Passionate arguments in support of nothing (I read the GPE (WPE) again today)

When I read the GPE, I tend to find some reason to complain about the instrument itself:

An aspect of the recent change from the WPE to the GPE is the inclusion of data in the prompt. Students are required to use the data in their essay.

In principle this could be a good thing. It might make it more of an analytic essay instead of a personal opinion essay. But I contest the data that was provided today and I’m afraid that once more, the GPE winds up being an exercise in conformity more than in critical or original thinking.

I’m not allowed to discuss the GPE topic, and so I probably shouldn’t discuss the specific data provided either, but I will say that it was supposed to prove “X”, and by my read, a careful analysis of the data largely proved the opposite of “X”. For me, the “X” premise of the prompt was bogus. Here are some possible factors leading to this bad premise:

  1. The researcher’s desire to find metrics that produced a high impact result
  2. The reporting media’s desire to parse the statistics to produce shocking results
  3. The essay prompt’s presumption that the data in fact said “X”
  4. The essay prompt’s instruction to students to explain “X”

As a result, today I read batch after batch of essays where students dutifully, and often passionately, explained “X”. Their arguments may have been good ideas for ways to make life in this world better, but they were written in support of the false (to me) premise “X”.

Once again I found myself desperately turning pages in search of an essay where a student would Reject “X”. Where a student would say I reject this premise, here’s why I think it’s wrong, and here’s what I believe we’re really looking at.

But students don’t write GPE essays to be brilliant. They write GPE essays to pass. To jump through one more hoop. To survive at the university one more day. The GPE does not encourage originality. The GPE does not encourage creativity. The GPE does not encourage critical thinking. The GPE does not encourage incisive analysis. The GPE encourages the unoffensive unbuttered toast that a surgical patient’s delicate system is allowed to have.

And that’s a problem.

This university should promote excellence first, foremost, and always. Any test that can be passed with mediocre work shouldn’t even exist. Any time we require mediocrity instead of excellence we make a CSULB degree worth just a little bit less.

On the GPE no one ever writes,

I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.

Maybe that was a bizarre and stupid thing to say. Maybe it’s good that no CSULB students write that. But it should be clear that the GPE reinforces safe thinking over original thinking.

What if the GPE were preceded by a 10 minute brainstorming session on an unrelated topic? An easy, freewheeling session where the more unique the idea, the more smiles it brings from fellow participants? Then go take the GPE.

I wonder what sorts of essays we’d get?

Donald Trump making his infamous "I could shoot somebody" statement
image: ABC News

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