All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.


19 August 2011

The Stupidest Sentence I've Read All Week

On the previous incarnation of this blog, I had an occassional feature called "The Weekly Dumb-@$$." Now that I'm older and wiser, I shan't continue with such sophomoric rhetoric. Now I'll just weasel it in on the cheap by talking about how I used to use it, and then putting that casual reference next to this mind-blowingly stupid sentence from an article by... well, there's no author listed. It's some staff piece from

Which is probably part of an explanation how you can end up with this: (the sentence in question is in bold font)
Thousands of students are facing the problem of necessary remediation as they enter college. Roughly one of every three entering a public two- or four-year post-secondary school will have to take at least one remedial course, writes Leanne Italie at the Associated Press.

Doing so dramatically increases the odds that he or she won’t graduate, according to a March report from the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education.

You might have thought that taking a remedial education class (assuming you need one) would drastically increase your chances of graduating, because, you know... it's part of the requirements, and fulfilling requirements for graduation tends to increase one's chances of graduating.

Now there's a charitable way to read this sentence. We could take "doing so" to mean "having to take" rather than "taking". So "having to take at least one remedial course" drastically decreases your chances. But that interpretation has a problem. The phrase "doing so" is active, and "having to take" is, semantically if not grammatically, passive; it's the equivalent of "being required to take".

Second, and this is an issue for either interpretation, having to take the class doesn't change anyone's odds. It just helps signal what those odds actually are. So saying that it "increases" the odds of not graduating is just false.


gallowshillbilly said...

I once suggested to a principal that a student who had failed our state exit exam in her sophomore year should not be allowed to enroll in English 101/102 "dual credit" during junior year.

His reply to me was "So you want to take it upon yourself to deny her this opportunity?"

I think there's three or four abuses in that question, and they were apparent to me at that moment (straw man? equivocation? appeal to ignorance?), but I was struck dumb. I still can't think of a witty rejoinder, and I've been trying for 15 years.

Michael E. Lopez said...

I think I would have just said, "Yes."

People often don't know how to respond to honesty.

gallowshillbilly said...

Gee...should've thought of that one.