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Saturday, May 15, 2010


Big Deal Over Edward Said on AP Lit Test

When the 2010 AP Literature and Composition Test Free Response Questions were released, there were initially twenty responses of a relatively mundane nature on the AP Lit teacher listserv.  Teachers were concerned over which part of the prompt on which students would mess up; i.e., "I'm sure my kids will have blown the phrase 'both alienating and enriching' and instead written on only one or the other."  Edward Said's name wasn't mentioned, nor was anyone concerned about his designation as "Palestinian-American."  Just normal teacher talk, and many agreed that the three free response questions (there is one in which students analyze a poem; one in which students analyze a prose passage, and then the third question (the "controversial" one) to which students must answer  based upon a novel, play, or epic they've read.  This is the prompt which ultimately inspired a lot of noise and obfuscation (although I admit it was a big, BIG deal for me to read the prompt for the first time; I felt as if I was flying).

"Palestinian American literary theorist and cultural critic Edward Said has written that "Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience.  It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted."  Yet, Said has also said that exile can become  "a potent, even enriching" experience.

Select a novel, play, or epic in which a character experiences such a rift and becomes cut off from "home," whether that home is a character's birthplace, family, homeland, or other special place.  Then write an essay in which you analyze how that character's experience with exile is both alienating and enriching, and how this experience illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole.  You may choose a work from the list below or one of comparable literary merit.  Do not merely summarize the plot.

The American
Angle of Repose
Another Country
As You Like It
Brave New World
Crime and Punishment
Doctor Zhivago
Heart of Darkness
Invisible Man
Jane Eyre
Jude the Obscure
King Lear
The Little Foxes
Madame Bovary
The Mayor of Casterbridge
My √Āntonia
The Odyssey
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
The Other
Paradise Lost
The Poisonwood Bible
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
The Road
Robinson Crusoe
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Sister Carrie"

My message to the AP Literature Listserv:

I have taught AP Literature and Composition for 17 years, and I am also a Palestinian-American; my father immigrated to the United States in 1951. This is my first time to comment on this board.

About a year ago, when I read that Edward Said was a recommended non-fiction writer in the AP Literature and Compostion Course description, I felt elation, affirmation and a bit less "exiled."

My students took Form B, and until I saw Form A on the College Board website last Thursday, I didn't know that a prompt inspired by Edward Said was used. I was excited, overjoyed and incredulous when I read the prompt.
Edward Said is Palestinian; Edward Said experienced exile, and Edward Said is a brilliant thinker and considered by many in academia to be one of the great intellects of the twentieth century. He is revered and respected not only by Palestinians, but also by many, many others.

The initial responses on this board on May 8 were rational and ones I would expect from teachers of literature. Much of what ensued later was mere obfuscation and noise. Dixie Dellinger, in her post in regard to "prejudice" gets to the heart of the matter.

"I don't want to be in this fray either, since it arose because of The Test, but I see it as pretty simple at the core. It's a matter of prejudice, one of the most emotional and least rational of mental constructs . . .

"We do not indulge that prejudice because of the students' feelings. We acknowledge them, but we do not validate or legitimize them. "

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