Les Perlman offers a satirical commentary on the ineffectiveness of electronic grading. The issue was initially brought to the national stage in March 2007 at the Conference on College Composition and Communication. At this conference and subsequent annual ones, Perlman has demonstrated through panels, reviews and in this case–satirical writing– that grading systems being phased in by the Electronic Testing Service and College Board are ineffective and do not accurately grade writing Therefore, Perlman crafted this essay (Exhibit B) in which he seemingly answers a College Board-styled writing prompt. Many factors contribute to Perlman’s elegantly crafted scathing of the ETS’s methodology, but most critical to his work is proper rhetorical capability. Perlman, under the constraints of the five paragraph form, criticizes electronic grading by deliberately writing nonsense into structure and subsequently forming a masked logical argument against electronic grading.
This entire essay is nonsense. Many thoughts fail to agree or blend properly as Perlman shifts between ideas mid-paragraph demonstrating a lack of focus. In fact, the majority of Perlman’s essay misplaces thoughts and follows inconsistent build up of evidence in order to prove his relatively genuine thesis. In the second paragraph, he presents one of his humorous shifts, ”
In the Middle Ages, the University of Paris grew because it provided comfortable accommodations for each of its students, large rooms with servants and legs of mutton. Although they are expensive, these rooms are necessary to learning. The second reason for the five-paragraph theme is that it makes you focus on a single topic.
However, there is an immediate clash; Perlman is identified as a former professor at MIT. This fact, along with many references to classic works and authors despite how farcical they are–Great Expectations, Heart of Darkness, Oscar Wilde, etc.– establishes Perlman’s credibility, or in terms of rhetorical analysis, ethos. With these references and the identification as a professor, it seems illogical for Perlman to write such a nonsense essay. This disconnect is humorous, so much so that the essay has proliferated the internet on blogs and news sites.
There is much more built in to Perlman’s humor which makes his essay an effective critique of the Electronic Testing Service. From a rhetorical standpoint, examine the intended audience. Noting that the essay was written to be graded by an electronic grader, one must determine that the legitimate intended audience was a computer. This is a defining pillar the essay relies upon. An electronic grading system looks for large words, complex sentences pristine organization and elegant parallelism, such as this well crafted sentence:
Second, most teaching assistants have political connections, from being children of judges and governors to being the brothers and sisters of kings and princes.
In a numerical structure, he uses active voice using a complex sentence consisting of both independent and dependent clauses and keeps the sentence rigidly parallel. Perlman’s essay presents all of these factors beautifully, meeting his intended audience’s limited demands with ease and reportedly receiving a 6, the highest grade offered by the service for an electronically graded essay.1 Here is the disconnect: the actual audience is massive, including individuals across the world using the internet, and the basic presuppositions individuals have about the ideas and progression of an essay are fundamentally different than those of a computer.
What completes Perlman’s critique actually is not written by Perlman himself, but instead was crafted by the E.T.S. in response to the New York Times article which broke the story of Perlman’s essay online, ”
E.T.S. officials say that Mr. Perelman’s test prep advice is too complex for most students to absorb; if they can, they’re using the higher level of thinking the test seeks to reward anyway. In other words, if they’re smart enough to master such sophisticated test prep, they deserve a 6[…]
As for good writing being long writing, Mr. Deane [Principal Scientist at E.T.S.] said there was a correlation. Good writers have internalized the skills that give them better fluency, he said, enabling them to write more in a limited time.”
Finishing Perlman’s hidden logic for him, the E.T.S. determines Perlman’s hidden criticism to be of a “higher level of thinking” than their tests actually measure and therefore they deserve the highest grade. In effect, Perlman has written a nonsensical essay with hidden logic and outward humor in order to force the E.T.S. to highlight the problem they created in the first place: their tests are no longer properly measuring the aptitude of students, they are merely testing their ability to organize text into an essay. Overall, Perman perfectly uses advanced rhetorical techniques in a nonsense essay to write a satire criticizing electronic grading.