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Ageist Question .. (post open for discussion)

May 12, 2009

I’m taking a class in Business Communication and I had a test question that went a little something like this – I’m changing it up so as not to copy an actual question:

Though Jane is 80, she is still a ski enthusiast.  She says there are still many slopes she hasn’t skied.

Okay, skiing might not be the best replacement activity so picture something more strenuous than walking, not as much impact on the joints as running nor as cardiovascular and there is nothing between your feet and the ground besides your socks and hiking shoes 🙂

So, I stated that her age is unnecessary information.  I based my answer on information in my textbook which states that the only characteristic that older people have in common is their age (based on negative comments) and another section which encourages us to not stereotype a person or group even if we believe that the stereotype would be a compliment.

I got the answer wrong … grrrrrrrrr …

The reason given for my answer being wrong (by an automated test scoring system) is that “Though Jane is in her 80’s” is a compliment to her as an individual and not meant to be demeaning to older people in general.

Well, I’m disputing that…

I’m a bit of a stickler for word choice.  In my opinion, the word though in the sentence makes Jane an exception to her age group, as though she has overcome her age and thereby might offend someone in that age group.  I know at least my ancestors who would farm their fields and scour their woods for herbs until disability or death would be offended.  We have people close to this age completing the iron man. 

If  “though Jane is 80”preceded the second sentence it would not make the statement offensive but I think that the way it stands makes it ageist even if that isn’t the intent of the writer .. errrrr.. or should I say test preparer. 

So, what say the rest of you?  Am I all riled up over nothing?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. churchmouse permalink
    May 12, 2009 9:16 pm

    I agree with you. Hope you get enough responses to be able to get the answer changed in your favour.

  2. dawood permalink
    May 13, 2009 9:32 pm

    The sentence could easily have just said “Jane says that there are many slopes she has not skied”, or something of that nature without even mentioning the “though” or her age.

    To my eyes, with those included, it has to be seen as an exception implying that her activities are something believed to be out of the ordinary for someone 80 years old. The sole reason for mentioning her age would be to draw attention to that point.

    The automated response makes me very angry, so I can imagine how you must have felt!

    I hope you got great marks on the rest of the test anyway =)

  3. Owen permalink*
    May 14, 2009 6:16 pm

    To be honest, I think it depends on the activity and the proportion of over 75s who engage in that particular activity. It also depends on on’e interpetation of an “enthusiast” – someone who actively particpates or someone who enjoys active or non-active aspects. If the number of “enthusiasts” in the over 75 population is low, then “Though” is indicative of an objective exceptionality – no value judgments and no offensiveness.

  4. May 14, 2009 11:42 pm

    Though Jane is 80, she is still a ski enthusiast. She says there are still many slopes she hasn’t skied.

    The statements above imply that being 80 and a ski enthusiast is abnormal. But that’s beside the point.

    Notice the word “still” in both sentences. You could have condensed this by writing only one sentence with one use of the word “still.” I would have said that either “she is still a ski enthusiast,” or “She says there are still many slopes she hasn’t skied” should go, or be merged, because it sounds a bit redundant. However, noting her age introduces new information.

  5. May 15, 2009 3:08 am

    churchmouse – thanks! It seems that I got credit for the answer. I didn’t show my instructor the post but she’d probably get a kick out of it.

    dawood – alhamdullilah, I’ve been getting 100% on all of my assignments and even got all the points for these test – although I’ve set a personal goal to do that since both of my classes are about things I’ve been doing over the past 20+ years.

    Owen – There is something to what you said but on the other hand since we’re supposed to be very careful about offending people in our writing I think the better safe than sorry approach.

    Konservo – “The statements above imply that being 80 and a ski enthusiast is abnormal. But that’s beside the point.” – actually that is the point in this case.

    I didn’t generate the questions – I modeled them as close as I could without copying the sentences and plaigiarising (don’t make me spell right – i’ve been doing that for two weeks) after the electronic test. But .. yeah all of the questions were redundant like that.

  6. Owen permalink*
    May 15, 2009 7:33 am

    By the way, I hate to say this, but … you never told us what the actual question was!

  7. May 15, 2009 3:42 pm

    Thanks for pointing that out Owen!

    We had to decide if age, race, ethnic, or other descriptive information was necessary to the meaning of a sentence. So we had a list of questions and then we had to click the appropriate box .. so it looked a little something like this:

    “Though Jane is 80, she is still a ski enthusiast. She says there are still many slopes she hasn’t skied.”


  8. Owen permalink*
    May 16, 2009 5:25 am

    There are different ways of looking at the text. It may be saying that in her age group Jane is exceptional in some way – in the sense of partaking in strenuous physical activity or in the UK and perhaps the US as well in being able to afford skiing holidays. Or this may be a biographical piece in which Jane’s physical status and mental outlook is being described – “still” in the second sentence suggests, albeit rather clumsily, that her health at 80 is good enough for her to be contemplating a active future and she anticipates an active leisure career at a time when general social attitudes and practices would indicate increasing risk averseness and social isolation. So I think I agree with the marking system, though the absence of contextual anchoring means that you can’t conclusively rule out a patronising Golden Oldie piece.

  9. May 17, 2009 10:39 pm

    We had to decide if age, race, ethnic, or other descriptive information was necessary to the meaning of a sentence. So we had a list of questions and then we had to click the appropriate box ..

    Oooh… I misunderstood what was being asked.

    In that case, it seems to me, this is a simple matter. Any judgments in which age, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual preference, religion, etc. are considered deciding factors or contributing factors to the outcome of that judgment are ipso facto ageist, racist, sexist, religionist, etc.-ist. If, to you, the fact that Jane is in her 80s is a factor pertinent to any judgments about her being a ski enthusiast, whether you admire her or think that she’s acting weird and should be at home, then there is a certain degree of ageism in your judgment.

  10. May 30, 2009 12:15 am

    glad to see you back blogging!

  11. August 28, 2009 6:11 pm

    I agree with you 🙂 Ramadan Mubarak to you and your family, Dear Sister 🙂

    Ya Haqq!

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