It’s official: The Kardashians are everywhere. They just made it into the SATs – as a test question.
Many students who took the SAT this month tackled an essay prompt asking them to evaluate the societal benefits or risks of reality TV. Much like the shows themselves, this single question has sparked a ton of debate. New York Times’ “The Choice” blog has covered the story since students first started discussing the controversial question. Since then, more than 300 parents, students, and at least one test scorer have commented. Some parents deplore the test “rewarding” kids who watch TV rather than study, or say it’s unfair for kids who aren’t allowed to watch (or don’t have) TV. Others look down their nose at the base pop-culture reference. The essay prompt would be so much better, I’m sure they’d say, if it asked students to write about something more ‘acceptable,’ like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Why should the SAT be a high-brow test? Isn’t that just as exclusionary? And in a worse way?
Let’s face it: Kids taking the SAT this month were generally born between 1993 and 1997. By 1999, this kind of programming was commonplace. Their generation is more than familiar with the concept of reality TV, even if they’ve never seen a single episode.
But that’s beside the point. The point of the essay is to logically, clearly, and concisely express a point of view in writing. Without watching any trashy TV, students could make a case one way or the other from this question. (That’s my take, anyway. For the official College Board response to the controversy, check out the Washington Post blog “The Answer Sheet.”)
Consider the prompt:
“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?
What do you think: Refreshingly accessible for this generation or horribly unfair for kids without the time, permission, or means to watch TV?