Did You Hear the One About the Talking Pineapple…

by Robert Pondiscio
April 20th, 2012

“It’s clearly an allegory. The pineapple is the Department of Education. The hare is the student who is eagerly taking the test,” said E.D. Hirsch. “The joke is supposed to be on the hare, because the questions are post-modern unanswerable,” he said. “But in fact the joke is on the pineapple, because the New York Daily News is going to eat it up.”

I’d explain what he’s talking about, but some things are beyond explanation….

Update:  At EdWeek Teacher, Anthony Cody asks the question that needs to be asked:  Would YOU want to be judged based on an 8th grader’s ability to make sense of this bizarre little story?

25 Comments »

  1. This is reminiscent of the classic animators joke, where a single drawing having nothing to do with the film (and often risque) is inserted into the cartoon.

    While a publicly released test is not the right forum, the whole high-stakes test industry is ripe for humor and satire. I’m glad that some insiders feel likewise.

    Comment by Miss Friday — April 20, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

  2. Why would an animal not eat the pineapple? “I shouldn’t–I’d feel bad, since it was talking earlier and being so truthful and all.” Ha! Instinct takes over when you’re an animal in the vicinity of an immobile pineapple. And if it moved, you’d chase it.

    Hirsch’s comment made my day.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — April 20, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

  3. I have nothing against imaginative pieces on tests, even nonsensical pieces. But good nonsensical writing has some cohesion (e.g. Alice through the Looking Glass, Waiting for Godot, or the stories of Daniil Kharms); this does not. (Toothpaste? Ninjas? Why?) It reads as though it were written by a committee. Some of it is just gratuitously silly. And then the questions confuse things further, by giving the impression that in fact there is some detectable motive or meaning to this story.

    This is an extreme case, but many reading passages have similar qualities. They have been written not by one person but by many. The ideas have not been carefully thought through. The “poetry” is lousy.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — April 21, 2012 @ 9:31 am

  4. Let me first emphasize that I am no fan of Pearson – money-grubbing purveyors of teaching materials that are generally mediocre, at best. I also admit that I am indeed a fan of Daniel Pinkwater, who does not write his whimsical stories for Pearson or for any educational testing service and, therefore, owes us no apology. That said, it was probably unwise of Pearson to flummox students with a story that appears to be nonsensical. I say appears because, with all respect to Ken Jennings, the questions asked should pose no particular problem to anyone who actually reads the text.
    There can be no question that the events in the story are told in the order in which they happened. For want of any suggestion that the animals are hungry, excited, or amused, it is reasonable to surmise that they are annoyed – at themselves – for letting their suspicions lead them to expect a pineapple to outrun a hare. The hare must be the wisest here, because he correctly took the situation at face value, whereas each of the other animals indulged in groundless speculation. The other animals’ suspiciousness of the pineapple before the race led them to foolishly bet against the hare. And, since nothing in the story supports the other answers, we are left to suppose that the animals would have cheered for the hare if they had had sense enough to bet on him. The moral of this fable is clearly that sometimes we think too much, when we should simply take things at face value. Perhaps we adults need to remember that, too.

    Comment by Howard Skillington — April 21, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

  5. Let me first emphasize that I am no fan of Pearson – money-grubbing purveyors of teaching materials that are generally mediocre, at best. I also admit that I am indeed a fan of Daniel Pinkwater, who does not write his whimsical stories for Pearson or for any educational testing service and, therefore, owes us no apology. That said, it was probably unwise of Pearson to flummox students with a story that appears to be nonsensical. I say appears because, with all respect to Ken Jennings, the questions asked should pose no particular problem to anyone who actually reads the text.
    There can be no question that the events in the story are told in the order in which they happened. For want of any suggestion that the animals are hungry, excited, or amused, it is reasonable to surmise that they are annoyed – at themselves – for letting their suspicions lead them to expect a pineapple to outrun a hare. The hare must be the wisest here, because he correctly took the situation at face value, whereas each of the other animals indulged in groundless speculation. The other animals’ suspiciousness o f the pineapple before the race led them to foolishly bet against the hare. And, since nothing in the story supports the other answers, we are left to suppose that the animals would have cheered for the hare if they had had sense enough to bet on him. The moral of this fable is clearly that sometimes we think too much, when we should simply take things at face value. Perhaps we adults need to remember that, too.

    Comment by Howard Skillington — April 21, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

  6. The story was a takeoff on another story written by famed children’s author, Daniel Pinkwater. Mr. Pinkwater is noted for his nonsensical tendencies. My favorite story of his, The Big Orange Splot, is nonsensical but with a tidy little lesson for elementary readers.

    The whole pineapple ingredient made this a story that NEVER should have been part of any state test that counted for anything, never mind 40% of a teacher’s evaluation. Outrageous.

    The piece in today’s New York Times did much more justice to the story than the one in the NY Daily News, its inclusion on the test, and its eventual dismissal. Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier take the state to task for its original inclusion on the test, as they and everyone else should have.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/21/nyregion/standardized-testing-is-blamed-for-question-about-a-sleeveless-pineapple.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1

    Comment by Paul Hoss — April 21, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

  7. Actually the original story is an interesting piece because you have to know the foundational story of the rabbit and the hare to get that it is a parody. A lot children’s picture book fiction is built on this idea of a fractured tale. Maybe this is an excellent notion of why you want the CK program.

    Daniel Pinkwater’s response is interesting also.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/21/nyregion/standardized-testing-is-blamed-for-question-about-a-sleeveless-pineapple.html?pagewanted=1&ref=education

    Comment by DC Parent — April 21, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

  8. Howard,

    It isn’t at all obvious that the animals’ annoyance at themselves would propel them to eat the pineapple.

    As for the second question, the correct answer is “the owl,” according to the New York Times article.

    No, there is no clear correct answer to either question, and no, this shouldn’t have been on the test. Nor would a student who knew the Aesop fable be at an advantage here.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — April 21, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

  9. Diana,

    I never contended that annoyance is the obvious answer; simply that for want of any suggestion in the story of hunger, excitement, or amusement, a good case can only be made for annoyance.
    The Times article does not state that the correct answer is the owl. It only reports that some children it interviewed for the story conjectured that “a likely answer was the owl, because it was the one that uttered the moral.” Unfortunately, in drawing that conclusion they are accepting Pinkwater’s red herring that the moral of the story has anything at all to do with pineapples having sleeves.
    I did not suggest that knowing Aesop’s fable would be helpful but I certainly agree, as I wrote above, that this was an unwise choice of texts on Pearson’s part. Seeing past Pinkwater’s whimsy to his rather elegant point without a teacher’s guidance is more than should be required of school children – and, apparently, a good many adults, as well.

    Comment by Howard Skillington — April 21, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

  10. Howard,

    The NYT article has “Correct” in parentheses after the students’ conjecture. I take that to mean that the owl was indeed the correct answer.

    “A sidewalk sampling of students in the Delta program, a gifted program at Middle School 54 on the Upper West Side, reached a consensus that the owl was the wisest. (Correct.)”

    Why else would the NYT put “Correct” in parentheses here?

    I’m not sure Pinkwater’s point is that we should take things at face value. If it were, then wouldn’t one conclude that the true point of the story was that pineapples don’t have sleeves? It’s stated that this is the moral. Shouln’t we take that at face value? Or are we supposed to look “deeper” into it?

    Comment by Diana Senechal — April 22, 2012 @ 6:45 am

  11. Diana

    (sigh) My original concern here was not over the obvious fact that Pearson showed poor judgment in using this story for a high-stakes test for schoolchildren, but in defending an interesting and wise children’s author from half-baked contentions that his stories are pointless and stupid, which is precisely what this one would be if it was really a consideration of whether or not pineapples have sleeves.

    I don’t wish to be pedantic here, but after the moose uses the cliche that the pineapple “must have some trick up its sleeve” the owl makes the painfully obvious observation that pineapples don’t have sleeves. If I were teaching with this story my students and I would have a nice laugh together over this little joke.

    The only character who doesn’t fall for this specious speculation and, therefore, the only wise one is the rabbit, who sees no reason why he can’t outrun a legless piece of fruit. When he in fact does so we, as readers, are given a choice: do we fall for Pinkwater’s punch line – that the moral of this story concerns whether or not pineapples have sleeves – or see that the real question here is whether or not a hare can outrun a pineapple.

    As a teacher at this point I’d ask my students: Is “Pineapples Don’t Have Sleeves” really the moral of this story? (all together: Nooooooo!) The real moral of the story is that sometimes one has to be guided by the obvious facts of a situation, rather than be dissuaded by silly arguments. And that is true, in both this little story and in life, regardless of what some knucklehead who happened to write up the test for Pearson might say is the “right” answer.

    I would be comfortable teaching with this story but I will be the first to admit that Daniel Pinkwater is not for everyone. And certainly not suitable for tests.

    Comment by Howard Skillington — April 22, 2012 @ 9:30 am

  12. I find this whole discussion fascinating, and I’m not convinced that “Pineapples Don’t Have Sleeves” is an inappropriate moral, and I’m not joking!

    As I commented on Anthony Cody’s blog — his point about using such testing for teacher-assessment is spot-on — the owl’s “painfully obvious” assertion about the sleeves becomes much more interesting when perceived as a window into wisdom that the other animals don’t see. (Who knows if the owl itself sees this! That of course is why Pearson’s actual question 8, “Which animal spoke the wisest words?” is different from “Which animal is the wisest?”)

    I also agree with DC Parent’s (#7) great point about fractured tales. Without negating Aesop’s fable, Pinkwater’s story can help readers see a theme that adds to it. Unfortunately, the Pearson questions don’t add…at least as part of this debacle of a standardized multiple-choice test.

    Comment by Carl Rosin — April 22, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

  13. The comments about this story are even more amusing than the story itself.

    Comment by Christina Lordeman — April 22, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

  14. “The moral of this fable is clearly that sometimes we think too much, when we should simply take things at face value.”

    But what does “taking things at face value” mean in the context of a world where animals and pineapples talk? In this context, is it really that silly to believe that a pineapple can run?

    Comment by alamo — April 22, 2012 @ 11:32 pm

  15. I have a different problem with this test item. What is such an easy item doing on a grade 8 reading test? It’s at about the grade 3 level. It (and the original story) should never have been even considered. If this isn’t an example of dumbing down, I don’t know what could be. Sandra Stotsky

    Comment by Sandra — April 26, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

  16. I was explaining this issue to an Israeli friend with school aged kids in Tel Aviv. “But don’t they test the questions out in advance on some set of ten kids or something to see if they work or not?” he asked.

    I explained that in fact this is the case and that many more than 10 students would have seen this in field testing. And that the item had been used for many years in many states.

    “Well,” he replied, “then I would hate to think what the questions that were rejected looked like.”

    To Howard’s earlier point, perhaps the item performed (psychometrically) as expected. Or at least Pearson would have to be pretty twisted to have been proffering this one to so many states if it did not.

    But it would be quite interesting to see the field test data.

    Comment by Matthew — April 29, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

  17. What this dust-up shows is that the fix is in and Pearson and MacMillan have ed “reform” (i.e., outsourcing to mercenary interests) sewn up and that E.D. Hirsch’s dreams of restoring content and humanity to education don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being realized.

    Comment by Harold — April 29, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

  18. Disagree, Harold.

    Plenty of parents want their children cognitively and sequentially challenged in school. It may have to be via alternative/charter/parochial/private schools, but parents WILL chose with their feet.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — April 30, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

  19. Paul- I wish what you said was true. The assumption that charters/privates will provide this type of program is not as true as you would hope. DC has one of the largest charter movements in the country and yet does not have a true CK type private or charter that I can find. I find that a lot of educators cannot imagine this type of system, lots of reasons why but many of us that would want it do not have the option of seeking it out.

    Comment by DC Parent — April 30, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

  20. DC Parent,

    Put Robert, Linda Bevilaqua, or Don Hirsch on the case. Not sure how they can reject the notion if the demand is there.

    The educators who cannot imagine this type of education are in the schools you want to avoid – LIKE THE PLAGUE.

    At the very least CK should conduct a market survey in the DC area to corroborate whether there is, in fact, a demand for their services.

    My bet, Kayla Henderson and Mayor Gray would embrace this type of proposal in a heartbeat.

    Robert, are you out there?

    Comment by Paul Hoss — April 30, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

  21. Present, sir, Paul Hoss, sir!

    It’s probably not wise for me to discuss which supes and school leaders I and others at CK have talked to. That said two things: 1. We’re seeing a pretty strong uptick in interest in CK from states and districts, largely driven by CCSS and the results of the New York City pilot of the Core Knowledge Language Arts program. 2. I’m kinda with DC Parent on charters and choice. I remain a staunch supporter of charters and I’m personally disposed toward favoring choice. That said, I can’t pretend not to be disappointed at the relative lack of curricular and pedagogical diversity in the charter movement. While a higher percentage of charters than traditional district schools do Core Knowledge, I’d expect a much more robust move to adopt it. Instead, as I’ve written elsewhere, too many charters seem to steer their stars by teacher quality, data, assessments and other structural levels. I’ve described this elsewhere as an apparent commitment to the best possible delivery of the worst possible product.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — April 30, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

  22. Adding to the data on “best possible delivery of the worst possible outcome” I learned of a Western NY teacher who decried the terrible listening exercise he administered to the 7th graders as part of the ELA test. http://preview.tinyurl.com/c3urngn

    I shared the site with a middle school assistant principal at a well-regarded school in New York City:

    Quote: If the purpose of the exam is to see what each student understands and misunderstands, then I feel that the state exams should be less concerned about tricking the test taker by including worthless jargon.

    Year after year I am dumbfounded by the useless information that the state includes in various math and English test questions…Useless fluff to trick a child… End Quote

    Arguing the fine points of this question or that, allows vendors like Pearson and their minders at the state education departments to sidestep the larger possibility that significant portions of the exercise are rotten to the core.

    Comment by matthew — April 30, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

  23. Robert- I can answer your question about DC. It takes a lot of money to implement a CK program. I have looked at your materials and been both amazed and chagrined. to replicate your lessons requires quite a few publications outside a textbook and teacher really do need to know how to integrate a wide range of information, not turn to page 50 and Johnny read the first paragraph. When I tried to replicate your Roman unit for what I called Mother summer school I had to order 22 books from 5 DC public libraries, locate articles from magazines and learn a lot myself before I could develop lessons. Now I am not a teacher so some of it was related to those skills but what struck me was how rich the content was, but also how expensive it would be to replicate in any classroom. I can see principals and teachers say no way I cannot do this, I have to beg for paper, let alone order 20 books per unit.

    Comment by DC Parent — April 30, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

  24. DC Parent,

    No one ever said it would be cheap. Don Hirsch and his Core Knowledge Foundation are a nonprofit organization that have devoted years to developing their materials and philosophy. Besides, someone has to subsidize the big salaries that go to folks like Robert (just kidding).

    It is high quality and worth the price but as you experienced a challenge to gather “everything.” They weren’t able to do it overnight either.

    Again, communicate with Robert or someone from CK to answer your start-up questions. There are close to 800 CK schools in 45 states using all or part of the CK program plus over 400 preschools.

    REMEMBER, if you’re thinking of starting a CK school you get X number of (local, state, and federal) tax dollars per student to operate the school. The start up monies should not have to come out of someone’s pocket but, of course, private donations and fundraisers can be most helpful.

    The cost of starting such a school should not be the deterrent. It’s the time and effort that someone or some group needs to devote to get it up and running.

    The DC area needs and deserves at least one Core Knowledge school.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — May 1, 2012 @ 9:11 am

  25. [...] infamous Pineapple Passage on the 8th grade NY state test is rightfully making the rounds on  netmedia. It’s a prime example of something that has surprisingly thus far gone [...]

    Pingback by Pineapple Express: Tests Shortchanging Student Literary Analysis Skills | EcoSchools — December 6, 2013 @ 10:33 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

While the Core Knowledge Foundation wants to hear from readers of this blog, it reserves the right to not post comments online and to edit them for content and appropriateness.