Tag Archives: babcock

What’s the deal with the SAT?

Seeing as we are all freshmen at Penn State University, it is safe to assume that all of us have embarked on the dreaded journey through the SATs and/or the ACTs. I would also venture to guess that we all performed fairly well, considering Penn State is considered a somewhat selective university that admits 55% of its applicants. Congratulations! You’ve made it this far and you (probably) will never ever have to go back to the mayhem of standardized testing.


Although we all took the SAT or ACT and most likely stressed over making sure our scores were “good” enough, do any of us really know what the SAT measures? What magical property does the SAT test that lets colleges know if we are worthy of attending their university?

Many people think the SAT measures mastery of basic skills (critical reading, writing, and math), which to an extent is true. However, testing the extent of students’ content-based knowledge is more the goal of the SAT II subject tests. Many other people assume it serves as an IQ test that measures relative levels of intelligence; whatever score you earn can and will rank your intellect against everyone else’s. For instance, it is popularly accepted that a student who earns a score of 2390 is more intelligent than a student who earns a score of 1550. Depending on who you ask (ie. SAT prep companies, teachers, universities, students, etc.), you will hear that the SAT measures student motivation, how well someone has mastered test-taking strategies, developed math and reading skills, innate intelligence, neural processing speed, socioeconomic background, and more. The College Board itself seems confused as to what the SAT should measure, evidenced in the change of names from the “Scholastic Aptitude Test” to the “Scholastic Assessment Test” to just the “SAT.”

Surprisingly, the stated purpose of the SAT is not to see how well students have mastered material or to rank their intelligence. The only purpose of the SAT is to predict freshman year grades. Colleges are supposed to view the SAT as an indicator of how successful a student is likely to be in their freshman year of college.

If the SAT only predicts students’ freshman year grades (and keep in mind, the test does not measure leadership, creativity, resiliency, or any other factors that could have strong influences on student success), why is it so heavily emphasized? The test has become so important that many parents spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars sending their children to SAT prep classes which might raise their children’s scores 20-100 points, a modest difference on the normally distributed curve. sat2

Colleges are in a risky situation in terms of SAT’s: on the one hand, most selective universities wish to have a holistic admissions process that considers other, more illuminating criteria; but on the other hand, universities feel pressure to report high average SAT scores among their accepted students to demonstrate the prestige and keep a competitive edge with other top universities.

There are many problems with the SAT, so the overemphasis it receives in college admissions processes just exacerbates those. First, there is inequity in students coming from families who can afford to send their children to prep classes and those who cannot. The students who do not receive preparation for the test do not have the advantage of test-taking strategies, one-on-one tutoring and feedback, or any sort of prior familiarity that students of wealthier families possess. On top of this additional disadvantage to lower socioeconomic families, those same families are more likely to be the same ones attending weaker school districts in poorer areas. Excellent school districts can hire excellent teachers and provide their students with rigorous curricula and a plethora of educational resources. Poorer school districts tend to hire the less expensive and less qualified teachers who deliver less advanced curricula and do not possess the same resources as wealthy schools.


So although the SAT itself, may be standardized, the playing field leading up to it is definitely not. Students who come from wealthy families and wealthy school districts tend to score much higher from students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I believe that universities should require an addendum to student SAT scores that indicates the high school the student attended and the environment he or she grew up in. This, combined with the SAT score, will hopefully keep it more in perspective.   

Read the breakdown for the methods of scoring here.

Bo Burnham: what.

My favorite comedian is Bo Burnham, a 23-year old satirical singer-songwriter and stand-up comedian from Massachusetts. He recently went on tour with his comedy show, “what.” which I had the pleasure of seeing live at the State Theatre in October. Although I find all of Bo’s work to be clever, what. features material that is refreshingly deep and introspective, while still staying in the realm of comedy. I wasted a lot of time on youtube trying to pick one song to focus on, but I couldn’t bring myself to choose, so I decided to do a brief overview of a few.


The first piece I will discuss is called Left Brain Right Brain. A disembodied voice asks how Bo is doing, to which he replies that he is not doing well and is struggling to connect with people and feel happy. The voice says that he is unhappy because the left and right sides of his brain are at war. She initiates a separation of the two sides, and then the song starts. Throughout the song, the lighting changes from blue/dark to red/purple as Bo switches character from the left brain to the right brain. Bo changes his inflection, posture, and facial expressions from flat, stiff, and serious for the left brain to whimsical, flexible, and starry-eyed for the right brain. The two sides argue about Bo as well as confront situations that occur during the song (like a female walking by). At the end, they decide to work out their differences by doing something productive together– comedy. I think Left Brain Right Brain does an excellent job in capturing what makes up Bo’s personality and explaining his passion for comedy. It provides an insightful look into his character while still being hysterically funny.


The next piece I will discuss is called From God’s Perspective. This song satirizes the various customs associated with religion that Bo believes to be completely man-made. He talks as if he is God and makes fun of humans for being so caught up in their own misguided world, while missing the whole point of any religion: to love one another. A pretty deep message to come across during a comedy show, right? This song puts religion in the perspective of a removed observer, which allows the kind of distance needed to realize how silly it seems to place so much importance on the tiny nuances that infuriate so many people.



The last song I will discuss today is Repeat Stuff. This song is a satire on modern pop love songs and how they all follow the same formula. Bo brings the audience’s attention to vicious cycle inherent in pop culture where teenage girls will inhale media that makes them feel awful about themselves and then listen to pop songs that tell them they are beautiful, only to take in more media featuring the artists who wrote those songs. In addition to this message, Bo makes fun of how repetitive and vague these songs are, claiming they are repetitive because teens have to be able to know all the words after one listen and vague because every girl needs to think the songs are about her. This monotonous formula makes a lot of money, so here it will stay until it stops doing that.


I highly recommend looking up this show and other work by Bo Burnham. What. is available on netflix and on Youtube. Also, here is a link to Bo on Conan talking about the unfortunate time when Justin Bieber came to see what.

Paul Is Dead

In 1969, a lot of the world believed Paul McCartney of the Beatles to be dead. Seeing as he is still making music today, that is clearly not the case. How did the “Paul is dead” rumors begin and what “clues” did the Beatles leave for their conspiracy theory fans to obsess over? Let’s take a look.

paul is dead1

The myth held that on November 9th, 1966, Paul had gotten into a car accident and died. He was then replaced by a look-alike who stood in for all the subsequent album covers. Fans drew on evidence from song lyrics as well as album art. Here are some examples of lyrics that intimated at Paul’s demise:

  • The opening words of Got To Get You Into My Life: “I was alone, I took a ride, I didn’t know what I would find there”.
  • The line “He didn’t notice that the lights had changed” from A Day in the Life.
  • The opening line of She’s Leaving Home, which highlighted the moment of the accident: “Wednesday morning at 5 o’clock as the day begins”.
  • The suppression of the story in the news found its way into Lady Madonna: “Wednesday morning papers didn’t come”.
  • At the end of Strawberry Fields Forever, Lennon can be heard muttering “cranberry sauce”. This was misheard as “I buried Paul”.
  • “Bury my body” and “Oh untimely death” appeared in the radio feed towards the end of I Am The Walrus, taken from a BBC production of King Lear.
  • At the end of I’m So Tired, John Lennon mutters “Monsieur, monsieur, monsieur, how about another one?” When played backwards, this was interpreted by some as “Paul is dead, man, miss him, miss him”.
  • “I’m sorry that I doubted you, I was so unfair/You were in a car crash and you lost your hair” – from Ringo’s Don’t Pass Me By.
  • The line “Find me in my field of grass” in Mother Nature’s Son was taken as a reference to a cemetery.
  • There is the sound of a car crash, followed by an explosion, in Revolution 9.
  • The same song, when played backwards, is said to contain the repeated phrase “Turn me on, dead man”.
  • “And so I quit the police department”, a line from She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, supposedly referred to William Campbell’s alleged former career in Ontario, Canada (see the Sgt Pepper visual clues on the next page).

(Source: http://www.beatlesbible.com/features/paul-is-dead/2/)paul is dead2

People also drew on the album covers of Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Abbey Road to provide proof of Paul’s death. The rumors hold that the outfits of the four Beatles reveal a hint that Paul had passed: John Lennon is wearing white to symbolize a priest or spiritual figure; Ringo is next wearing black to represent an undertaker; George Harrison is fourth in line and wearing denim to symbolize the gravedigger. Several things stick out about Paul’s appearance: he is the only one not wearing shoes, his eyes are closed, and he is out of step with the other three band members. These observations were taken as a subtle clue that Paul was no longer “walking among us.” In addition, Paul is holding a cigarette in his right hand. McCartney was left-handed, so this observation led many people to believe that a look-alike had been used instead of Paul for this photoshoot.

paul is dead3


The Paul is Dead rumors largely dissipated after this edition of LIFE magazine featured pictures of Paul with his family. Paul said in this article: “Perhaps the rumour started because I haven’t been much in the press lately. I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don’t have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days.”


HAIR: the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

In April 1968, the musical HAIR took the Broadway stage by storm, leaving quite a controversial aftermath behind. “HAIR: the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” brings to life the counter-culture of the 1960’s and 70’s through the story of Claude, Sheila, Berger, and their hippie friends living in New York City during the Vietnam War.


One of the musical’s biggest criticisms is that its plot line is not very sophisticated, but I think this is what makes it so intriguing. In most musicals, the songs help to tell the story and further the dialogue along; however, in HAIR, the songs mainly focus on portraying the essence of the hippie movement: their values, morals, style, way of life. (Even if the songs did not touch on hippie sexuality, the choreography alone would suffice– not only are the dance moves suggestive and provocative, but there is a song where the entire cast stands naked and sings.) So rather than explaining events that are happening to the characters within the context of the musical, the songs explain the lifestyle that the characters are living in and illustrating the effects of a large-scale problem on a small group of people, representative of an entire movement. To understand what I mean, let’s take a look at the lyrics. (All the music was written by Galt MacDermot and Tom Pierson.)


The songs “Air” and “Hashish” establish the acceptance and widespread usage of drugs throughout hippie culture. “Hare Krishna” does this as well as introduce the influence that Eastern religions played in forming hippie ideals. Here are the lyrics to Air:

Welcome, sulfur dioxide
Hello, carbon monoxide
The air, the air
Is everywhere

Breath deep
While you sleep
Breath deep

Bless you, alcohol blood stream
Save me, nicotine lung steam
Incense, incense
Is in the air

Breath deep
While you sleep
Breath deep

Cataclysmic ectoplasm
Fallout atomic orgasm
Vapor and fume
At the stone of my tomb

Breathing like a sullen perfume
Eating at the stone of my tomb

Welcome, sulfur dioxide
Hello, carbon monoxide
The air, the air
Is everywhere

Breath deep
While you sleep
Breath deep
Deep, deep de deep

(Read more: Hair – Air Lyrics | MetroLyrics )

In the song “Where Do I Go?,” the lyrics convey the restlessness and disillusionment that led so many young people to join in on the hippie movement and continued to drive many young people to find a purpose in fighting back against what they viewed as an unjust war. (Read the lyrics here.)


In the songs “Electric Blues” and “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In),” bring to life the distrust of the government and its abuses:

[from Electric Blues]

They chain ya and brainwash ya
When you least suspect it
They feed ya mass media
The age is electric

[from Let the Sunshine In]

We starve- look at one another
Short of breath
Walking proudly in our winter coats
Wearing smells from laboratories
Facing a dying nation
Of moving paper fantasy
Listening for the new told lies
With supreme visions of lonely tunes.

(Read the rest here.)

Sadly, the 2009 revival of HAIR is no longer on Broadway, but there is a 1979 film adaptation that I enjoyed just as much! There is much more of a plot to the movie, which makes sense considering there can’t be people handing out flowers and dancing over audience members in the film version. I definitely recommend checking it out, or just listening to the music! hair3

Gifted Education

In my last Civic Issues post, I discussed tracking and the various forms it has taken on throughout history and in the present day. One specific form of tracking that I would like to look at more closely in this week’s post is gifted education. How many of you were enrolled in your elementary, middle, or high school’s gifted education program? How many of you were tested and did not get in? How many of you were never tested at all? Any one of these choices has impacted your education in one way or another, and I am sure that all of you have success and/or horror stories pertaining to it. 

Almost every state has passed legislation that requires schools to provide gifted education. However, since there is no federal law regulating it, there is a lot of discrepancy in how gifted programs are orchestrated. I could go into a lot more detail into the organization of gifted education programs, but for now, I would like to focus on the broad ethics of gifted education in general. (To read more about the organization of gifted education today, click here.)

gifted ed map


**The states in blue mandate support for gifted programs and provide funding for it. Those in red neither require nor fund gifted education.

Let’s begin with entrance to the program. Traditionally, the way to enter a school’s gifted program was solely through an IQ test. The student had to achieve at least a score of 130. The higher the score was above 130, the more gifted the school considered the child to be. In today’s time, most states require more than one method to determine if a child is in need of gifted education or not. These include student grades, achievement tests, parental advocacy, teacher referrals, etc. In Pennsylvania, school districts must “adopt and use a system to locate and identify all students within that district who are thought to be gifted and in need of specially designed instruction.” Nice and vague, right?

The legislation goes on to specify that schools must consider “multiple criteria,” but does not state how many. Examples of other criteria are: being a year or more above grade achievement level; early and measured use of creativity, leadership skills, high level thinking skills, etc; accelerated acquisition of new information and ideas. As you can see, there is a lot of room for school districts to develop unique systems.

gifted ed cartoon

I believe that the basis for placement into a gifted program should be whether or not the child is sufficiently challenged in a regular classroom environment. There are students who have IQ’s higher than 130 and who display strong leadership skills, for example, but whose needs are met in a normal classroom. School is challenging them and they will succeed without needing to be placed in the gifted education program. Other students, however, may also have an IQ over 130, but a regular classroom environment is clearly not stimulating enough for them. For example, a student who is reading complete novels when his class is still learning to read picture books will become very idle and bored. A student like this would greatly benefit from an additional program which challenge his reading skills.

Next, I would like to discuss the allocation of resources for gifted programs. Because there is no federal law mandating exactly what gifted programs should look like, the effects are extremely uneven. In some school districts, gifted education simply means taking all of the students who are not challenged in their regular classroom environments (regardless of chronological age) and putting them in a supplemental classroom where they can all engage in another activity (like computer brain games or chess). Other programs offer their middle schoolers SAT prep and practice tests so that by the time everyone takes the SATs in a few years, they have already mastered how to take the test.

Despite the inequity in gifted programs, gifted education is generally considered to be the “better stuff” of education. One reason people have such a problem with gifted education is that it takes the best resources and teachers and allocates them to a select group of people. The argument is that those resources would benefit every student. Is it fair to give the already-talented students additional materials that will advance them even further while “normal” students get left behind?

Again, I return to my policy of providing sufficient challenge for every student. Gifted education should take individuals who are clearly festering in boredom (based upon achievement tests and teacher referrals, mainly) and stimulate their minds with more individualized attention. Although every student would certainly benefit from individualized instruction, this is a far-off goal that we simply do not have the means to make a reality. If students are sufficiently challenged and are benefiting from a regular classroom environment, then we can prioritize gifted education for those who are not.

Keeping Track

Throughout our deliberation unit, the term ‘tracking’ came up frequently and it occurred to me that the definition remained rather vague. So for this week’s civic issue blog, I decided to take a look at what tracking really is.

When someone brings up the idea of tracking, people often immediately jump to think about foreign school systems. Countries such as Germany and Singapore begin separating students around sixth grade (or earlier, depending on the region). This kind of tracking is on a large scale where students take a test that places them into a high, middle, or low track. This placement determines the level of difficulty as well as the expectations for post-graduation work. This is the most common view of tracking. (**Although the focus of this blog post is not on whether these other nations’ wholesale tracking system is better or worse than our own, there is much debate over the effect it has on achievement. Click here to read about several Asian countries’ systems.)

However, tracking encompasses much more than sorting students into different schools. School districts where children progress through grade levels without taking a placement test often still track their students. To start, I would like to pose a question: how many of you took AP classes in high school? How many of you took almost exclusively AP classes? Were your electives separated by level of difficulty or did everyone mesh together regardless of ability? In elementary school, did your teacher separate you into different reading groups depending on ability? All of these are forms of tracking.


To shed some light on how the United States arrived at these various forms of tracking, let’s take a look at our educational history. Before the nineteenth century, schools were usually one-room schoolhouses where students learned from the books they had at home that they brought in or had no books and learned basic skills like reading and writing in a lecture-style class overflowing with students of all different ages. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the school system was transforming into a more hierarchical organization with certain subjects designated for certain grade levels and a narrower range of ages for students. Still, students progressed through levels of schooling based upon their mastery of the material rather than how old they were.


By the turn of the century, high school-aged students were pouring in and the schools leaned more towards separating grade levels by age and promising a single, uniform diploma for all graduates. America’s focus switched from what grade level one could attain to what level one attained within that grade level (accelerated, standard, low level classes). By the 1960’s, schools became more standardized nationally on what subjects should be taught in what order. Programs like gifted and special education came into existence as a distinct form of tracking for students with abnormal abilities. The mid-twentieth century witnessed the shift towards mass intelligence testing and schools started to adopt IQ testing as the method of separating students. **Read more about the evolution of tracking and what social and political events helped shape our system here.

So that brings us to today. (Here I will focus on schools that do not employ wholesale tracking because the norm in the United States is not to sort students into different schools based on a single test, although this does still happen.) Whereas the tracks into which schools funneled students for much of the twentieth century were rigid and limiting, today’s tracking system offers much more flexibility. IQ testing as a means to sort students no longer exists (except for placement into special and gifted education, and even then IQ is not necessarily the deciding factor). Tracking is typically done within each subject and it is academic performance and teacher recommendations that determine which track students should enter. And these decisions are almost always negotiable.


Perhaps the most important development in tracking has been the preparation these classes offer for the future. For most of American educational history, the lower tracks severely limited career paths. Although differences in the curricula still exist, all levels of classes have a focus on preparation for college. I believe this coincides with the notion that higher education is now a reality (even an expectation) for every student, not just the cream of the crop. This is an important development because it allows for every student to earn a university degree if they work hard enough, which seems essential in today’s work market.

The current controversy on tracking rests mainly on whether tracking is inequitable and unfair. Does tracking still limit learning? Should there be more guidance and rigor at every level?

This: Bukowski

San Francisco is a beautiful, pulsing city, full of culture and diversity. When I visited a few summers ago, one of my favorite areas was North Beach. Although the outdoor murals and sculptures splattered all over the buildings and sidewalks definitely played a part in that, the main reason I loved North Beach so much is a bookstore called City Lights.

city lights3

City Lights was the oasis of the Beatnik generation. Poets and authors would gather there throughout the 1950’s and 60’s to discuss controversial prose and banned literature. In the present day, City Lights remains a safe haven for the alternative and presents a labyrinth of books to venture through. I spent several hours wandering through the stacks and trying out various genres. Eventually, I came upon a sign leading me towards the poetry section. Here, I discovered one of my all-time favorite poets/authors: Charles Bukowski. I picked up a collection of his poems called “The Last Night of the Earth Poems” and fell in love.

city lights

Throughout Charles Bukowski’s fifty years of writing, he composed six novels, several books of short stories, and dozens of collections of poetry. The overwhelming majority of his writing overflows with disillusionment, anger, and (copious amounts of) alcohol. Though Bukowski is one of the most cynical authors I can think of, his work continues to charm me. I think this is due to the unapologetic realism Bukowski injects into his writing. (His weariness towards society is characteristic of the Beatnik generation, though Bukowski was not a Beatnik himself.) **For more information on Bukowski or to browse some of his work, click here.


The poem “This” illustrates Bukowksi’s style well.



self-congratulatory nonsense as the

famous gather to applaud their seeming




wonder where

the real ones are



giant cave

hides them



the deathly talentless

bow to




the fools are





wonder where

the real ones are


if there are

real ones.



self-congratulatory nonsense

has lasted



with some exceptions





is so dreary

is so absolutely pitiless



churns the gut to


shackles hope



makes little things


pulling up a shade


putting on your shoes


walking out on the street


more difficult





the famous gather to

applaud their





the fools are





you sick



Bukowski separates the “the little things” physically by moving to the next line after each one: “pulling up a shade/ or/ putting on your shoes/ or/ walking out on the street.” This is effective because it interrupts the flow of these words, making them harder to progress through. This syntactical challenge matches Bukowski’s implication that simple, mundane tasks become difficult when one has to deal with “self-congratulatory nonsense” all the time. I also like how Bukowski starts the second and third to last stanzas with “as.” The repetition of “as” allows the reader to connect the two stanzas and compare them. “The famous” become “the fools.”


Dancers Among Us

Have you ever noticed how little children can abandon all their cares and become completely absorbed in a fantasy world? Kids are completely present in whatever they are doing. They experience emotions similar to adults, but display their feelings honestly. If a child is upset, he or she will cry and whine until it is better. Although some people may find this honesty annoying, I think it is part of the beauty of childhood. Several years ago, an artist named Jordan Matter realized the same thing. He realized that adults often seem cynical, bored, or indifferent to the everyday wonders that capture children’s imagination. He wanted to find a way to portray the active presence children take in their world through art. His solutions: dancers. (To read more about how this idea came to Jordan, read here.)

jordan matter

Jordan Matter created the now-sensational book of “Dancers Among Us.” It features dozens of pictures of dancers around the world at various stages of life and various emotions. The common factor for all of the pictures is their life. Matter captured dancers truly living in whatever they were doing. For the rest of this blog post, I will show examples of these pictures and analyze their individual messages.

dance among us boardwalk

This photograph features a man and a woman under a boardwalk as the tide is rushing out and frothing around them. The woman, standing on the man’s thighs as he hinges forward, bends backward over herself to kiss him on the lips. I think this picture beautifully captures the leap of faith people take in falling in love. The water is choppy and strong; it rises around them. The water represents all the instability and risks in life that will rise around all of us. The dancers, however, are steadfast despite the tide. They are precariously posed, yet strong. This represents how loving someone requires trust that your partner will be there to hold you up, and that you will be there for him or her, too. The precariousness of their position represents that this stability comes from instability: to find support and balance from love, one must take the risk first.

dance among us scaffold


This photo features a man holding onto a scaffolding and dangling over the city street; however, he strongly holds an arabesque with a paintbrush in his hand. The quote that accompanies this photo is: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” For most rational human beings, climbing up onto a scaffolding several stories above the ground would instill fear. We are uncomfortable at such a height. The dancer, however, exudes confidence and strength. His power in this unsettling position sends the message that in order to reach such a heightened sense of accomplishment and confidence, one must take risks and “live at the end of his or her comfort zone.”

If you are interested in seeing additional pictures from the collection, click here.

Are We Getting Smarter?

In 1984, a psychologist named James Flynn published a chronological study of IQ scores. His research, based upon statistics of American citizens, indicated that our IQ scores have increased immensely over the last 100 years. From the beginning of the 20th century to today, Americans’ IQ scores have increased by three points per decade on both the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales and the Wechsler Intelligence Scales. On Raven’s Progressive Matrices intelligence test, Americans’ scores have increased by five points per decade. This trend has since taken the label of “The Flynn Effect.”

flynn effect

Psychometricians (those who study and develop intelligence tests) have updated the intelligence testing throughout the years, which means that what the tests are focusing on is different now than in the early 1900’s. To make comparison possible, what happens if we put our scores on the same scale as back in the day? If we scored our ancestors according to today’s norms, they would have had an average IQ of 50-70. If we compared ourselves to earlier intelligence test norms, the average person today would have had an IQ of 130 to 150 then.

So what is the implication of the Flynn Effect? Were our ancestors really dumb or are we all modern super-geniuses? James Flynn would argue that neither is really the case. Flynn argues that the shift in IQ is caused by new, modern cognitive demands. To understand what these cognitive demands are and where they come from, we must take a look at the historical context of intelligence tests.

1920 school


A century ago, America was undergoing industrialization and attempting to improve the economy through manufacturing and producing. People tended to be more focused on the concrete. The average citizen had a sixth-grade education when they left school to work (often in a factory), so abstract intelligence and critical thinking were irrelevant to most people. Intelligence tests thus tested crystallized intelligence (knowledge of facts such as capitals of states or names of presidents) and practical intelligence (such as what task one uses a broom for or what time of the year it would be appropriate to wear sandals).

Today, our society has progressed out of our focus on industrialization. Now, as we try to compete globally with our test scores, we tend to place value on math and science, which draw on abstract and critical thinking. This kind of thinking is “deeper” than the kind that underlies crystallized intelligence. In addition, the average citizen now completes at least a high school education, and most middle and upper class people also attend a four-year college. So the type of emphasized intelligence combined with a longer overall education contribute to our increase in test scores over time.

socratic seminar

What I take from this research is that our ancestors were not unintelligent, but their mental abilities were not as developed as most people’s are today. We have higher norms of intelligence now than we did a century ago, and our higher IQ scores reflect that change. (James Flynn published an article in 2012 that expands on his original analyses and gives examples of the types of questions seen on an intelligence test in the past versus in modern times. You can read it here.)

There are critics of Flynn’s theory, though. One critic argues that intelligence tests are supposed to test “g,” or general intelligence (the mental energy that underlies all problem-solving). SAT testing is supposedly highly-correlated with “g” and yet our scores do not reflect the same increase as they have with the other forms of intelligence testing that Flynn analyzed. He argues that the increase in scores on intelligence tests is a result of education today coaching students to perform well on paper-and-pencil tests.

Although it may be true that our schools today spend a great deal of time coaching students on how to take tests whereas they did not do that 100 years ago, I disagree that this is the sole reason for our shift in IQ scores. According to the critic, SAT scores are outside of the influence of schools’ focus on paper-and-pencil tests; however, I know I have experienced training in school on how to specifically take the SAT’s and think abstractly in a time crunch.


I believe that since our society has placed value on critical and abstract thinking, it has developed our mind to think in ways we did not think before. This new way is deeper than simply memorizing facts, and so our cognition is more developed, on average, than it was in the beginning of the 20th century.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

I hope that many of you have witnessed the beautiful cinematic perfection that is the 2007 film “Across the Universe.” If you haven’t, I highly suggest dropping whatever you are doing and watching it right now. It’s worth it. (I might be slightly biased considering the story unfolds through covers of Beatles songs, but it also stars Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson, so who can have a problem with that?)

across the universe

This movie tells the story of several protagonists who get wrapped up in the hippie counterculture movement of the 1960’s. One of the main characters is Max Carrigan (his namesake is Maxwell’s Silver Hammer off of Sgt. Pepper), who drops of out of Princeton University and moves to New York City with his friend, Jude (Hey….Jude). Since Max is no longer enrolled in college, he receives a draft notice and must report to an Army health screening. This happens through the song I Want You (She’s So Heavy). You can watch the clip of this scene here.


When Max walks into the building, he sees the famous “I Want You (for the U.S. Army)” poster. Uncle Sam sings “I want you…I want you so bad” and reaches out to him beyond the paper. I think the motion of Uncle Sam lunging forward looks as if he is fiercely trying to grab Max, making Uncle Sam seem overbearing and forceful. This aligns with the counterculture’s distrust of their “tyrannical” government, and Max trying to run away represents the counterculture’s resistance to the draft.

I want you

However, through the song, Max cannot keep running away and the army men gain increasing control over him. One brilliant way that the creators of Across the Universe demonstrate this transfer of power is through the choreography in the song. Each new recruit pairs with a current soldier. The dance begins with both men staging a fist fight (fighting for dominance), but the current soldiers eventually knock the recruits to the floor (soldiers winning control) where the recruits start army crawls and push-ups while the current soldiers stand over them, making them lift their feet from time to time. The soldiers fling the recruits over their shoulders and onto a conveyor belt that carries the recruits to the next level. I think the sequence of choreography in this scene does an excellent job representing the power struggle between draft-dodgers and the government during the Vietnam War.


Later in the song, just in time for the first time they sing “She’s so heavy,” the movie shows the new draftees marching over a barren jungle, carrying the Statue of Liberty. They are wearing only white underwear and shoes. The choice in clothing makes the recruits seem vulnerable and ill-prepared, which is another complaint the counter culture movement (and even those not affiliated with the movement) maintained about the soldiers who were sent to Vietnam. The boys carrying the State of Liberty represents these men carrying the burden of America’s choices on their backs. At this point in the song, the beat is repetitive, heavy, and slow, making the march seem exceedingly arduous. Therefore, I think this sequence accurately represents the grueling duty American soldiers were forced to carry out against their will in Vietnam.

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