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Heaven’s Gate

Heaven's Gate

University can be paradise, but in Brazil the road to it couldn’t be
more hazardous. The University Reform of 1968 established the so-called vestibular unificado
(unified entrance exam) with standard tests being given to a group of schools, instead of
every school preparing its own set of exams. This gave origin to the practice in which
tens of thousands of students participate at the same time of the same battery of tests.
Sometimes as many as 80 students fight for one solitary place. The irony and cruelty of
the Brazilian university system is that the people who are rich enough to send their
children to private school during the elementary and secondary years are the same ones who
most benefit from a free public university banked by the taxpayers.
By Alessandra Dalevi

The latest version of the Chinese-corridor torture to which Brazilian students willing
to enter college are submitted every year should be finished by now. Hundreds of thousands
of youngsters once again have gone through the battery of tests that many times have
little to do with what they have learned in school. This is a ritual known as the vestibular,
which starts in November with preliminary exams and continues in December and January when
students get tested and often receive reinforcement classes even on Christmas and New
Year’s Day. It all ends in February when final results are posted and those lucky enough
to have survived the killing marathon run to fill applications a few days before classes
start.

The first school of higher education in Brazil was the Escola Médico-Cirúrgica
(Medical-Surgical School) in the state of Bahia. It was founded in 1808 by the Portuguese
regent, Prince John (later to be known as Dom João VI), after he fled to Rio to escape
the invasion of Portugal by Napoleon’s army. Before that time, those looking for a college
education had to go to the University of Coimbra in Portugal, an institution frequented
only by the very rich.

It was also in 1808 that Rio de Janeiro was granted courses in anatomy and surgery,
which were complemented the next year with a medical school. Entrance exams were already
known at the time, since students had to pass a test to be admitted to these first
institutions of higher learning.

The exams would be regulated by law only in 1911, thanks to the Organic Law for Higher
and Fundamental Education. Before 1968, each institution created its own entrance exams,
which were composed of written and oral tests. In 1827, São Paulo and Olinda (in
Pernambuco state) became the first cities to establish law schools. The first university,
however, would only be created almost one century later, in 1913. It was the Universidade
Federal do Paraná, which opened its doors during the watch of Brazil’s eighth president,
Hermes Rodrigues da Fonseca. This was nearly 20 years before the creation of the Ministry
of Education and Public Health in 1930.

Brazil entered the era of the modern university in 1934 when the government of São
Paulo state established the Universidade de São Paulo, better known as USP. The following
year saw the founding of the Universidade do Brasil, now known as the Universidade Federal
do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). They constitute today the two best universities in Brazil.

While the percentage of Brazilians with a college diploma has now increased to 8
percent, in 1960 a mere 1 percent of the population had passed through college. It was in
the ’60s that interest and conditions to get a higher education started its crescendo. The
University Reform of 1968 established the so-called vestibular unificado
(unified entrance exam) with standard tests being given to a group of schools, instead of
every school preparing its own set of exams. This gave origin to the practice in which
tens of thousands of students participate at the same time of the same battery of tests,
fighting for a few spots. Sometimes as many as 80 students vie for one solitary place.

It was also at the end of the ’60s that appeared a new character in the education
scenario: the excedente (surplus). This happened because the entrance test to the
university, the vestibular, was classificatory, meaning that all who earned a
certain number of points were considered apt to enter college. The problem was that there
was no room for every qualified applicant in the most coveted courses such as medicine,
law and engineering.

To deal with the excedentes, the federal government tried several approaches. It
encouraged the creation of new private colleges, which started sprouting all over the
country, many times without any infrastructure. They would soon be derisively called
‘money-grabbers’, ‘diploma factories’, ‘you-paid-you-passed’, and ‘bird traps’. Instead of
a minimum note to pass, students now could opt for different schools depending on their
test results. In Rio, for example, 28,000 candidates participated in its first unified vestibular
in 1972. This number skyrocketed to 120,000 in 1989, when demand was at its highest.

The tendency today is for schools to abandon these collective tests and go back to
their own selection exams. Unicamp (Universidade de Campinas) and UFRJ, for example, have
been organizing their own tests after years of being part of Fuvest and Cesgranrio
Foundation, respectively. There is also an increasing movement to dispense altogether with
the vestibular.

The Myth of School for All

At the end of 1997, Carlos Alberto Serpa, one of the creators of Cesgranrio (the
organization in charge of Rio’s unified entrance exams) and a member of the Conselho
Nacional de Educação (National Council on Education) proposed a new method of university
admissions. It would be based on the Sapiens (Sistema de Avaliação Progressiva para o
Ingresso no Ensino Superior—System of Progressive Evaluation for Entrance on Higher
Education Schools) method, which has been used experimentally for 23 years in Rio. Sapiens
results are based in six distinct evaluations made during the three years of secondary
school.

In the federal capital, the Universidade de Brasília has been experimenting with the
PAS (Programa de Avaliação Seriada—Serial Evaluation Program), a system in which
students go through a test once a year during the three years of secondary school.
Beginning next year, the Universidade de Brasília will reserve 50 percent of its places
to schools that have signed up for PAS.

In 1995, Education Minister Paulo Renato Souza promised the creation of a nationwide
test for secondary schools that would not only gauge the quality of education in the
country, but would also offer the basis for a selective process that would allow the end
of the vestibular system. The first of such tests happened in October 1997, but
only nine of Brazil’s 26 states participated. A more ample exam is planned for the end of
this year.

One of the problems with national quizzes is the opposition from some university
chancellors who see such tests as undue interference in their own territory. This a
project for the long or at the least for the middle term. Even if tests started to be
applied on students who began high school in 1998, the first fruits of the work would not
be seen before the beginning of the next century.

Another national test intent on measuring how are Brazilians doing is school is the provão
(big test), which was created in 1996. Around 85,000 students from 822 courses of
administration, engineering, law, dentistry, and veterinary medicine took part in the provão
in October 1997. A national boycott movement by student unions and colleges themselves
contributed to some distortions in results, since some students returned their tests
blank.

The boycott of 1997, however, was smaller than in the previous year. For the most part,
the tests returned were sufficient to evaluate how well or badly these schools are
teaching. The results were also useful to corroborate what everybody knew: that higher
education in Brazil is profoundly elitist with a twist— the richer you are, the
better your chances are to land your preferred course and school.

It was revealed, for example, that 75% of the students come from families with a
monthly income of at least ten minimum wages (around $1,200). It happens that only 17% of
the population makes that amount of money. While 42% of Brazilians earn $400 or less a
month, only 3% of the students taking part in the provão came from these families.
This reveals that education in Brazil is not helping to create a true democracy and to
lessen the gap between the more and less privileged.

Guimarães Castro from INEP (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas
Educacionais—National Institute of Studies and Educational Researches) points to an
even higher degree of elitism in some courses: "What calls our attention is how the
group of business administration and law is different from the group including chemical
engineering, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. The money of an administration student is
his own and not his parents’." Administration students are generally older: 62% have
to work, most of them 40 hours a week. That’s why 80% of the administration students and
62% of those studying law go to night school.

On the other hand, 80% of those in dentistry courses are 24 years old or younger and
68% of them do not work. The answers also showed that most of the students, whether from
public or private colleges, graduated from a private secondary school. There are 850
schools of higher education across the country. Seventy-five percent of openings in
universities are in private schools, but the best colleges are public. Besides, the
federal and state universities are entirely free.

Tougher and Tougher

Of the students who passed the Fuvest (the largest vestibular in the country for
Brazil"s best colleges and universities, most of them public) in 1997, 65% had
studied in private schools and 55% had parents with a college degree. The irony and
cruelty of these numbers is that the people who are rich enough to send their children to
private school during the elementary and secondary years are the same ones who benefit
from a free university banked by the taxpayers.

Matters should get worse in the next few years with an increasing number of students
getting out of secondary school and searching for a college. The relatively small number
of students who graduate from high school has been working as a natural valve that
prevents an inordinate number of candidates willing to get into college. But this might
change soon, according to Maria Helena Guimarães Castro, president of INEP. Castro
analyzed the situation in an interview with Rio daily O Globo: "In 1991, when
there were 560,000 vacancies in schools of higher learning, around 600,000 students
concluded secondary school. Now, the number of those finishing secondary school has
doubled and soon the demand for places in college will be much higher."

In 1975 there were 2.2 candidates per available spot, on average. Today this ratio has
more than doubled with 4.6 people disputing every vacancy. According to Fuvest, which
organizes the vestibular for Universidade de São Paulo and other colleges, 60% of
those who pass their entrance exam have tried the test one, two or three times before. The
more people who dispute the same place, the higher the score must be for a candidate to
stay in the competition. For the past two years, there has been an increase of 11% in the
Fuvest vestibular’s scores.

In the latest test for dentistry at the Universidade Federal do Paraná, the minimum
score needed for the preliminary tests was 6.6. The previous year 5.6 was enough to
continue in the race. The vestibular is an unfair and cruel punishment that in a
few hours wants to measure what the student has learned in 11 years of study (eight in
elementary school and three more in secondary). The preliminary test usually has only
multiple-choice questions: the more comprehensive tests, containing essays and
compositions, are left for a second battery of quizzes.

Stress and anxiety can become a family problem. In São Paulo, the Colégio
Bandeirantes, an elite private high school that approves more candidates to the vestibular
than any other institution, has created a program of psychological aid for parents and
children on the eve of the vestibular tests. During the holiday season, when
psychological offices around the world have to deal with the seasonal blues of their
clients, Brazilian psychologists have also to see more cases of college-bound youngsters
struggling against depression, decreased appetite, and insomnia.

Describing the role of the vestibular in Brazil, sociologist Gisela Taschner,
from Rio’s Fundação Getúlio Vargas, told in an interview with weekly magazine Veja:
"The vestibular fulfills an extra function besides selecting students. It is a
rite of passage like the ones in Indian tribes, which serves to indicate that the
individual has left childhood and has entered the adult world."

A Japanese Is Gaining on You

To be ready for this marathon, students are increasingly getting better prepared. For
those who can afford it, that means taking a whole year or more of prep school,
specialized courses that prepare for the vestibular and that are know as cursinhos.
They are big business. And there are students that join two or more of these cursinhos
so they can pick up the best teachers on each of them.

With or without a cursinho many students while preparing for the vestibular
give up any semblance of normal life, foregoing weekends, parties, romances, and
friendships. Studying 10, 12, 14 hours a day in the months leading to the vestibular
is not unusual. Colleagues at cursinhos are often foes since they will be disputing
the same few spots. Instructors here can be jeered if they stray from the subject. A sign
at a cursinho toilet in São Paulo gives an idea of the sense of urgency, fear of
wasting any second, and the paranoia of these students: "While you are here,"
says the sign scrawled on the wall, "a Japanese is studying."

The best cursinho teachers are sought after as star players and paid
accordingly. While teachers in public secondary schools make around $500 a month, the
virtuoso teacher can make $7,000 or more for 60 hours of work a week. And these earnings
can double with the apostilas (typewritten and photocopied books) that they prepare
on the subject they teach.

At Rio’s pH prep course, 3,500 students are taught and entertained by popular teachers
who use games, jokes, and songs to keep the classes attentive and interested. José
Inácio da Silva Pereira, the Pachecão, a physics teacher at a Belo Horizonte (capital of
Minas Gerais state) cursinho has become a hit with his Odeio Física (I Hate
Physics) CD, which sold 25,000 copies in two weeks.

No other vestibular is as big as Fuvest. Fuvest (Fundação Universitária para
o Vestibular—Universitary Foundation for the Vestibular) had 138,487
candidates disputing its 8,518 spots this year. Of these candidates, 19,332 were treineiros
, students who haven’t yet finished secondary school, but who want to train for the exam.
Another big vestibular is the one done by Unicamp (Universidade Estadual de
Campinas) in São Paulo state. The University, which organizes its own exams in 18
different cities, had 33,327 candidates. São Paulo’s PUC (Pontifícia Universidade
Católica—Catholic Pontifical University), a traditional private school that
organizes its own vestibular, offered 4930 spots this year.

The unified exam of Rio’s Cesgranrio serves 14 institutions, offering a total of 12,000
places in 30 different majors. A little more than 17,000 students went through their tests
this year, with more than 6,000 of them fighting for the 370 spots in medicine. Many
students apply to Cesgranrio as a backup since they would rather study at the federal or
state universities that not only are better, but are also free. More than 52,000 applied
for the UFRJ (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) vestibulares, with its 6,120
offerings. Another 16,646 were disputing the 1,052 spots of Universidade do Rio (Uni-Rio).
 

In the war against electronic cribbing, Cesgranrio forbids the use of wristwatches,
pagers, and cellular phones. In the 1997 vestibulares, 58 candidates were
eliminated after being caught using digital watches that transmitted the answers to the
multiple-choice tests. The service was being offered for $15,000. Fuvest this year did not
allow the exam rooms to be occupied at more than 70 percent capacity, placing a bigger
distance between the test takers. It also prepared five different versions of its test.

Despite all the precautions, a sophisticated scheme of defrauding was discovered this
year in Jundiaí, in the state of São Paulo, during the exam for Universidade São
Francisco. Nine candidates trying to enter medicine school had minuscule earphones that
were connected to a transmitter tied to their legs and a silencer inside the slip or
panties of the candidate. Wires were glued to the skin and the scalp. Authorities were
convinced that people involved in this fraud were part of a bigger scheme to defraud other
vestibulares. These scams generally involve someone that takes the exam together
with the candidates, but leaves the room earlier with all the information for somebody on
the outside to solve the problems.

The Inside Scoop

This year, the Portuguese Fuvest test, which opened the second phase of the vestibular
was considered too hard by teachers of the Portuguese language. According to Elizabeth
Massaranduba, a teacher at São Paulo’s Objetivo High School, the composition themes
proposed were complicated. "Only those very well prepared intellectually were able to
properly do the test," she said. Students were offered five texts by five different
authors. The first theme explored French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s well-known phrase:
"Hell is other people." The other questions were longer and more obscure phrases
by Brazilian writers.

After studying the texts, Massaranduba concluded that many students might get the wrong
impression that the theme being proposed was the meanness of other people, while the real
intent was an analysis of the self based on its relationship with others.

Among the 10 questions asked in the history test of Fuvest were these two: "1.
Comment the specificity of the Spartan social structure in the context of the classical
Greek city-state. 5. What is the meaning of the expression ‘cold war’ and to what period
of the history of international relations does it refer?"

Not every candidate had to deal with tough assignments though. The 49,000 students
participating in Rio’s Universidade Federal vestibular didn’t seem to have any
reason for complaints. Some candidates were able to complete the test well before the four
hours they had at their disposal.

But in Rio Grande do Sul the history test at UFRGS (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande
do Sul) given to close to 38,000 students provoked the ire of the Brazilian President. In
one of the questions, the exam reproduced a cartoon published in the September issue of
the magazine Imprensa. In it, First Lady Ruth Cardoso, while doing the taxes, asks
her husband if he had made any charitable contribution. He answers that he gave away the
Vale, that is, the state company Vale do Rio Doce, which was privatized in May 1997.

Inspired by the charge, the test proposes three alternatives. To have the answer
considered correct the candidate had to check alternative c, meaning that propositions one
and two were correct. These items stated that "the FHC administration denies being a
government of neoliberal orientation and justifies the policy of dismantling the state
sector" and implements a "policy of the federal public workers’ wages."

While the university defended its choice of question, arguing that the options
presented were public knowledge and not matter of opinion, Sérgio Amaral, the President’s
spokesman, confirmed that Fernando Henrique Cardoso was not happy with the test, adding:
"This shows that the university has little information. It is a shame that the
university begins its contact with students by making such a mistake." Amaral also
used the incident to defend the idea that the provão is a necessity as a way of
controlling the quality of teaching in colleges.

The President in the Test

This was the question presented at UFRGS (Universidade Federal do Rio
Grande do Sul), which provoked the ire of the presidency.

"The criticism shown through the cartoon refers to an aspect of the
economic policy adopted by the FHC administration. Read the statements below about the FHC
administration:

1. The FHC administration has favored the opening and denationalization of
the country’s economy, the privatization of the public sector, and a policy of compression
of the federal public workers’ wages.

2. The FHC government denies being a government of neoliberal orientation
and justifies the policy of dismantling the state sector with the rhetoric about the
necessity of modernizing the Brazilian economy, a condition for inserting itself
competitively in the globalization process.

3. The success of the Plano Real and the process of privatizing the
economy have caused noticeable social improvement for the masses of the excluded from the
country, emptying almost completely the political struggle of the social movements
organized in the rural area."

What is correct?
(A) 1 only
(B) 2 only
(C) Both 1 and 2
(D) Both 2 and 3
(E) All of them

(C ) was the only answer accepted as correct.

So Many People So Few Spots

At Universidade de Brasília (UnB) there was a record number of candidates for its vestibular,
with 26,653 students (in the previous year 24,700 went though the process) trying to fill
up the 1,907 places offered.

As portrayed in a Correio Braziliense article, Brasília’s Janaína Passos is a
typical example of a candidate, fearful and hopeful, trying to get into many colleges at
the same time. "If I pass," she told the paper, "I will be in paradise. If
I don’t I will be in hell. But I am sure I will pass."

She should. Janaína, while competing for a place in UnB’s letters course, also took
the test for the law school of two private colleges. Her dream would be to study law at
the federal university (which is free), but she didn’t even dare to try. She was scared by
the number of candidates (2,259) competing for 50 places, which means 45 students vying
for the same spot. Only medicine had a bigger demand, with 30 spots for 1,470 candidates,
or 49 students for every place.

As in every other vestibular, candidates have to choose a foreign language in
which to be tested. At the UnB vestibular, more than 96% of the candidates from the
so-called exact area, which includes medicine, psychology, and dentistry, opted for
English. A little more than 3% chose French and no one picked Spanish, a language
generally chosen by those who have not studied any language. The reason being the
similarities between Portuguese and Spanish. English was also chosen by 77.28% of those
trying to enter a major in the humanities. In this group, 3.59% opted for French and
19.13% for Spanish.

In the exact area, the favorite courses were medicine, dentistry, and psychology, with
physics, chemistry and statistics at the bottom. In the humanities area, the most
sought-after courses were law, publicity, and journalism. Music and artistic education
were the ones that drew the least interest.


Vestibular UnB/98

Sciences

Course ……………………………Candidates for each spot

Medicine ………………………………………..49
Dentistry……………………………………….. 40.65
Psychology …………………………………….30.34
Computer ………………………………………25.83
Nutrition ………………………………………..22.68
Physical Education………………………….. 21.05
Nursing …………………………………………20.68
Veterinary Medicine ………………………..19.9
Computer (Night course) ………………….17.83
Biology …………………………………………17.63
Pharmacy ………………………………………14.53
Mathematics (Night)……………………….. 12.9
Biology (Night)………………………………. 12.37
Agronomy…………………………………….. 11.38
Civil Engineering ……………………………..11.23
Communications Engineering………………10.7
Mathematics…………………………………… 8.8
Electrical Engineering ………………………..8.68
Mecatronic Engineering…………………….. 8.23
Forest Engineering ……………………………8.05
Mechanic Engineering ……………………….7.38
Physics (Night)…………………………………7.37
Geology………………………………………… 6.88
Chemistry (Night) …………………………….6.77
Physics………………………………………….. 6.16
Chemistry ……………………………………….5.91
Statistics …………………………………………4.96 

Humanities

Course …………………………….Candidates for each spot

Law………………………………………………. 45.18
Publicity ………………………………………….31
Journalism………………………………………. 28.28
International Relations………………………. 24.10
Administration (Night)………………………. 21
Cinema …………………………………………..17.2
Administration ………………………………….16.38
Accounting (Night)…………………………… 15
Pedagogy (Night)…………………………….. 14.23
Translation ………………………………………13.04
Portuguese (Night)…………………………… 12.73
Social Work…………………………………… 12.67
Architecture……………………………………. 12.17
History……………………………………… ….. 12
Pedagogy ………………………………………..10.89
Letters ……………………………………………10.68
Geography……………………………………… 9.8
Economics……………………………………… 9.65
Accounting ……………………………………..9.1
Archivology (Night)…………………………. 8.9
Spanish (Night) ………………………………..8.7
Politics…………………………………………… 8.15
Social Sciences ………………………………..7.60
Library Sciences ………………………………6.03
Industrial Design………………………………. 4.15
Japanese (Night)……………………………… 3.4
Portuguese ………………………………………2.90
Art …………………………………………………2.88
Theatre Arts……………………………………. 2.33
Music……………………………………………. 1.6
Plastic Arts…………………………………….. 1.05
Artistic Education (Night)………………….. 0.9

Facing the Monster

At São Paulo’s Fuvest, students had to go through two phases. In part one of the first
phase, the candidates answered questions on Portuguese, English, physics, and chemistry.
In part two they had to deal with history, biology, mathematics and geography. A sure way
to fail in these exams is to arrive late, even if it is only by one minute. Every year
there are touching tales. This year, daily O Estado de S. Paulo told the story of
20-year-old José Rogério Nascimento e Silva, who arrived too early, decided to take a
nap in his car and woke up too late. "I lost everything," he told the reporter
while crying.

Another student, 20-year-old Abreuçon Atanásio Alves, coming from the northeastern
state of Bahia, had traveled more than 48 hours by bus, but he went to the wrong testing
place. The would-be nurse seemed resigned afterwards: "My mother is not going to be
happy at all," he told reporters. "Now I have to wait one more year."

The gleaning is exhaustive. From the 51,980 students trying to get a place at Rio’s
Universidade Federal, only 45,871 were able to pass the first hurdle made of multiple
choice questions to undergo discursive-question tests with 30,711 being classified in the
first phase. From those, 6,109 didn’t show up for the second phase, 8,804 had a zero
score, and another 6,262 got a score inferior to 3. Others were eliminated in different
ways. The total of those approved: 4,163.

With 44.77 points of a maximum possible 50 points, Christina Feitosa Pelajo, 18, won
the first place among all the students trying to enter UFRJ (Universidade Federal do Rio
de Janeiro). Typical for a vestibulando, for one year she abandoned all activities
including courses of French and German, parties and weekends on the beach, and studied 10
hours daily. Her family gave her a big help by sparing her from all domestic chores,
keeping silence at home, and taking her by car wherever she needed to go.

She also won first place at the Cesgranrio vestibular. What she really wanted,
though, was UFRJ. "People think that to get a first place you have to be a nerd. You
don’t. You just need to dedicate yourself." Pelajo was also helped by the fact that
she was studying in one of the best private schools in Rio, the pH. To get to the
finishing line of the UFRJ vestibular she had to face—like everybody else a
total of 16 tests, which lasted 66 hours.

In the Fuvest vestibular, coming in front of 120,000 other candidates, was a
student who had been practicing for the vestibular since he was 13 years old.
Kleber Yotsumoto Fertrin, 17, was still in the 7th grade in Campinas, interior of São
Paulo state, when he practiced for the first time—and won enough points to pass—
in a real vestibular. At 14, he came in 8th place in a computer college. At 15, he
passed an entrance exam for medical school. However, he was just training all this time.

Fertrin obtained 851.6 from a possible 1000 points. He chose to study medicine at USP
(Universidade de São Paulo), but he could have opted for engineering at Puccamp
(Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Campinas) where he also came in first place. "I
didn’t kill myself studying," he told reporters. "I only studied when I was up
to it."

The final results—which are generally released in February and leave just a few
days for new students to present all their papers to start the school year—are a
moment of often noisy and unruly catharsis. Everything seems to be allowed for those who
get on the approved list. For the 3,000 freshmen of UFRGS (Universidade Federal do Rio
Grande do Sul) for example, the release of the names was the starting shot for the already
traditional dance and paint war. Anticipating what would be done to them by the veterans
many cut off all their hair and then got together for the so-called victory celebration at
Cervejaria Dado Bier, a large beer place in Porto Alegre.

The entrance marathon has ended and now the victorious ones have the right to be called
bichos (beasts). They can be dragged into some heavy hazing, of which the
most mild involves getting the head bald and asking for alms on red lights. For those who
won a place far from home, it is now time to find room and board. Some schools offer
limited lodging on campus or nearby, but the majority of students will have to fend by
themselves. Often new students will get together with other calouros (freshmen) in
so-called repúblicas (republics).

TRY THE
VESTIBULAR
YOURSELF

Here is the English test given students participating on the Fuvest’s entrance exam,
which congregates a series of colleges in São Paulo. After reading the following texts,
the students had to answer the questions in Portuguese:

Text 1:

Day by day the Point got taller and taller. And day by day the shadow got longer and
longer. All around flowers died, grass turned brown and rooms became dark and cold. Old
people had to turn on heaters, even in the middle of summer.

"It’s just so ugly," said Doll to Harold as they ate dinner one night.
"Once I used to look out of the window and see trees and flowers, hear singing birds.
Now all I see is that ugly grey thing. There’re no flowers, no trees, no light, no grass,
no birds, nothing." "Oh, it’s not that bad," said Harold.

"Don’t give me that," snapped Doll. "You don’t have to watch it. Day in
and day out. Watch it getting bigger and bigger and bigger." Rosie sat at the table
and ate her dinner. She thought her mum was being stupid, although she didn’t say so.
Instead, she just filled her mouth with a forkful of mashed potato and stared at her
plate. Later, though, while Doll was washing up, Rosie couldn’t help saying, "I don’t
think it’s ugly."

"Well, you’re as foolish as your father, then."

"I just think it’s… it’s a gigantic finger pointing up to the sky. Or a tall
flower. Or a wonderful steeple." "Listen, young lady," interrupted Doll.
"It’s not a finger and it’s not a flower and it’s not a steeple. It’s just a shadow.
Nothing else. It’s just a point of shadow."

And that was how the Point became known as Shadow Point.

(Philip Ridley, Mercedes Ice. London, Puffin Books. 1996, pp. 18-19)

a. Who is who in this story?

(The answer presented by teachers the next day in the newspapers: Harold is the father,
Doll is the mother, Rosie is the daughter.)

b. To what does "Shadow Point" refer to? Why did it get this name?

(Answer: "Shadow Point" refers to a construction, which might be a building
or simply a high wall. It got its name because it projected a shadow around it).

c. The text mentions changes. What changes are these?

(Answer: The text mentions changes for the worse, in the words of the mother:
"There’re no flowers, no trees, no light, no grass, no birds singing; all we see is a
huge shadow.")

Text 2:

Nature science update

The soil-eaters

by Ehsan Masood

It’s lunchtime somewhere in rural tropical Africa. You’re hungry, but the nearest
restaurant is too far to walk. There’s no Italian, Chinese, Indian or fast food and the
telephone pizza delivery company is a little reluctant to send its dispatch rider beyond
the city walls. Moreover, you’re on a tight budget. What are you to do?

The answer, quite literally, may lie in the soil directly beneath your feet. According
to two researchers from the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, UK, the tradition of soil
consumption is still very much alive in the African tropics, India, Jamaica and it has
also been reported in Saudi Arabia. Despite the advent of modern religions and the end of
the slave trade, soil eating is not uncommon, though mostly confined to the poorer
sections of society. 

The reasons for soil consumption are many and often misunderstood, say the researchers
Peter Abrahams and Julia Parsons. But geophagists,—as soil-eaters are known,—on
the whole are regarded as quite "normal" to most but outsiders. "Despite
the widespread distribution of geophagy, both today and in the past, it is largely
unknown, under-reported, misunderstood or ignored by most people in the developed
world,", say Abrahams and Parsons. This is why the adjectives "eccentric,"
"perverted," "odd," and "bizarre" have all been applied to
geophagy".

(Nature News Service, 1996)

a. The first paragraphs addresses a specific reading public? What public is this?
Justify your answer.

(Answer: The specific public is the visitor who finds himself in the rural area of
Africa and wants to eat. The paragraph raises the hypothesis of a hungry person in a
faraway region in Africa, without any close place where to eat.)

b. What is the explanation of Abrahams and Parsons for the use of adjectives as
"eccentric", "perverted", "odd" and "bizarre" to
characterize geophagy?

(Answer: Geophagy is quite unknown, it is seldom mentioned, it is misunderstood or
ignored by most people in the First World.)

c. Give a meaning for the word "but" in the excerpt: "…on the whole,
soil eaters are regarded as quite "normal" to most but outsiders."

(Answer: In the phrase, but means except.)

Text 3:

A sidelight on urban violence in the U.S. could also be showing up a similar situation
in some parts of the U.K. A doctor in Arkansas has pointed out that the rise of street
gangs is affecting preventive medicine for elderly people. He mentioned two patients of
his, both in their early 60s, one with hypertension and the other with diabetes. Both took
regular walks of a mile or two several times a week, but they have become too frightened
of street gangs to go out.

Their walks ceased several months ago. Consequently both had gained about 10 pounds in
weight, not a good thing for either condition. So street gangs, apart from the obvious
damage they can cause, might also be worsening cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the
elderly. I do not know whether anyone has noticed gains in weight for the same reason
among elderly patients in some parts of London, for example.

Bill Tidy, New Scientist, September 28, 1991

a. In which way is urban violence may be affecting the health of the elderly?

(Answer: For fear of gangs, the elderly stop walking, gain weight and worsen their
heart problems and diabetes.)

Texts 4 and 5:

Letters to the Editor:

Murphy was a perfectionist:

As the son of the man whose name is attached to "Murphy’s law," I want to
thank you for accurately and respectfully identifying the origin of this "law"
in your recent article ["The Science of Murphy’s Law," by Robert A. J. Matthews,
April]. My father was an avid reader of Scientific American, and I can assure you
that were he still alive, he would have written to you himself, thanking you for a more
serious discussion of Murphy’s Law than the descriptions on the posters and calendars that
treat it so lightly.

Yet as interesting as the article is, I suggest that the author may have missed the
point of Murphy’s Law. Matthews describes the law in terms of the probability of failure.
I would suggest, however, that Murphy’s law actually refers to the CERTAINTY of failure.
It is a call for determining the likely causes of failure in advance and acting to prevent
a problem before it occurs. In the example of flipping toast, my father would not have
stood by and watched the slice fall onto its buttered side. Instead he would have figured
out a way to prevent the fall or at least ensure that the toast would fall butter-side up.

Murphy and his fellow engineers spent years testing new designs of devices related to
aircraft pilot safety or crash survival when there was no room for failure (for example,
they worked on supersonic jets and Apollo landing craft). They were not content to rely on
probabilities for their successes. Because they knew that things left to chance would
definitely fail, they went to painstaking efforts to ensure success.

Edward A. Murphy III, Sausalito, California

After receiving more than 362 intact issues of Scientific American, I received
the April issue—with the article on Murphy’s law—that was not only assembled
incorrectly by the printer but also damaged by the U.S. Post Office during delivery. My
teenage daughter is taking this magazine into her science class to talk about Murphy’s
Law. The condition of this issue is an excellent example for her presentation.

Brad Whitney, Anaheim, California

(Scientific American, August 1997)

a. What gave origin to these two texts?

(Answer: An article published in the magazine Scientific American on "Murphy’s
Law.")

b. The second text says: "The condition of this issue is an excellent example for
her presentation." Explain why.

(Answer: The teenage daughter of Mr. Brad Whitney will talk about "Murphy’s
Law" at school and will take the magazine to back up her presentation. It happens
that the April issue of Scientific American was damaged in the mail and had printing
problems.)

c. Explain why Murphy can be considered a perfectionist.

(Answer: He can be considered a perfectionist because: 1) he spent years testing
devices, that initially had no chance of failing. 2) for him it wasn’t enough to trust in
probabilities of success. 3) he didn’t spare any effort to guarantee the success of his
efforts.)

Text 6:

Caesar’s Ghost

The real reason why things never change

The U.S. standard railroad gauge—the distance between the rails—is 4 feet,
8.5 inches. Why that exceedingly odd number? Because that’s the way they built them in
England, and the U.S. railroads were built by English expatriates. Why did the English
people build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people
who built the prerailroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.Why? Because the people
who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools for building wagons, which used that
wheel spacing. OK!

Why did the wagons use that odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other
spacing their wagons would break on some of the old long-distance roads, because that’s
the spacing of the old wheel ruts. 

So who built the old rutted roads? The first long-distance roads in Europe were built
by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions and have been used ever since. The
initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagons, were
first made by Roman war chariots, which, because they were made for or by Imperial Rome,
were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

So, the U.S. standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original
specifications for an Imperial Roman army war chariot. Specs and bureaucracies live
forever.

From Kyoto Journal (#33) by Richard Thomson (at Utne Reader, July-August
97, p. 32)

a. Explain the title of this text.

(Answer: The standard measurement (4 feet, 8.5 inches) used for building American
railroads is the same as the one used by the Romans for their coaches and chariots. That’s
why Caesar’s "ghost" continues to be present nowadays.

Some
Tasteful
Bites

The vestibular has also been an inexhaustible source for some of the funniest
moments produced by the national ignorance and misinformation. Some teachers have been
collecting such gems. Here is a sample of a selection made by professor José Roberto
Mathias, in 1994, when in one of the vestibulares the theme proposed for
composition was: "Does TV form, inform or deform?" Unfortunately, the
translation loses the extra comical effects due to misspellings and Portuguese
idiosyncrasies.

A TV possui um grau elevadíssimo de informações que nos enriquece de uma maneira
pobre, pois se tornamos uns viciados deste veículo de comunicação.
The TV possesses a very high degree of information that enriches us in a poor way, because
we become addicted to the vehicle of communication.

A TV no entanto é um consumo que devemos consumir para nossa formação,
informação e deformação.
The TV however is a consumption that we have to consume for our formation,
information, and deformation.

A TV se estiver ligada pode formar uma série de imagens, já desligada não…
The TV when on can form a series of images, when off it can’t…

A TV deforma não só os sofás por motivo da pessoa ficar bastante tempo intertida
como também as vista…
The TV deforms not only the sofas because people get entertained for a long time, but also
the eyes.…

A televisão passa para as pessoas que a vida é um conto de fábulas e com isso
fabrica muitas cabeças…
Television passes to people that life is a fairy tale (conto de fadas, in Portuguese, and
not conto de fábulas, which means fables) and with that it manufactures many heads…

Sempre ou quase sempre a TV está mais perto de nosco… fazendo com que o
telespectador solte o seu lado obscuro…
Always or almost always TV is closer to us… making that the viewer releases its
obscure side.…

A TV deforma a coluna, os músculos e o organismo em geral.
The TV deforms the spine, the muscles and the organism in general.

A televisão é um meio de comunicação, audição e porque não dizer de
locomoção.
Television is a way of communication, audition and why not say it of locomotion.

A TV é o oxigênio que forma nossas idéias.
TV is the oxygen that forms our ideas.

… por isso é que podemos dizer que esse meio de transporte é capaz de informar
e deformar os homens…
… that’s why we can say that this means of transportation is capable of
informing and deforming men…

A TV ezerce poder, levando informações diárias e porque não dizer horárias.

TV has power, bringing daily and why not say it hourly information.

Nos estamos nos diluindo a cada dia e não se pode dizer que a TV não tem nada a
ver com isso…
We are diluting ourselves every day and we cannot say that TV has nothing to do with that

A TV acomoda aos teles inspectadores…
TV accommodates the tele inspectators…

A televisão pode ser definida como uma faca de trez gumes. Ela tanto pode formar,
como informar, como deformar…
Television can be defined as a three-edged knife. It can either form, inform or
deform…

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