You can’t make this stuff up.
My soon-to-appear “Education à la Silhouette: The Need for Semiotically-Informed Curriculum Consciousness.” Semiotica 164, no. 1/4 (2007): pp. 235-329.) begins with a brief excerpt from the NBC Today show in which test scores are equated with “smartness” (see below), in a story on “Two recent studies [that] show chewing gum may make you smarter.”
Believe this or not: At AERA last week, in the exhibit hall, there was actually an exhibit added (after the map of exhibits was done for the program — but if it’s Chicago, and you’re Wrigley, you can do these things) on the benefits of chewing gum. Based on this research, a new Wrigley Science Institute has been established, with a Web site with pages that footnote studies such as
1 Sasaki, A. “Influence of mastication on the amount of hemoglobin in human brain tissue.” Journal of Stomatological Society. 2001 Mar; 68 (1): 72-81.
To their credit, the Wrigley’s people make more precise claims about focus, concentration, and alertness, not about test scores or “smartness” — much less their equivalence. From the Today show transcript:
To clarify the nature of the fundamental difference between positive and semiosically mediative conceptions of meaning, we begin with an example that may seem trivial, but is useful as a clear instance of an implicitly positivist lived ideology, an instance in which test scores-which might, arguably, serve as a mediative sign of ‘smartness’-are discussed, instead, as if they positively re-present ‘smartness’ in itself.
KATIE COURIC, co-host: … a couple of studies [indicate that chewing gum] may actually make you more intelligent. ….
JAMIE GANGEL reporting: …. according to this expert, they are…
Dr. KENNETH ALLEN (New York University School of Dentistry): Very smart people.
GANGEL: That’s right. Two recent studies show chewing gum may make you smarter.
Dr. ALLEN: We found that the students who chewed gum did better on a written exam than the students who did not chew gum.
GANGEL: About how much better?
Dr. ALLEN: The difference between a C+ and a B, which is a significant difference.
GANGEL: Larger studies still need to be done, but more schools are allowing students to chew gum, especially during tests. ….
Even if it does make you smarter, many argue it will never look smart. But the gum makers are prepared to try. (NBC News 2005)
What’s interesting for us in this Today Show segment is how unproblematically being ‘smarter’ is equated with getting higher scores on tests. If we think of test scores as indicators, or as signs of someone’s knowledge, understanding, or ability, we cannot jump to the conclusion that the gum-chewers are smarter, without first ruling out the possibility that chewing gum could have a direct effect on test performance, even without having an effect on the smartness of those who chew gum while taking the test. That question is not being asked, however, in this discourse. This is a discourse that does not feature test results as (potentially useful, but also possibly questionable) signs of learning or intellectual ability, but simply and directly as smartness itself, in its objectively documented form.
Added 4/24/2007: Don’t miss this! (And consider the theory of learning that’s implicit in the animated clip):