The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0427 Friday, 13 February 2004
Date: Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 19:37:40 -0500
Subject: 15.0414 Hamlet Survey?
Comment: Re: SHK 15.0414 Hamlet Survey?
>A witty wag once said that there are two kinds of tests:
>one that assesses factual knowledge ("cow") and one the ability to write
>("bull"). Pure bull without cow (e.g., a review of a controversial book
>written by an able writer who knows not what he is talking about, but
>writes convincingly to the uninformed), nevertheless is in some sense
>(not the moral sense) admirable but insufficient and often highly
The "witty wag" invoked by David Cohen was Bill Perry, head of the
Bureau of Study Counsel (the academic advising service) at Harvard in
the 50s and 60s. He laid out the principle in an essay, part of a
collection entitled *Examining at Harvard College*(1963). Perry wrote
of a student who fell into conversation with a roommate outside the
latter's classroom, followed him into the room to complete a point,
discovered that the class (pre-Civil War American history, I think) was
about to write an essay exam, on an impulse sat down and responded to
the questions, and earned a B-; when the exploit came to the attention
of another student who had attended all the lectures and studied hard
but only made C, a formal complaint was made.
The essay explores a problem familiar to anybody who tries to grade
essay exams fairly--and does not, as best I can remember, make such a
black-and-white moral distinction between knowledge and persiflage as
Cohen seems to endorse. It was not a matter of "knows not"; the student
knew something about American history, and something about American
government, and something about reasoning and writing, and was able to
construct logically and rhetorically if not evidentially persuasive
arguments on these bases; but he "does not know as much as they
should" before they pretend to authoritate on this subject.
The gender implications of Perry's terms, and especially the notion that
"bull" is somehow superior to "cow" are irremediably sexist; I can only
plead the willful ignorance (read "stupidity") of 1963.
My copy, unfortunately, went missing when I retired and moved out of my
office. So I can't recover all the subtleties of the argument. And I
learn, to my distress, that at Harvard itself this contribution to
American learning has been consigned to the Repository, a kind of
scholarly limbo somewhere across the Charles (the B-School side!!!), so
I will have to wait several days to see it again. Anyway, Perry was a
charming, witty, and accomplished guy, whose other work included a
translation of the Iliad. There's a nice memoir at this site:
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