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I think that Quindlen's tone is one of sustained and focus feeling of bitter, sarcastic, criticism of both an educational system that is over- reliant on standardized examination as well as the means by which literature is sought to fit within such confines. The opening sentence of sarcastic "joy" helps to bring out a sense of criticism within an educational system that relies on external assessment. Quindlen makes direct mention of this with reference to the Educational Testing Service, which she calls "one of America's most powerful monopolies," and Georgia's "End-of-Course Tests." Her critical tone arises from what she sees as the problem with such approaches to education and literature. The need to edit down literature, removing any sort of distinction between them, and ensuring that literature is presented in the most homogenized way so as to not provoke reaction and provide something "safe" is where Quindlen's critical tone is most on display:
The New York State Education Department's overheated guidelines are written so broadly that only the words "the" and "but" seem safe. "Does the material require the parent, teacher or examinee to support a position that is contrary to their religious beliefs or teaching?" the guidelines ask. "Does the material assume that the examinee has experience with a certain type of family structure?
Quindlen continues this tone in her testimonial that "no writing emerges unscathed." The criticism that Quindlen that has is not in the fact that writing is to be changed, although she is objecting to that. Yet, rather, in reaching and embracing so tightly to their bosom external assessment, government officials have betrayed their promise to young people in presenting literature that challenges students in challenging their thinking. For Quindlen, her critical tone is evident in the idea that "safety" can prompt children to think, and can prompt a love of challenging literature. At its most basic element, Quindlen suggests that worthwhile literature is far from safe, challenging reader to think about their world and their place in it. In removing these references to accord literature in its place within standardized testing, Quindlen's critical tone suggests that a major part of thinking and literature's purpose is lost.
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