April 21, 2012

"The Pineapple And The Hare: Can You Answer Two Bizarre State Exam Questions?"

"A story and two questions on the New York state English exam taken by eighth-graders this week has stumped many — including Jeopardy! star Ken Jennings."

The story was written by the amusing author Daniel Pinkwater, but he didn't write it for the exam, and he didn't write the exam questions.

The story is funny and absurd on its own, but the questions, asked of poor students who are struggling not to appreciate the absurd but to get the answers right, are truly evil:
1. Why did the animals eat the pineapple?
a. they were annoyed
b. they were amused
c. they were hungry
d. they wanted to

2. Who was the wisest?
a. the hare
b. moose
c. crow
d. owl
No decent educator would torment students this way. It's an abuse of humor. The teachers should not be amusing themselves, and I feel sorry for the kids who may take a hatred of silliness forward into their newly gloomy lives.


Ambrose said...

Taking tests is an important learned skill. Students will be asked dumb questions their whole lives, nothing wrong with starting young. I think they ate the pineapple because they wanted to and no one seemed wise, but I 'd vote for the moose.

Saint Croix said...

1) they were annoyed.
2) owl.

John Lynch said...

There is no owl.

I might remember that as a saying for when something similar comes up.

traditionalguy said...

This has something to do with the Scott Walker reforms and the re-call race.

When ever animals are convinced a pineapple has something up its sleeve and start chanting the wrong message to trick people, then the Madison Progressives are showing off again. But I cannot figure this one out yet.

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

The answers are D (they wanted to) and A (the hare).

This is a wicked test, but I think it does have a point. Can the student reason from information he's given to read, to exclude nonsense (like the ninja) and to refrain from reading more into the text than is presented. For example, the student is asked who is the wiser and given four choices. Of the four, the owl wasn't even mentioned, so it's out. The crow makes an observation (pineapples can't move) but reasons illogically from that observation. The moose merely observes that pineapple have no sleeves, and lets that fact confuse him regarding a common turn of phrase. The hare, however, makes a choice and gains a some toothpaste for a little effort. Why did they eat the pineapple? The only answer that can be has any support of truth given the text is D, they wanted to, because the only way that's false is that they were compelled to eat it against their will (no support in the text) or they ate it accidentally (again, no support).

John Lynch said...

The second story makes sense.

The animals eat the pineapple because it made them all look stupid- not its fault, but their own for believing a pineapple could beat a hare. The pineapple is a scapegoat.

The moral is that people can talk themselves into believing anything, and sometimes the obvious is the truth (the same principle I try to push here in the comments section).

The hare simply ran the race as he was supposed to, without overthinking it. So, he's the wisest.

edutcher said...

Agree with Saint for 1.

None of the above for 2.

And, yeah, it's nasty.

There was a prof when I was going for my CS degree that I learned to avoid from all the horror stories the other people told of him. A professional student, he enjoyed showing everybody how much smarter he was, rather than teaching them what he knew.

The Blonde had a similar experience with one of her profs when she was getting her BSN.

As Ann says, "No decent educator would torment students this way".

David said...

It's Bush's fault because no child left behind is a crock.

Bender said...

1. Why did the animals eat the pineapple?

Because they wanted to.

Why does anyone do what he does?

Because he wants to -- he does so by free choice of the will. There is no other cause, no one makes or forces anyone to do it -- we are not puppets, we are actors possessed of free will.

2. Who was the wisest?

The owl.

Yeah, the owl. The owl is always the wisest in fokelore. So what if the owl wasn't even there?

Bender said...

A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?


Why did the state examiners include this story and these questions in this test????

Any guesses?

BECAUSE THEY WANTED TO. It is no harder than that.

Lem said...

There was a post here some time ago.. I could look but it would take too much time and not add anything to my point.. the post about a judge who threw out a case on the grounds.. or something to the effect.. that courts don't exist to solve peoples problems.

Is it withing pedagogical bounds to teach to the very young that sometimes there is no right or wrong answer?

That would go against everything we hold dear.. to teach that truth is irrelevant.

Bender said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

From one article on this:

Scarsdale Middle School Principal Michael McDermott said the question has been used before and "confused students in six or seven different states."

And he had a quick answer to the question of who is the wisest: "Pearson for getting paid $32 million for recycling this crap."

Bender said...

The symbol for Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, was the owl.

From Wikipedia --

The modern West generally associates owls with wisdom. This link goes back at least as far as Ancient Greece, where Athens, noted for art and scholarship, and Athena, Athens' patron goddess and the goddess of wisdom, had the owl as a symbol.[39] Marija Gimbutas traces veneration of the owl as a goddess, among other birds, to the culture of Old Europe, long pre-dating Indo-European cultures.

obladioblada said...

" David said...
It's Bush's fault because no child left behind is a crock.

4/21/12 9:16 PM"

Do you mean the bipartisan NCLB co-authored by Teddy Kennedy or was there another one?

(Proving I'm not a robot for the 5th time. If only the images were intelligible.)

wyo sis said...

Ask Romney and then ask Obama. When the election is over the answers the winner chose are the correct ones.

KLDAVIS said...

I don't understand what the big deal is here. The answers are pretty straight forward. This is a reading comprehension test, it's not hard. I find Althouse's objections to be particularly unconvincing, as she is constantly prodding her interlocutors to read her words more closely.

Saint Croix said...

Scroll down, because there's another version of the story that was actually given to the kids.

It's interesting to compare the two stories. My answers are different, depending on the story.

In the second story, the hare is pompous. So he's not the smartest. And there's an owl who says, "pineapples don't have sleeves."

And the end of the story gives us the moral of the story: "Pineapples don't have sleeves."

Since the owl gives us the moral, he's the smartest.

Mary Beth said...

Because they wanted to.

The hare. He accepted a challenge and completed it while others just dithered around.

Bender said...

there's an owl who says, "pineapples don't have sleeves"

If the owl did say that, then despite the mythological reputation, that was a pretty dim-witted owl not to know that that was a figure of speech, and not meant to be taken literally.

But let us reason the matter further. What is a sleeve? It is a protective covering.

Do pineapples have a protective covering?

Pogo said...

No one ate dog, right?

Canuck said...

"No decent educator would torment students this way. It's an abuse of humor. The teachers should not be amusing themselves..."

K-12 teachers don't write these tests. The corps. like Pearson hire people to do that. I wouldn't call the test-writers educators.

Canuck said...

This story puts me in mind of the time I read a bit of a Lemony Snicket book to my niece.

She looked befuddled. Not ready for irony or the absurd. So we moved over to Harry Potter and all was well.

clint said...

The animals ate the pineapple because they wanted to. They wanted to because they were hungry and annoyed, and not at all amused.

The owl is clearly the wisest, because it is not mentioned at all in a story where each of the other animals is shown to be foolish. Really, lining up for a footrace against a pineapple and actually running a marathon solo? And some here think the rabbit is the wisest?

bgates said...

There is no other cause, no one makes or forces anyone to do it -- we are not puppets, we are actors possessed of free will.

And that's how the income tax is based on voluntary compliance.

David said...

The owl was wisest because it stayed out of the fiasco entirely.

Penny said...

Cheers to whimsical thinkers everywhere!

Penny said...

Sometimes you gotta go with the flow!

rcommal said...

Oh, just shoot me now; it'd be what used to be called a mercy.

Penny said...

As in, "Just beggin' you for mercy! Why don't you release me?"

Great tune, rcommal.

Better yet, it's good to dance to, Dick Clark!

Penny said...


You there, honey?

Penny said...

Know what I like about you, rcommal?

You read a little bit, you dance a little bit.

Penny said...

Course, what if I said your Dick Clark Clark Bar was showing?

Revenant said...

If the second version of the story is correct, I think it is fine as a test question.

Zach said...

The *original* original version of the story is by Daniel Pinkwater, and can be found at

It's pretty straightforward. A eggplant challenges a rabbit to a race, and everybody bets on the eggplant because they figure there has to be a catch. When they race, the rabbit wins easily, and the disappointed betters eat the eggplant.

Moral of the story: don't bet on the eggplant.

The test version reads like someone played MadLibs with the original story. Ninjas? Toothpaste? The rewritten story is overly whimsical, and hides the punchline.

On a deeper level, I wonder if the bizzarre test version of the story results from the desire to completely deracialize and desexualize any passage used in a standardized text. As rewritten, you could replace hares and pineapples and toothpaste and ninjas with any noun, and the story would make as much or as little sense as before. But if you wrote a comprehensible version, the rabbit would be either a boy or a girl, and someone would get mad. Or a rabbit would invoke Bre'er Rabbit, and someone would get mad. Or an eggplant would be a suburban vegetable, purchased by two-parent households with stable jobs, and *everyone* would get mad.

rhhardin said...

It seems to be derivative from Thurber's Fales for Our Time.

rhhardin said...

Fables for Our Time

Rusty said...

The grownups fuck everything up.

Mr. Sheufelt said...

"The teachers should not be amusing themselves, and I feel sorry for the kids who may take a hatred of silliness forward into their newly gloomy lives."

I believe you meant to say state bureaucrats who write standardized tests should not be amusing themselves. In case you weren't aware, we teachers are now judged on our ability to prepare kids for these tests (I teach 7th and 8th grade English) while being given only vague guidelines as to what is on the test.

Most of us consider these type of tests the bane of our existence as teachers. In addition to the 3 days per year we spend on the state mandated tests in my district, we spend an additional nine per year on other tests that will supposedly help students do well on these tests.

The bureaucrats get to amuse themselves at the expense of the teachers and students.

Jane said...

"In olden times, the animals of the forest could speak English just like you and me."

In olden times, test writers respected children enough to use proper grammar, even in stories that were meant to be humorous.

Jane said...

I proctor exams for homeschooled elementary students - I see absurd questions all the time, but never one so poorly written. We live in Virginia, and I know many parents who gave up reporting test scores to the local authorities, and who prefer to take a religious exemption in protest of these ridiculous tests.

Once I nearly burst out laughing trying to get through a "listening comprehension" question in front of a group of eighth graders. The first sentence was, "You too can make a refrigerator magnet."

The worst one, though, was a story about a medieval prince. The correct answer to the question of "how do you know this is fiction?" was "because dragons aren't real." I was proctoring two third-grade boys at the time. Since they were homeschooled, they really didn't want to believe that dragons were never real. They both looked at me with a confused and sad expression, and one said he didn't know if it meant that dragons were never real or dragons weren't real today. I told him I could not tell him the answer, but I felt like I'd robbed them of their childhood.

William said...

Zen stories are meant to leave you with a feeling of huh, of emptiness. Perhaps this was meant to teach children the bafflement and wonder that underlies the raw data of existence. Fucking Buddhists have no respect for church-state sepration much less the divide between the real and the metaphysical.