According to Ashley Thorne, of the 48 reading comprehension passages in practice SAT exams available on the College Board website, only three involve classic literature. In an editorial at The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Thorne suggests an alternative that will do more to “cultivate wisdom.” She writes:
The idea is straightforward: If we’re going to use high-stakes exams to help determine who goes to college and where, the test should at least point students toward more lasting and meaningful ideas than those packaged in a state-mandated curriculum. And if schools are going to teach toward the test, the test material should strive to enrich the mind and stir the heart of the test taker.
Of the 48 reading-comprehension passages in the eight practice SAT tests currently available on the College Board website, only three are from classic literature. A few are by the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Edmund Burke. Much more prevalent are modern readings such as science texts about plants, articles on composting and solar energy, and passages on Greek yogurt, dark snow in Greenland and the rise of coworking.
CLT, by contrast, draws two-thirds of its reading passages from classic authors. One practice CLT includes a comical story from Anne Brontë’s novel “Agnes Grey” about teaching unruly students, along with excerpts from Pope John Paul II on suffering, Aristotle and Benjamin Franklin on leisure and work, and Friedrich Nietzsche on how listening to Georges Bizet’s music made him “a better man . . . a better musician, a better listener.”
CLT’s aim is to be a force for change in American education, to encourage teaching that helps students wrestle with enduring questions. In a time when schooling is geared mainly toward outcomes—skills, knowledge, career readiness, success—CLT hopes to guide us back to education as soulcraft. While it won’t instantly produce a new generation of grounded and engaged citizens, the Classic Learning Test reminds us what education is meant to do: cultivate wisdom.
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