Signs of the Times in AP English Exam Responses Series: Currents in the Curriculum

Article excerpt

Every spring, hundreds of thousands of high school students file into cafeterias, gymnasiums, and auditoriums to take Advanced Placement English exams. Be it literature or language and composition, they spend the first hour answering multiple-choice questions, and the next two scribbling 40-minute essays that often reveal as much about their times as they do about their individual abilities and knowledge.

To nip a budding trend, the tests now stipulate that students cannot refer to, say, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" if Demi Moore taught them all they know about Hester Prinn. They must have read the book, not just seen the movie or the miniseries. And - speaking of Hester Prinn - today's essays show a marked change in attitude toward such issues as illegitimacy. According to Alice DeLana, a teacher at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Conn., who has graded the English AP exam for 12 years, "shame and guilt are today interesting, not galvanizing concepts. They have become almost quaint notions."

The language has changed along with attitudes. One student wrote of Tess of the d'Ubervilles that she didn't see why "Tess just didn't tell {Alec d'Uberville} to buzz off." "In my day," says Mrs. DeLana, "it would never have occurred to me to apply the standards of popular culture to literary works. …