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Universitywide Subject A Examination of 1987
About the Topic, Essays and Comments
The 1987 Universitywide Subject A Examination presented students with a selection from Mirror for Man by anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn. The writing task required students to explain Kluckhohn's views about why the world's peoples are both different and similar -- to explain, that is, Kluckhohn's views about the influence of culture and its relations to biological facts -- and to respond to Kluckhohn's views.
While maintaining students' focus on Kluckhohn's central ideas, the essay topic was deliberately phrased to allow them to produce as broad a range of responses as possible. Based on its experience with pretest essays, the Universitywide Subject A Examination Committee expected that most writers would illustrate or elaborate on Kluckhohn's assertions with examples drawn from their experience or reading, but also anticipated that some writers would question Kluckhohn's dismissal of factors other than culture and biology or suggest other explanations for the examples Kluckhohn cites. Regardless of what point of view they developed, essays that satisfied the Subject A requirement had to do more than summarize what Kluckhohn wrote.
The responses to the May 1987 Universitywide Subject A Examination exemplify the six levels of the Universitywide Subject A Examination scoring guide. They have been chosen to represent different approaches to the essay topic, as well as to suggest the range of strengths and weaknesses in essays at each scoring level. As their contents show, essays by both native and non-native speakers of English are to be found at all six scoring levels. The third essay at each scoring level is definitely by a non-native speaker of English; other essays, #5 for example, may be by non-native speakers as well.
The comment on each essay explains why it does or does not meet the Subject A standard of competence. Following the pattern of the scoring guide, each comment discusses first how effectively each writer responds to Kluckhohn's ideas, then the extent to which the essay demonstrates a control of written English suitable for students entering the University. Taken together, the essays and comments should make clear that essays satisfying the Subject A requirement can use a wide variety of organizational patterns and almost unlimited sources of information. They can present a wide variety of viewpoints about the issue raised in the passage and pinpointed by the topic, but they must remain focused on that issue and develop a reasoned response to the passage.
Directions: Read carefully the passage
and the essay topic. Respond to the topic by writing an essay that is
controlled by a central idea and is specifically developed.
Your essay will be evaluated on the basis of your ability to develop your central idea, to express yourself clearly, and to use the conventions of written English. The topic has no "correct" response.
Writing that appears on the "Notes" page will not be read.
Essay Topic: How does Kluckhohn explain the differences and similarities among the world's peoples? What do you think about his views? Use examples from your own experience, reading or observation in developing your essay.
Introductory Note: Clyde Kluckhohn (1905-1960) was professor of anthropology at Harvard University. The following passage, adapted from his book Mirror for Man, defines what anthropologists mean by culture and explains culture's influence on how people think, feel and behave.
One of the interesting things about human beings is that they try to understand themselves and their own behavior. While this has been particularly true of Europeans in recent times, there is no group which has not developed a scheme or schemes to explain human actions. To the insistent human query "why?" the most exciting illumination anthropology has to offer is that of the concept of culture. Its explanatory importance is comparable to categories such as evolution in biology, gravity in physics, disease in medicine.Why do so many Chinese dislike milk and milk products? Why during World War II did Japanese soldiers die willingly in a Banzai charge that seemed senseless to Americans? Why do some nations trace descent through the father, others through the mother, still others through both parents? Not because different peoples have different instincts, not because they were destined by God or Fate to different habits, not because the weather is different in China and Japan and the United States. Sometimes shrewd common sense has an answer that is close to that of the anthropologist: "because they were brought up that way." By "culture" anthropology means the total life way of a people, the social legacy individuals acquire from their group. Or culture can be regarded as that part of the environment that is the creation of human beings.
This technical term has a wider meaning than the "culture" of history and literature. A humble cooking pot is as much a cultural product as is a Beethoven sonata. In ordinary speech "people of culture" are those who can speak languages other than their own, who are familiar with history, literature, philosophy, or the fine arts. To the anthropologist, however, to be human is to be cultured. There is culture in general, and then there are the specific cultures such as Russian, American, British, Hottentot, Inca. The general abstract notion serves to remind us that we cannot explain acts solely in terms of the biological properties of the people concerned, their individual past experience, and the immediate situation. The past experience of other people in the form of culture enters into almost every event. Each specific culture constitutes a kind of blueprint of all of life's activities.
A good deal of human behavior can be understood, and indeed predicted, if we know a people's design for living. Many acts are neither accidental nor due to personal peculiarities nor caused by supernatural forces nor simply mysterious. Even we Americans who pride ourselves on our individualism follow most of the time a pattern not of our own making. We brush our teeth on arising. We put on pants--not a loincloth or a grass skirt. We eat three meals a day--not four or five or two. We sleep in a bed--not in a hammock or on a sheep pelt. I do not have to know individuals and their life histories to be able to predict these and countless other regularities, including many in the thinking process of all Americans who are not incarcerated in jails or hospitals for the insane.
To the American woman a system of plural wives seems "instinctively" abhorrent. She cannot understand how any woman can fail to be jealous and uncomfortable if she must share her husband with other women. She feels it "unnatural" to accept such a situation. On the other hand, a Koryak woman of Siberia, for example, would find it hard to understand how a woman could be so selfish and so undesirous of feminine companionship in the home as to wish to restrict her husband to one mate.
Some years ago I met in New York City a young man who did not speak a word of English and was obviously bewildered by American ways. By "blood" he was American, for his parents had gone from Indiana to China as missionaries. Orphaned in infancy, he was reared by a Chinese family in a remote village. All who met him found him more Chinese than American. The facts of his blue eyes and light hair were less impressive than a Chinese style of gait, Chinese arm and hand movements, Chinese facial expression, and Chinese modes of thought. The biological heritage was American, but the cultural training had been Chinese. He returned to China.
Another example of another kind: I once knew a trader's wife in Arizona who took a somewhat devilish interest in producing a cultural reaction. Guests who came her way were often served delicious sandwiches filled with a meat that seemed to be neither chicken nor tuna fish yet was reminiscent of both. To queries she gave no reply until each had eaten his or her fill. She then explained that what they had eaten was not chicken, not tuna fish, but the rich, white flesh of freshly killed rattlesnakes. The response was instantaneous, often violent vomiting. A biological process is caught in a cultural web.
All this does not mean that there is no such thing as raw human nature. The members of all human groups have about the same biological equipment. All people undergo the same poignant life experiences, such as birth, helplessness, illness, old age, and death. The biological potentialities of the species are the blocks with which cultures are built. Some patterns of every culture crystallize around focuses provided by biology: the difference between the sexes, the presence of persons of different ages, the varying physical strength and skill of individuals. The facts of nature also limit culture forms. No culture provides patterns for jumping over trees or for eating iron ore. There is thus no "either-or" between nature and that special form of nurture called culture. The two factors are interdependent. Culture arises out of human nature, and its forms are restricted both by human biology and by natural laws.
[ Copyright © 1994 by the University of California. All rights reserved | Produced for the University of California by Educational Testing Service. | Permission to use this passage has been granted by George E. Taylor for the Estate of Florence R. Kluckhohn Taylor. ]