I don't know about you, but as a liberal arts major, I had a lot of essay tests in college. And when the question on the test, er, in question, dealt with something I hadn't prepared for, the most attractive course of action to take was to spout off every fact I HAD memorized, regardless of its relevance (or lack thereof) to the prompt.
"What were the main catalysts for the Industrial Revolution?" Well...I don't know, but boy, let me tell you about some effects it had! Allow me to also use this space to ruminate on Weber and his "Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism"! I can, and will, tell you about Marx's theories on alienation as well! No, you didn't ask, but let me astound you with my depth and breadth of knowledge on other important matters! Doesn't that count for something?
Again, I can't speak for all teachers, but every single one I had could see through this obvious bullshit instantly. They loathed it. If you didn't answer what was asked, regardless of how many pages or how eloquently you sidestepped, no credit was granted. Your scholarly studies of the Civil War, while impressive, got you nowhere when being told to describe Dutch representations of Maori culture in the 17th century.
And now a question you're probably asking: why bring up these cringe-inducing moments we've most likely all experienced? I do it because Sarah Palin, our potential next vice president, pulled this same tired trick, the exact one so many unprepared college students have exhausted, at last Thursday's debate. The only difference? She got away with it. "When she was asked to respond to Joe Biden’s critique of the McCain health care plan, she announced: 'I would like to respond about the tax increases,' cheerfully ignoring the fact that tax increases had never been mentioned," (from Talking in Points). I honestly lost count trying to keep track of how many questions Palin proudly declared she would not answer, instead using that precious time to repeat one of her canned, carefully memorized talking points about energy or tax cuts. Chris Matthews likened it to watching a spelling bee. So much for the spirit of debate.
With even the most forgiving (and apathetic) of teaching assistants, Palin's responses to Gwen Ifill's questions and Joe Biden's rebuttals would have gotten her a failing grade. Yet some people, mainly conservatives, deemed her Thursday's clear winner by virtue of the fact she performed "better than expected". All this does is reveal how low our expectations really were.
I don't blame Ifill. She has a book on Obama coming out, and even though both the McCain and Obama camps knew this and still approved her as VP moderator, Republicans were no doubt watching her like a hawk for traces of negative bias towards Palin. They, of course, only brought up Ifill's potential conflict of interest after Palin's especially abysmal performance with Katie Couric. Because of this, Ifill had to be careful to treat both candidates exactly the same, even though one answered her questions and the other did not. I wish they had picked someone more decidedly neutral so that Palin could have been appropriately grilled when failing, as she so often did, to answer a question.
So here's mine: what does it say about this country when our standards for college students are more rigorous than the ones we hold for our potential next vice president?