By Anjuli Kolb

Between the dog gardener and the talking Pineapple, this year’s New York State English Language Arts test sounds like an absolutely hilarious failure. In addition to the menagerie of ambitious flora and fauna, it appears another question, this time featuring a talking yam, has excited some debate. State education spokesman John Burman draws a comparison between the yam and Martin Luther King Jr., an Invisible Man considers a life in the "sweet yellowish," and tuber culture, according to Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, circumvents the whole conversation. 

1. “The folk tale involves a farmer startled by his talking yam. Everyone he meets dismisses him as crazy and insists the tubers can’t talk—including, amusingly, other mute objects like a fish, melon and chair. But a version of the yam story appears in a fourth-grade Houghton Mifflin reader and other test prep material available for city schools to purchase, officials said…’It is absurd to suggest that a passage cannot be used on an exam simply because some students may have previously read that passage,’ [State Education spokesman Jonathan Burman] said. ‘Using that logic, we would be unable to ask children to read and answer questions about Dr. King's ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.’”

—Rachel Monahan, “After controversy over pineapple question on city schools test, a question about a yam stirs new troubles,” New York Daily News, 24 April, 2012.

2. “ ‘They’re my birthmark,’ I said. ‘I yam what I am!’ … [c]ontinue on the yam level and life would be sweet—though somewhat yellowish.”

—Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man1952.

3. “Wheat, which bears its grains aboveground, ripens all golden in the sunlit air, while potato tubers expand unseen in occulted darkness. Passing through few stages of civilized productive mediation, the potato makes a startlingly abrupt transition from ground to human being. The whole satisfyingly social and symbolic cycle of planting, germination, sprouting, growing, ripening, harvesting, thrashing, milling, mixing, kneading, and baking, which makes wheat into bread, is bypassed in tuber culture.”

—Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, Practicing New Historicism, 2000. 

Let Me Recite What History Teaches (LMRWHT) is a weekly column that flashes the lavalamp, gaslight, candlelight, campfire, torch, sometimes even the starlight of the past on something that is happening now. The form of the column strives to recover what might be best about the “wide-eyed presentation of mere facts.” Each week you will find here some citational constellation, offered with astonishment and without comment, that can serve as an end in itself, dinner party fodder, or an occasion for further thought or writing. The title is taken from the last line of Stein’s poem “If I Told Him (A Completed Portrait of Picasso)."