states, fine. But then you are giving a powerful weapon to the right-wing supporters of Israel, namely the charge of hypocrisy.

    From what I’ve observed, the counter-protesters, i.e. Hillel, and other ‘pro’-Israel groups pretend they support the ‘two-state solution’, which, of course, they don’t, otherwise they’d speak out against the US-Israel policy for blocking its implementation every year in the UN. Instead of promoting the politically possible two-state solution based on Resolution 242 and subsequent resolutions, the dominant position of the Muslim student organizers at the two California universities (or at least, the most vocal position, which I concede may not be their official position) is that there ought to be a democratic-secular Palestine where Jews and Palestinians each have one-vote. This position, while logical, is in my mind based on a false premise, namely that electoral democracy leads to equal rights. One has to look no farther than the US or Western Europe to know that parliamentary democracies do not bring about equality of rights, political, cultural, economic or otherwise.

    Does anyone think that Palestinians will ever be equal in a society where Jews control the wealth of the nation? Palestine needs its own state if there is ever going to be justice. Palestine needs its own cultural and educational institutions. Palestine needs its own currency and economic policy. Palestine has its own flag, language, and shared cultural-historical memory. What sense does it make to put two nations, with different cultural-historical narratives together in one state? True, people of conscious should mourn the loss of Palestinian lands to the Zionist settlers. But this mourning should not replace clear-minded political thinking about what should be pursued politically in order to resolve this conflict. To close, I do admire the dedication of the Muslim Student Associations at UCLA (my Alma mater) and UCSD. And I hope our disagreements never lead to a disintegration of this important movement. John Costello, Graduate Student, University of Arizona

    nuff said

  • They should learn to grow up if their goal is to end up in academia. There they’ll be fed information by people they disagree with on any given day. If Said’s quote were contextually linked to a Jewish exile, would he also be considered wrong and politically biased? The political quality of the statement is that of saying, “It is wonderful to see that the people is the sovereign in a working democracy.”

  • I’m sorry, but protesting the inclusion of this quote is completely unjustified. As much as I disagree with Said’s views on Israel, he was a very important figure in the academic world and wrote a lot of insightful and thought-provoking stuff. The fact that he may have exaggerated his Palestinian-ness doesn’t make his quote less worthy of analysis.

    Would these kids protest a quote from the Dalai Lama about exile? How about a Native American leader? Can the College Board include quotes from Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee lamenting the loss of the Civil War? Or should all quotes on the exam be about gumdrops and butterflies and other happy things?

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