In a communications class I'm taking, there was an exercise to test quality of listening. The instructor read a paragraph, after which the class answered a series of true/false questions about what they had heard. Then the whole class discussed the answers they had written down.

The paragraph went something like this:
The professor finished drawing up the final exam, and got ready to leave for the night, putting the exam into a desk drawer. Suddenly, a tall, broad person appeared at the door of the office, demanding the exam. The professor opened the desk drawer, and the contents of the drawer were picked up. The figure fled down the hall. The professor reported the incident to the dean immediately.
One of the true/false questions was
"Was the man who opened the desk drawer the professor?"

Some students had answered true, some false. One of the reasons given for answering 'false' was that the question used the word "man", and there was no evidence that the professor was a man.

I answered 'true', since I remembered that the professor had opened the drawer. Looking back at it, I felt that the structure of the question strictly implied that a man had opened the desk drawer, so there was no longer any ambiguity about the gender of the professor. A female student said this was a sexist assumption. I replied that if the question had said 'Was the woman who opened the drawer the professor", then that would have implied the professor was a woman, so there was no sexism involved.
Still, others argued that it was fair to say the answer to the question was 'false', because it contained an otherwise unsupported presupposition.

Thinking about it now, I would say that there is a difference between the answer to a question being 'false', and the question itself being false. But would it still be fair to answer 'false' in either case?

What do you think?

john
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In a communications class I'm taking, there was an exercise to test quality of listening. The instructor read a paragraph, ... question itself being false. But would it still be fair to answer 'false' in either case? What do you think?

1. I think the answer to the question is "true" (or "yes"), while thequestion is flawed. Unless there was some other choice besides "True" or "False" ("yes" or "no"), then the answer must be "True" ("or "yes").
2. Note that the question is flawed not only because it offers a fact not inevidence ("man") but also because it is structured for a Yes/No response, not a True/False response. (For a truly "True" response, the "question" would have to have been a statement, such as: "The man who opened the desk drawer was the professor.")
3. The question-writer was possibly sexist in choosing to make the professora man rather than leaving the sex in doubt, as the paragraph did. There was no need or basis for the choice, thus why was it made? And why a male? There's your reason for sexism being suspected.
Also: Was it sexism or was it sloppy preparation? You decide. As far as I'm concerned, all that is unimportant. What really matters is this: When the professor opened the drawer, did the professor pick up the contents of the drawer or did the other person? And what were the contents the test? A gun? A tuna sandwich which had spoiled, leaving the intruder feeling like a good upchuck was needed?
Maria Conlon
In a communications class I'm taking, there was an exercise to test quality of listening. The instructor read a paragraph, ... question itself being false. But would it still be fair to answer 'false' in either case? What do you think?

The answer "true" is correct, and there's no room for manoeuvres of the sexist or pedantic ilk. The fact that extra information was given in the question is immaterial.
Suppose that the question had contained that extra information in a less obvious way, like "As for the professor, was he the one who opened the drawer?" Would anyone think it a "false question" of any kind?

By the way, I don't think you should have told us that it was a FEMALE student who raised the "sexism" point. That was very sexist of you.

Matti
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John O'Flaherty wrote on 30 Sep 2004:
In a communications class I'm taking, there was an exercise to test quality of listening. The instructor read a paragraph, ... question itself being false. But would it still be fair to answer 'false' in either case? What do you think?

When answering true/false questions, the rule is that if any part of the answer offered is false, the answer to the question is always "false".
In this case, as you point out, however, you do not know whether the person who opened the desk drawer was a male or a female, so you cannot say that the information that it was a man was false. Given a choice between "true" and "false" only, there is only one appropriate answer: "true", because the professor opened the desk drawer.

A better answer would be "insufficient information (to say whether the answer to the question is true or false)".
The question is not "false". It merely contains information that may or may not be true. It is obviously a trick question intended to generate discussion about unsupported assumptions, typical when is learning about critical thinking.

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor
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Matti Lamprhey wrote on 01 Oct 2004:
By the way, I don't think you should have told us that it was a FEMALE student who raised the "sexism" point. That was very sexist of you.

John was providing the facts. The female student was making an unsupported judgment of sexism when she should have been talking about the unsupported statement that the person who opened the desk drawer was a man. She was the thin-skinned sexist, IMO, not John. Sexism doesn't have to come up in the discussion of the question, only the idea of unsupported assumptions.
People who unnecessarily throw around words like "sexist", racist", etc are self-righteous hypocrites who seek to intimidate through accusation.(1)
(1) No charge for the obiter dictum.

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor
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In a communications class I'm taking, there was an exercise ... to answer 'false' in either case? What do you think?

1. I think the answer to the question is "true" (or "yes"), while the question is flawed. Unless there was ... "question" would have to have been a statement, such as: "The man who opened the desk drawer was the professor.")

You're right, and I think it was. I was reconstructing it from memory.
3. The question-writer was possibly sexist in choosing to make the professor a man rather than leaving the sex in ... the test? A gun? A tuna sandwich which had spoiled, leaving the intruder feeling like a good upchuck was needed?

I think all but the most alimentary of those themes appeared in the true/false statements.

john
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One of the true/false questions was "Was the man who opened the desk drawer the professor?"

The answer "true" is correct,

The question can be answered with "yes" or "no", among other things. It can't be answered with "true" or "false".
Matti Lamprhey wrote on 01 Oct 2004:

By the way, I don't think you should have told ... raised the "sexism" point. That was very sexist of you.

John was providing the facts. The female student was making an unsupported judgment of sexism when she should have been ... like "sexist", racist", etc are self-righteous hypocrites who seek to intimidate through accusation.(1) (1) No charge for the obiter dictum.

Well I was only half-serious, but I respond to your challenge by asking why John gave us the sex of the person who made the "sexism" charge.

Matti
Matti Lamprhey wrote on 01 Oct 2004:
Matti Lamprhey wrote on 01 Oct 2004: John was ... intimidate through accusation.(1) (1) No charge for the obiter dictum.

Well I was only half-serious, but I respond to your challenge by asking why John gave us the sex of the person who made the "sexism" charge.

You'll have to ask John why he specifically gave that detail. I find it interesting and revealing to know who said what and why in situations that are supposed to generate reasoned discussion. Most people want to know these details, if only to satisfy their inherent curiosity. We all give greater and lesser value to statements when we know who made them and why they might have made them. The notion that it is never necessary to identify actors or speakers by any characteristic other than their deeds and words is absurd and unrealistic in the extreme.
Such objections, the half-serious and the wholly serious, are frequently (i.e., not always) attempts to bide information that may be significant in one way or another, and if we don't have the information, there is no way to determine whether it is significant: we are at the mercy of the judgment, impaired though it may be, of the reporter with a bias toward providing as little "possibly objectionable or offensive" information as possible.

If John had shown us a video of the encounter, we would have known a lot more about the people in the class and who said what. What I'd like to know, then, is why is it okay for us to know that the speaker was a female if we see the event on video but not okay if someone relates the event only in words. That seems like a double standard to me. In neither case do we have the "full story".
But when we have as many facts as possible, we as critical thinkers should be capable of determining for ourselves whether or not the fact that the person who charged sexism was a male or a female. We do not need to be protected from such information based on the possibility of its being offensive to those who believe that the way to eliminate prejudice and discrimination is to paint only a partial picture of reality. Calling that kind of distortion anything but censorship is a lie, the kind of lie that says that "good, moral, and ethical people" all like to prepare and eat pablum all the time.

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor
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