WASHINGTON – “Imagine taking a college exam, and, instead of handing in a blue book and getting a grade from a professor a few weeks later, clicking the ‘send’ button when you are done and receiving a grade back instantly, your essay scored by a software program.”
This suggestion, which was the opening paragraph to a front-page New York Times article last month, caught my attention. The article discussed the debate over computerization of education and grading, and it reported that a nonprofit enterprise founded to offer courses online has created such a system and plans to “make its automated software available free on the Web to any institution that wants to use it.” The software uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks. So, what might such a system do to President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?
“Four score and seven (EIGHTY-SEVEN) years ago our fathers (ANCESTORS is preferable) brought forth on (ONE PART OF) this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty (NO NEED TO CAPITALIZE), and dedicated (WHAT’S YOUR SOURCE FOR THIS?) to the proposition that all men (PEOPLE) are created equal.
“Now (CAN YOU BE MORE SPECIFIC ABOUT THIS TIME REFERENCE? WHEN EXACTLY IS NOW?) we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
“We are met (ASSEMBLED) on a great battle-field (NO HYPHEN IN WEBSTER’S NEW WORLD FOURTH EDITION) of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, (EXTRANEOUS COMMA) as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that (IN ORDER) that (SUCH A) nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger (ANOTHER) sense, we can not dedicate* — we can not consecrate* — we can not hallow* — this ground.(*REPETITIVE LANGUAGE) The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have (ALREADY) consecrated it, far above our poor (MORE LIMITED) power to add or detract.
“The world will little note, nor long remember (THIS IS CONJECTURE) what we say here, but it can (MAY) never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which (THAT) they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
“It is(,) rather(,) for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — (A COLON IS PREFERABLE TO A DASH) that from these honored dead (AND WOUNDED) we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth (CONTINUATION) of freedom — and that government of the people*, by the people*, for the people* (*REPETITIVE LANGUAGE), shall not perish from the Earth.”
General comment: Too short.
David Lebedoff is a lawyer and writer in Minneapolis. His books include “Cleaning Up: The Big Spill, from Alaska to the Gulf” and “The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War.”