Grading the 2010 AP English Language Exam: The Prompt
Educational Testing Services— ETS—administers two Advanced Placement (AP) English exams, one that assesses students’ ability to write (English Language) and one that assesses student knowledge of famous works of literature (English Literature). On the appointed day in May every year high school students across the country line up to take these exams, hoping that their score, on a 1-5 scale, will allow them to test out of freshman composition in their college of choice; for most students this means that they need to score at least a 3 on the exam. Once students have completed the exam, ETS assembles the exams and transports them to a single location, where graders from across the country will assemble to read the essay portion. This year, that assembly took place in Louisville, Kentucky, where between 1,100 and 1,200 educational professionals—ranging from high school teachers to adjunct faculty at community colleges to graduate students to tenured faculty at Research I universities—descended to grade more than 350,000 English Language exams.
The AP English Language exam includes a series of multiple choice questions and three essay questions. Each essay question asks students to do something slightly different: the first asks students to synthesize and summarize three different sources of information; the second asks students to analyze the language of a selected passage of prose, usually a speech or persuasive essay; and the third asks students to construct an argument. Students write all three essays by hand in an exam booklet, and their final score (1-5) is determined by the averaging the score assigned to each essay and the multiple choice questions.
While every student writes three essays, a different grader reads each essay (to make sure that no student’s score is overly dependent on a single perspective) and each grader is assigned to a specific question. When I arrived at the first day of grading and registered as a reader, on Friday, June 11, 2010, I was informed that I would be grading essay question three: argument. I had already read the prompt for each of the essay questions as part of my preparation, but before I arrived in the cavernous hall that would be my home for the next week I re-read the prompt:
“In his 2004 book, Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton argues that the chief aim of humorists is not merely to entertain but ‘to convey with impunity messages that might be dangerous or impossible to state directly.’ Because society allows humorists to say things that other people cannot or will not say, de Botton sees humorists as serving a vital function in society. Think about the implications of de Botton’s view of the role of humorists (cartoonists, stand-up comics, satirical writers, hosts of television programs, etc.). Then write an essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies de Botton’s claim about the vital role of humorists. Use specific, appropriate evidence to develop your position.”
Rereading the prompt, I was excited—this was, I thought, clearly the most interesting of the three questions, and I looked forward to reading essays about funny people, events, and art for the next week. What I didn’t consider was the fact that many of my students would not understand the prompt at a basic level. I would definitely be laughing as I read these essays over the next week, but most of laughter would be prompted by the unintentional comedy of students’ misunderstandings and misstatements.
The following are excerpts from actual exams; each excerpt is in italics, with my commentary in normal typeface.
The first problem that students seemed to have was coming to terms with the definition of the word “humorist”—despite the root word “humor” and the many examples provided in the prompt. For instance, I had students who wrote:
• Humorist hmm . . . what is your opinion about this people? Most likely your thinking that they are humans who work to make other people laugh. Yes. You’re right. I was thinking that they are humans.
• [Humorists’] feelings are usually pure, unadulterated and unedited, stripped away of stupid niceties and fluffy language, the voice of humorists become the voice of reason. Um . . . right. This is how I’ve always thought of Robin Williams—the pure and unadulterated voice of reason.
• Although many satirists and comedians receive a lump sum of money after a days work, the majority do so out of compassion, and love for the people. So now humorists are both the voice of reason AND Christ figures? Who also seem to have a lot in common with Judas? I’m confused.
• Humorist can basically be your second parents. Methinks this student watched Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy one too many times . . .
• For example, the founding fathers of the United States would be considered as humorists. You know, I always thought that Washington was a funny guy.
• Humorists are emotionless and do not care for other people’s feelings. Of course not—that’s why they spend their lives making other people laugh.
• Commercials are also most of the time humorist. Um . . . you mean humorous?
• Humorists play a vital role in society along with all the other organisms in today’s world. Yup, humorists and gut bacteria—vital organisms.
• Pearl in The Scarlet Letter is a humorist. Yes, I always thought that Nathaniel’s novel about adultery, sin, and the Puritan culture of shame was hilarious. This, however, was only my second favorite Scarlet Letter reference—I couldn’t stop myself from laughing out loud when I read about the humorous circumstances of “Heather” (instead of Hester) and “Ruby” (instead of Pearl). At least the student remembered that the daughter’s name was a precious stone of some sort.
The second problem that students had with the prompt revolved around their understanding of who Alain de Botton was and what they needed to say about him. I had students who wrote:
• Botton will make the audience to be active because of his humor. He will not bore them and will not make them fall asleep. The purpose of being like Botton is to aim what people wants to hear. Me too. I want to be funny like de Botton too.
• Maybe Alain also believes in a better tomorrow; one where presidents can be safe from flying shoes or where chickens can cross roads without being questioned about their motives. Anonymous student, this is a tomorrow that I want to live in.
• Mark Twain and Alain de Botton sound similar to me. Me too. But please, continue: As soon as I read that Botton is a humorist writter Twain instintly popped into my head and that is a excellent writter. Yes, Twain writtes almost as well as you do. Botton may have been close to Twain, they may have been best friends. Well maybe they would have been friends—if they had lived in the same century!
• If people like Botton don’t like it then boo-hoo build a bridge, get over it! The world doesn’t revolve around you. People like him are so stupid. I hate people like him. Yikes! I hope they never use my name in an AP prompt.
The last prevalent misunderstanding of the prompt involved a failure to comprehend the word “impunity.” I could have pulled any number of samples just like these:
• Alain de Botton is against humorists things because they impunity message. Okay . . . misunderstanding the word impunity clearly wasn’t the only problem here.
• Do some of the things we hear, see, or read give us impunitive messages that can be harmful or dangerous? This one was fun to think about—how would you define impunitive?
Go on to Part 2: The Rubric
Stephen P. H. Butler Leacock, FRSC (30 December 1869 – 28 March 1944) was a Canadian teacher, political scientist, writer, and humorist. Between the years 1915 and 1925, he was the best-known English-speaking humorist in the world. He is known for his light humour along with criticisms of people's follies. The Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour was named in his honour.
Stephen Leacock was born in Swanmore, a village near Southampton in southern England. He was the third of the eleven children born to (Walter) Peter Leacock (b.1834), who was born and grew up at Oak Hill on the Isle of Wight, an estate that his grandfather had purchased after returning from Madeira where his family had made a fortune out of plantations and Leacock's Madeira wine, founded in 1760. Stephen's mother, Agnes, was born at Soberton, the youngest daughter by his second wife (Caroline Linton Palmer) of the Rev. Stephen Butler, of Bury Lodge, the Butler estate that overlooked the village of Hambledon, Hampshire. Stephen Butler (for whom Leacock was named), was the maternal grandson of Admiral James Richard Dacres and a brother of Sir Thomas Dacres Butler, Usher of the Black Rod. Leacock's mother was the half-sister of Major Thomas Adair Butler, who won the Victoria Cross at the siege and capture of Lucknow.
Peter's father, Thomas Murdock Leacock J.P., had already conceived plans eventually to send his son out to the colonies, but when he discovered that at age eighteen Peter had married Agnes Butler without his permission, almost immediately he shipped them out to South Africa where he had bought them a farm. The farm in South Africa failed and Stephen's parents returned to Hampshire, where he was born. When Stephen was six, he came out with his family to Canada, where they settled on a farm near the village of Sutton, Ontario, and the shores of Lake Simcoe. Their farm in the township of Georgina in York County was also unsuccessful, and the family was kept afloat by money sent from Leacock's paternal grandfather. His father became an alcoholic; in the fall of 1878, he travelled west to Manitoba with his brother E.P. Leacock (the subject of Stephen's book My Remarkable Uncle, published in 1942), leaving behind Agnes and the children.
Stephen Leacock, always of obvious intelligence, was sent by his grandfather to the elite private school of Upper Canada College in Toronto, also attended by his older brothers, where he was top of the class and was chosen as head boy. Leacock graduated in 1887, and returned home to find that his father had returned from Manitoba. Soon after, his father left the family again and never returned. There is some disagreement about what happened to Peter Leacock; some suggest that he went to live in Argentina, while other sources indicate that he moved to Nova Scotia and changed his name to Lewis.
In 1887, seventeen-year-old Leacock started at University College at the University of Toronto, where he was admitted to the Zeta Psi fraternity. His first year was bankrolled by a small scholarship, but Leacock found he could not return to his studies the following year because of financial difficulties. He left university to work as a teacher—an occupation he disliked immensely—at Strathroy, Uxbridge and finally in Toronto. As a teacher at Upper Canada College, his alma mater, he was able simultaneously to attend classes at the University of Toronto and, in 1891, earn his degree through part-time studies. It was during this period that his first writing was published in The Varsity, a campus newspaper.
Academic and political life
Disillusioned with teaching, in 1899 he began graduate studies at the University of Chicago under Thorstein Veblen, where he received a doctorate in political science and political economy. He moved from Chicago, Illinois to Montreal, Quebec, where he eventually became the William Dow Professor of Political Economy and long-time chair of the Department of Economics and Political Science at McGill University.
He was closely associated with Sir Arthur Currie, former commander of the Canadian Corps in the Great War and principal of McGill from 1919 until his death in 1933. In fact, Currie had been a student observing Leacock's practice teaching in Strathroy in 1888. In 1936, Leacock was forcibly retired by the McGill Board of Governors—an unlikely prospect had Currie lived.
Leacock was both a social conservative and a partisan Conservative. He opposed giving women the right to vote, and had a mixed record on non-Anglo-Saxon immigration, having written both in support of expanding immigration beyond Anglo-Saxons prior to World War II and in opposition to expanding Canadian immigration beyond Anglo Saxons near the close of World War II. He was a staunch champion of the British Empire and the Imperial Federation Movement and went on lecture tours to further the cause. Despite his conservatism, he was a staunch advocate for social welfare legislation and wealth redistribution.
Although Prime Minister R.B. Bennett asked him to be a candidate for the 1935 Dominion election, Leacock declined the invitation. Nevertheless, he would stump for local Conservative candidates at his summer home.
Early in his career, Leacock turned to fiction, humour, and short reports to supplement (and ultimately exceed) his regular income. His stories, first published in magazines in Canada and the United States and later in novel form, became extremely popular around the world. It was said in 1911 that more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada. Also, between the years 1915 and 1925, Leacock was the most popular humorist in the English-speaking world.
A humorist particularly admired by Leacock was Robert Benchley from New York. Leacock opened correspondence with Benchley, encouraging him in his work and importuning him to compile his work into a book. Benchley did so in 1922, and acknowledged the nagging from north of the border.
Near the end of his life, the American comedian Jack Benny recounted how he had been introduced to Leacock's writing by Groucho Marx when they were both young vaudeville comedians. Benny acknowledged Leacock's influence and, fifty years after first reading him, still considered Leacock one of his favorite comic writers. He was puzzled as to why Leacock's work was no longer well known in the United States.
During the summer months, Leacock lived at Old Brewery Bay, his summer estate in Orillia, across Lake Simcoe from where he was raised and also bordering Lake Couchiching. A working farm, Old Brewery Bay is now a museum and National Historic Site of Canada. Gossip provided by the local barber, Jefferson Short, provided Leacock with the material which would become Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912), set in the thinly-disguised Mariposa.
Although he wrote learned articles and books related to his field of study, his political theory is now all but forgotten. Leacock was awarded the Royal Society of Canada's Lorne Pierce Medal in 1937, nominally for his academic work.
"The proper punishment for the Hohenzollerns, and the Hapsburgs, and the Mecklenburgs, and the Muckendorfs, and all such puppets and princelings, is that they should be made to work; and not made to work in the glittering and glorious sense, as generals and chiefs of staff, and legislators, and land-barons, but in the plain and humble part of labourers looking for a job. (Leacock 1919: 9)”
Memorial Medal for Humour
The Stephen Leacock Associates is a foundation chartered to preserve the literary legacy of Stephen Leacock, and oversee the annual award of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. It is a prestigious honour, given to encourage Canadian humour writing and awarded for the best in Canadian humour writing. The foundation was instituted in 1946 and awarded the first Leacock Medal in 1947. The presentation occurs in June each year at the Stephen Leacock Award Dinner, at the Geneva Park Conference Centre in Orillia, Ontario.
Leacock was born in England in 1869. His father, Peter Leacock, and his mother, Agnes Emma Butler Leacock, were both from well-to-do families. The family, eventually consisting of eleven children, immigrated to Canada in 1876, settling on a one hundred-acre farm in Sutton, Ontario. There Stephen was home-schooled until he was enrolled in Upper Canada College, Toronto. He became the head boy in 1887, and then entered the University of Toronto to study languages and literature. Despite completing two years of study in one year, he was forced to leave the university because his father had abandoned the family. Instead, Leacock enrolled in a three-month course at Strathroy Collegiate Institute to become a qualified high school teacher.
His first appointment was at Uxbridge High School, Ontario, but he was soon offered a post at Upper Canada College, where he remained from 1889 through 1899. At this time, he also resumed part-time studies at the University of Toronto, graduating with a B.A. in 1891. However, Leacock's real interests were turning towards economics and political theory, and in 1899 he was accepted for postgraduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he earned his PhD in 1903
In 1900 Leacock married Beatrix Hamilton, niece of Sir Henry Pellatt, who had built Casa Loma, the largest castle in North America. In 1915, after 15 years of marriage, the couple had their only child, Stephen Lushington Leacock. While Leacock doted on the boy, it soon became apparent that "Stevie" suffered from a lack of growth hormone. Growing to be only four feet tall, he had a love-hate relationship with Leacock, who tended to treat him like a child. Beatrix died in 1925 due to breast cancer.
Leacock was offered a post at McGill University, where he remained until he retired in 1936. In 1906, he wrote Elements of Political Science, which remained a standard college textbook for the next twenty years and became his most profitable book. He also began public speaking and lecturing, and he took a year's leave of absence in 1907 to speak throughout Canada on the subject of national unity. He typically spoke on national unity or the British Empire for the rest of his life.
Leacock began submitting articles to the Toronto humor magazine Grip in 1894, and soon was publishing many humorous articles in Canadian and American magazines. In 1910, he privately published the best of these as Literary Lapses. The book was spotted by a British publisher, John Lane, who brought out editions in London and New York, assuring Leacock's future as a writer. This was confirmed by Literary Lapses (1910), Nonsense Novels (1911) – probably his best books of humorous sketches—and by the more sentimental favorite, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912). John Lane introduced the young cartoonist Annie Fish to illustrate his 1913 book Behind the Beyond. Leacock's humorous style was reminiscent of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens at their sunniest—for example in his even and satisfying My Discovery of England (1922). However, his Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914) is a darker collection that satirizes city life. Collections of sketches continued to follow almost annually at times, with a mixture of whimsy, parody, nonsense, and satire that was never bitter.
Leacock was enormously popular not only in Canada but in the United States and Britain. In later life, Leacock wrote on the art of humor writing and also published biographies of Twain and Dickens. After retirement, a lecture tour to western Canada led to his book My Discovery of the West: A Discussion of East and West in Canada (1937), for which he won the Governor General’s Award. He also won the Mark Twain medal and received a number of honorary doctorates. Other nonfiction books on Canadian topics followed and he began work on an autobiography. Leacock died of throat cancer in Toronto in 1944. A prize for the best humour writing in Canada was named after him, and his house at Orillia on the banks of Lake Couchiching became the Stephen Leacock Museum.
Death and tributes
Predeceased by Trix (who had died of breast cancer in 1925), Leacock was survived by son Stevie (Stephen Lushington Leacock (1915–1974). In accordance with his wishes, after his death from throat cancer, Leacock was buried in the St George the Martyr Churchyard (St. George's Church, Sibbald Point), Sutton, Ontario
Shortly after his death, Barbara Nimmo, his niece, literary executor and benefactor, published two major posthumous works: Last Leaves (1945) and The Boy I Left Behind Me (1946). His physical legacy was less treasured, and his abandoned summer cottage became derelict. It was rescued from oblivion when it was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1958 and ever since has operated as a museum called the Stephen Leacock Museum National Historic Site.
In 1947, the Stephen Leacock Award was created to meet the best in Canadian literary humour. In 1969, the centennial of his birth, Canada Post issued a six-cent stamp with his image on it. The following year, the Stephen Leacock Centennial Committee had a plaque erected at his English birthplace and a mountain in the Yukon was named after him.
A number of buildings in Canada are named after Leacock, including the Stephen Leacock Building at McGill University, Stephen Leacock Public School in Ottawa, a theatre in Keswick, Ontario, and a school Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute in Toronto.
Two Leacock short stories have been adapted as National Film Board of Canada animated shorts by Gerald Potterton: My Financial Career and The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones.Sunshine Sketches, based on Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, aired on CBC Television in 1952–1953; it was the first Canadian broadcast of an English-language dramatic series, as it debuted on the first night that television was broadcast in Toronto. In 2012, a screen adaptation based on Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town was aired on CBC Television to celebrate both the 75th anniversary of the CBC and the 100th anniversary of Leacock's original collection of short stories. The recent screen adaptation featured Gordon Pinsent as a mature Leacock.
- Literary Lapses (1910)
- Nonsense Novels (1911)
- Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912)
- Behind the Beyond (1913) - illustrated by Annie Fish.
- Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914)
- Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy (1915)
- Further Foolishness (1916)
- Essays and Literary Studies (1916)
- Frenzied Fiction (1918)
- The Hohenzollerns in America (1919)
- Winsome Winnie (1920)
- My Discovery of England (1922)
- College Days (1923)
- Over the Footlights (1923)
- The Garden of Folly (1924)
- Winnowed Wisdom (1926)
- Short Circuits (1928)
- The Iron Man and the Tin Woman (1929)
- Laugh With Leacock (1930)
- The Dry Pickwick (1932)
- Afternoons in Utopia (1932)
- Hellements of Hickonomics in Hiccoughs of Verse Done in Our Social Planning Mill (1936)
- Model Memoirs (1938)
- Too Much College (1939)
- My Remarkable Uncle (1942)
- Happy Stories (1943)
- How to Write (1943)
- Last Leaves (1945)
- My lost Dollar
- My Financial Career
- Elements of Political Science (1906)
- Baldwin, Lafontaine, Hincks: Responsible Government (1907)
- Practical Political Economy (1910)
- Adventurers of the Far North (1914)
- The Dawn of Canadian History (1914)
- The Mariner of St. Malo: a chronicle of the voyages of Jacques Cartier (1914)
- The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice (1920)
- Mackenzie, Baldwin, Lafontaine, Hincks (1926)
- Economic Prosperity in the British Empire (1930)
- The Economic Prosperity of the British Empire (1931)
- Humour: Its Theory and Technique, with Examples and Samples (1935)
- The Greatest Pages of American Humor (1936)
- Humour and Humanity (1937)
- Here Are My Lectures (1937)
- My Discovery of the West (1937)
- Our British Empire (1940)
- Canada: The Foundations of Its Future (1941)
- Our Heritage of Liberty (1942)
- Montreal: Seaport and City (1942)
- Canada and the Sea (1944)
- While There Is Time (1945)
- My Lost Dollar
- Mark Twain (1932)
- Charles Dickens: His Life and Work (1933)
- The Boy I Left Behind Me (1946)
- "Lord Ronald … flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions." — Nonsense Novels, "Gertrude the Governess", 1911
- "Professor Leacock has made more people laugh with the written word than any other living author. One may say he is one of the greatest jesters, the greatest humorist of the age." — A. P. Herbert
- "Mr Leacock is as 'bracing' as the seaside place of John Hassall's famous poster. His wisdom is always humorous, and his humour is always wise." — Sunday Times
- "He is still inimitable. No one, anywhere in the world, can reduce a thing to ridicule with such few short strokes. He is the Grock of literature." — Evening Standard
- "I detest life-insurance agents: they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so."
- "Hockey captures the essence of Canadian experience in the New World. In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive."[this quote needs a citation]
- ^ abLynch, Gerald. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation.
- ^Inter. Simple Eng. (Fd. Board, Part II) (2012). My Financial Career. Lahore: Simple publishing. p. 569.
- ^"National Library of Canada: Stephen Leacock". Retrieved 10 December 2017.
- ^My Uncle Stephen Leacock – Elizabeth Kimball, 1983
- ^ ab"stephenleacock.png". The Leacock Associates.
- ^ abcde"Disclaimer – Electronic Collection". lac-bac.gc.ca.
- ^McGarvey, James A. "Pete" (1994). The Old Brewery Bay: A Leacockian Tale. Orillia, Ontario: Dundurn Press Ltd. p. 7. ISBN 1-55002-216-4.
- ^Leacock, Stephen; Bowker, Alan (2004). On the Front Line of Life: Stephen Leacock : Memories and Reflections, 1935–1944. Dundurn Press Ltd. p. 13. ISBN 1-55002-521-X.
- ^Moyles, R. G. (1994). Improved by Cultivation: An Anthology of English-Canadian Prose to 1914. Broadview Press. p. 195. ISBN 1-55111-049-0.
- ^Anobile, Richard J., The Marx Bros. Scrapbook, New York, Outlet, 1973
- ^"Stephen Leacock Museum". leacockmuseum.com.
- ^ abMark Bryant, ‘Fish, (Harriet) Annie (1890–1964)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 accessed 7 April 2017
- ^"Stephen Leacock Building". McGill University. Retrieved March 20, 2017.
- ^National Film Board of Canada. "My Financial Career". NFB.CA.
- ^"National Film Board of Canada". nfb.ca.
- ^"Canadian Communications Foundation – Fondation des Communications Canadiennes". broadcasting-history.ca. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
- ^"Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town". Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. 2 March 2012.
- ^Leacock, Stephen (1914-01-01). The mariner of St. Malo : a chronicle of the voyages of Jacques Cartier. Toronto : Glasgow Brook.