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Posted at 02:52 PM ET, 03/17/2011

College Board SAT includes reality TV question? Really?

I need to radically rethink my approach to parenting.

I used to think I was going to bar television altogether. “What’s the glowing thing on the wall of our living room?” my hypothetical child would ask.

“That’s the telescreen Big Brother uses to watch our family,” I would explain. “If you ever stare into it for more than 30 minutes, they will lock you in Room 101 and rats will devour your face.”

This was going to require some expensive therapy later, but hey, it’s the price you pay for getting into an elite school. Plus, it would allow him to bond with the Tiger Children, or Cubs, or whatever the technical term is. “Our piano had bite marks,” the Tiger Cubs would say. “Yeah? My mother told my that my kidneys were on loan from the Commonweal and they’d give them to a more efficient vessel if I lost the spelling bee,” my child would retort.

Or so I thought. Now I find that the SAT, bastion of intelligence testing, just included a question about Reality Television.

The question read:

Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular. These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled. How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?
Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment hurtful?

The College Board claims that enough information is embedded in the question to answer it. But who wants to be the pseudonymous kid quoted in the New York Times who “ended up talking about Jacob Riis and how any form of media cannot capture reality objectively.”

Before, my only advice for taking the SAT was to incorporate a quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr., into every essay you write. There seemed to be no way this strategy could fail.

Now I’m changing that plan.

“Have you watched ‘Jersey Shore’?” I will bellow, whenever my Son Hypothetical Kevin (Kevin will be his middle name) starts walking to his desk.

“I need to do my calculus homework,” he’ll say.

“No calculus until you’ve watched at least a full episode of ‘Jersey Shore’! Don’t you want to go to a good college?”

“But I hate ‘Jersey Shore’!” Hypothetical will yell. “It’s asinine, and nobody wears pants.”

“Asinine?” I’ll ask, suspiciously. “That sounds like a word you’d use if you’d been reading Dickens instead of watching eight solid hours of ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ like I thought we’d agreed you were doing this weekend.”

Hypothetical will begin sobbing gently. “I just — I couldn’t take it anymore,” he will mumble. “I turned it off. I read an introductory sociology textbook instead.”

I’ll look at him, utterly ashamed. “Don’t you care about your future?” I’ll ask.

Our battles will be different than the battles of Tiger Families. Our television will be covered in bite marks. “I don’t want to watch any more reality television!” Hypothetical will sob. “You can’t make me! Even if it does include Tim Gunn!”

“It’s not about what you want!” I will scream. “Hyp, we are getting through this marathon of ‘A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila’ if I have to tie you to this couch!”

My husband will wander in, looking bemused. “Alexandra, don’t you think you’re being too hard on the boy?” he’ll murmur.

“Sure,” I’ll say. “But I don’t care. You can be the nice parent, the one who takes him to museums of classical artifacts and teaches him how to work Oscar Wilde quips into conversation. I’ll be the one he hates for making him watch all of Britney and K-Fed’s ‘Chaotic’ totally awake and sober.”

“Maybe there’s another way,” my husband will suggest, sheepishly, as Hypothetical bites through his restraints and goes running off to play chess and research malaria while composing classical music. We’ll give up the TV and just do flashcards. “GTL?” I’ll demand. “Muff cabbage? Paula Abdul’s ‘Live to Dance’?”

“Can’t I read Chaucer instead?” Hypothetical Kevin will beg.

“Please,” I’ll scoff. “You think that will come up on the SAT anytime soon?”

By  |  02:52 PM ET, 03/17/2011

Tags:  SAT, oops, America

 
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