Autoblography Part 14: First!

By Shamus Posted Friday Sep 16, 2011

Filed under: Personal 207 comments

“Shamus, you’d be a good student if you just did your work.”

Teachers have been saying this to me for ages, but this is coming from a fellow student. A student who never usually talks to me. I nod. I don’t know what to say in return, and I don’t want to screw up this moment of non-abuse. The really curious thing is that this is the third person to say this to me today. Kids who have always ignored me are now suddenly admonishing me to do my work, and suggesting that I could be a good student. The problem is that the title of “good student” has no value to me. It wouldn’t get me any closer to a computer, which is the only thing I care about at this point.

I’m not very socially aware or sophisticated, but I’m together enough to see a pattern here. Someone put these kids up to this. It had to be a teacher, since the encouragement is coming from more than one clique of students. It could have been either of our sixth-grade teachers. (The two classrooms swap students for certain subjects.) Certainly the talk would have taken place when I was in my Special Ed class, away from my peers. Maybe Mr. Markle arranged it? He seems to understand me better than anyone else in this place.

While I’m not suddenly motivated to begin working, I am encouraged by the effort. Someone is looking for ways to motivate me in ways besides offering punishments in the distant future (bad grades) or meaningless rewards (stickers and such) in the short-term. Even more interesting is that these kids went for it. They’re not particularly diplomatic about it, and one of them gives me the backhanded encouragement of, “You’d be really smart if you did your homework!” but they didn’t have to do this at all. We’re in the hall, and the teacher can’t hear them right now. The kids are doing this of their own volition.

My perception of my fellow students is re-aligned. In previous years, I’d lumped them together as a sort of gestalt entity, a single bully with dozens of faces. That wasn’t really fair. There are differences in the way I’m treated, and those differences have been growing more pronounced over the past couple of years. Some kids ignore me. Some say mean things if I interact with them, but otherwise leave me alone. Some pick on me only when their friends do. A small number – maybe four or five boys – are instigators of the bullying.

One girl (let’s call her K) treats me like she treats everyone else, which is incredibly valuable to my sense of self-worth. She’s not nice to me out of pity – she simply doesn’t have anything negative to say to me. She never laughs at the pranks. The other girls use cutting remarks to chase me off if my behavior bothers them, and I’ve discovered that being insulted by a girl hurts a lot more – and for a lot longer – than a beating from a boy, but K never does this. Her attitude towards me sort of acts as a baseline measurement of “normal” treatment.

Still, some of these kids have gone out of their way to encourage me to be a better student. Therefore, some of these kids don’t hate me. In fact, the number of kids who actively hate me is probably much smaller than I’d previously estimated. My self-esteem is boosted by this effort, even if it does nothing for my scholastic performance. I now see the “bullying” as a problem with a small group of boys, and not the whole classroom.

Left to right: Grandma, Shamus, Ruthie, and Pat.
Left to right: Grandma, Shamus, Ruthie, and Pat.

One day we’re given an odd bit of mathematics work to do. Instead of times tables and drills, we’re given an in-class assignment that asks us to fit a bunch of long numbers into a grid, like a numeric crossword, or a Sudoku where you have the contents of rows and columns in a list and you just need to fit them together without conflicts. (I can’t remember the exact details of the assignment, but I remember it was mostly logic and only a bit of math.) The assignment immediately tickles my brain. I get an intense, sort of excited feeling when I look at what we’re being asked to do. I usually only feel like this when I get my hands on a computer. Instead of staring out the window or doodling, I dive into the assignment.

A couple of minutes later I walk up to the front of the class. The teacher looks at me like he’s expecting me to ask a question. I’m sort of at a loss. I never turn in assignments, and I don’t know where to put this on his desk. I offer him the paper and several of the kids in the room let out grumbles of outrage or disbelief. The teacher looks at the paper and compares it to his answer sheet, then hands it back to me. Nope, wrong.

Dejected, I take the paper back to my desk. A couple of the boys let out a sigh of relief. I wasn’t trying to compete until I discovered how upset they were. Some of the shocked kids were among my bullies, and now I’m doubly motivated to finish this before they do. I go over the entire assignment a second time, and find a spot where I’d transposed some numbers. I fix it, and turn it in again. This time the work is accepted.

I sit in my chair, looking straight ahead, smiling. I don’t get out my doodle pad. I don’t look out the window. This is a sort of mental victory lap for me. I sit at my perfectly clean desk and listen to the sounds of pencils scratching and easing, and kids muttering. It’s another five minutes before the next student turns in their work. A couple more follow in the next minute or so. The vast majority of the students take another five minutes after that. Many don’t finish at all.

Shouldn’t all assignments be like this? Shouldn’t we always see the long tail effect? If everyone is able to complete an assignment in about the same time frame, then that means nobody is struggling. Which means nobody is being challenged. Everyone is just filling out the paperwork. Going to school is like having to do your taxes five times a week.

We’re never given another assignment like this one, but this is enough. I wasn’t just “first”, I was first by a long way, even though I had to do the problems twice. I have learned something. I have learned that I am smart. People have been telling me this for years, but I needed to prove it to myself. Now I believe.

(Also during this time period: My friend David got a computer, which I wrote about here.)


From The Archives:

207 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 14: First!

  1. Reet says:

    If I put “first” in my comment will that upset anyone? Actually someone else will probably beat me to it knowing my luck. Anyway I think it’s somewhat interesting that you found that the competition was a good thing. I always had the impression that it merely gave the smart kids a reason to make their heads bigger and gave all the ones who were struggling more to feel bad about, which doesn’t help anyone. I mean, sure in some cases (like yours) it helped but that seems like it would be a rare occurence at best.

    1. MichaelG says:

      If you want an education WITH challenges, but WITHOUT competition or varying ability levels, then I think you want to home school. You are never going to get that in a classroom of 20+ randomly selected students.

      I only had a few good teachers growing up, but the first time I tried to teach a group on my own, I realized how hopeless it is. The smart ones are bored because you are going too slow, the dull ones are bored because they hate school, and the group in the middle just wants to know if this is going to be on the test. If not, save your breath.

      I can see why people give up on teaching.

      1. thebigJ_A says:

        I have a friend who tried homeschooling her kids. She had one major problem. Many of the resources out there for homeshoolers in the US are geared toward an agenda, that of the Christian Evangelical movement. She told me about going to a meeting (or maybe it was a convention) and finding “science” books casting doubt on evolution and the like. Being an agnostic atheist, this made things difficult for her. She eventually gave up and enrolled her kids in public school.

        This was some years ago. I’m not sure if there are any resources for non-religious homeschooling these days. I hope so.

        1. Shamus says:

          Ideally, you can find all the books you need by going to your public library and kicking a shelf at random. People should not tie themselves to TEXTBOOKS. The important thing about a book is that it has information in it that you want. If you’re going to keep your kids home and have them do worksheets all day, you’re going to be doing a lot of work to re-create the worst parts of public school.

          (Although, perhaps not everyone has easy access to a decent public library. I suppose it depends on the size of your community.)

          1. Will says:

            These days you could probably also replace ‘public library’ with ‘the internet’.

            1. SlowShootinPete says:

              There are some great resources on the internet. Like


              This website is amazing. The creator gave a really interesting speech at TED where he talked about his approach to education:

              1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

                I’ve used this site to learn basic mathmatics in my adult life. I wish I had this as a kid!

              2. Samopsa says:

                Thanks for this, never heard of it, but that’s one hell of an awesome site and project.

              3. Mari says:

                LOL That right there is my daughter’s “math class.”

            2. Ravens Cry says:

              I still think the Public Library is a great resource. We are, strictly speaking, a literate society. We place a value on learning to read and write. Now, books are a lot cheaper than they were, say, before the printing press, but been able to go into a place and take out a book, for free, to read at home is just astonishing and is potentially a great way to encourage people to read works longer than a blog or article. There is also a bit more of a fact checking process behind published books than an average page on the internet. While not the end all they once were, the public library is still something to be treasured for bringing out a joy of lex in many people.

              1. Mari says:

                Shamus’ point is that not everyone HAS ACCESS to a really GOOD public library. For instance, the public library in my town has fewer books than my family personally owns, most of which are heavy on the “Christian fiction” genre. Which is great if you’re looking for an interesting and/or uplifting read. It is not, however, great if you’re looking to educate your children solely from it.

          2. Abnaxis says:

            I dunno about this. One benefit of a textbook is that its target audience is a student of a particular skill level. In my experience, grabbing a random book from the library or the internet isn’t helpful, because even if the subject matter is the same, the skill level rarely matches what I need.

            For example: I find the Free Software Movement to be an admirable cause, and I would like to spend some spare time writing stuff. However, I get discouraged because I am already a competent coder, but I can’t ever find examples or resources that bridge the gap between “Hello world” and “rewrite the kernel.” I’m not particularly keen on spending three hours sifting through documentation I already know to get to something that’s actually helpful, every single time. It stops being a spare time project at that point.

            Maybe it’s different when you’re talking more about grade school subjects these days, but I remember having similar discouragements any time I ever tried to teach myself something with books from the library.

            1. MichaelG says:

              I don’t think you can throw kids in at the deep end and expect them to figure it all out. However, what you are describing is exactly how problems come at you in the real world.

              If you are going to DO anything with your education, you have to be able to sort through lots of conflicting information and figure out what’s important. You have to experiment and you have to search for what you need.

              I don’t know how many times when I was writing documentation on my code, users would come up to me and ask “well, what will happen if I do this?” And my answer was “try it and find out.” Because to me, no documentation can ever be complete. You will have to just experiment sometimes and see how the thing behaves.

              Some people just find that completely alien. Their whole education has been oriented around being told what to do, and being told everything they need to solve a problem before they try it. I think that’s just a terrible attitude to graduate with. It will really hold you back.

              1. Abnaxis says:

                I agree, but I think you have to reach a certain point before you can start sorting through that information as you describe. You cannot jump in a complete novice and expect yourself to be able to figure out what is important and what isn’t. That’s what textbooks ideally facilitate–they feed you the information in order of increasing complexity and decreasing importance, so you can become advanced enough to look stuff up on your own.

          3. Dwip says:

            Budget and care more than community size, really. Lived in a 60k+ city in Connecticut for a few years, and the public library there was pretty bad. Chronically underfunded, aging books, etc. I think a lot of people just went to New Haven, but that library didn’t impress me much either for much the same reasons.

            OTOH, my local library in Oregon in a similar sized community is shockingly good, probably better in many ways than the university library at the school I went to in CT. Community takes care of the place, and it shows. Even better, the local university gives borrowing priviledges to the community, and that place is amazing.

            As far as textbooks, I dunno. My bias is as a history major here, but one of the things textbooks do really well is general background. Sure, you can get a book out of the library and learn a ton about the Civil War, which is great, but maybe you unknowingly skip over Reconstruction or what have you. You’re also heavily at the mercy of the author’s pet theories, but I suppose that goes without saying.

            That said, the nice thing about libraries (he says, waving his library science degree excitedly) is access to reference librarians who spend a ton of time thinking about this sort of thing and who show up to work in the morning with the basic idea of helping you find awesome books and such and give you access to online journals and things. Also access to real, credible sources of information as opposed to “I’ll just find it on the internet.” Want to make a room full of librarians very excitable? Ask them about Wikipedia.

        2. Eärlindor says:

          When I was homeschooled (in college now) I had a really nice biology textbook that taught evolutionary theory but also taught the holes and/or inconsistencies in said theory. It was very nice, at least at the time; nowadays, I don’t remember much of it as I found I personally don’t care much for biology or similar/other sciences.

          1. ben says:

            The problem with that textbook, is that there really aren’t any holes in evolutionary theory… A theory with holes is a disproved theory…

            The only unprovable assumptions made are that the past operated on the same laws of nature as the present, and that small random samples are representative of large populations. Since these assumptions also underlie most of human knowledge of the world, it is safe to assume that they hold true for species as well.
            Everything else can be demonstrated in a laboratory setting using species with rapid reproduction cycles.

            My mother (a cytotechnician with a masters degree in public health) can actually demonstrate small scale evolution using cell cultures in only a few days.
            Note that this demonstration is not selective breeding, it involves introducing an environmental hazard (such as antibiotic drugs) that kills the sample populations which do not evolve a resistance via mutation.

            At the cellular level at least, evolution is not up for debate, it exists and is the reason why we need a new flu vaccine every year, and why there is still no cure for the common cold, and why abuse of antibiotics in India has produced several dozen strains of disease that are now incurable because they are immune to said antibiotics.

            1. I’d beg to differ, but only a little bit. A theory without holes is either a theory that cannot be falsified or a theory that has been tested so often that there are no more holes left in it. I can only think of one theory that meets this criteria of being tested so often; the theory of general relativity.

              Evolutionary theory still has several outstanding issues to account for. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad theory, only that it’s a normal theory.

              (Also, just to correct a misconception: The part of evolutionary theory some people tend to take issue with is not what your mother is able to demonstrate, but large-scale evolution where new species evolve.)

              1. Shamus says:

                I’ll assume this snuck in before I replied. Again, let’s just back away slowly and go back to talking about Not Evolution.

                1. Eärlindor says:

                  I’m sorry, I didn’t think my comment would start a fire the way it did. A little naive of me. I didn’t want to cause trouble.

            2. Shamus says:


              Do you REALLY expect to settle this argument here? How do you imagine this thread is going to turn out? I could write both sides of this debate.

              See, you’re wrong: Evolution IS up for debate, because PEOPLE DEBATE IT EVERY DAY ON THE INTERNET. You might not respect the other side, you might think they are obviously wrong and uninformed, but that won’t stop them from arguing with you. On my site. Forever and ever.

              Please drop this and move on. Thank you. (This means everyone.)

              1. Deoxy says:

                Evolution IS up for debate, because PEOPLE DEBATE IT EVERY DAY ON THE INTERNET.

                Yay. I really like that response (that whole paragraph, really). It’s completely non-commmital to either side (and the “I could write both sides” bit is great, too – so could I, actually), and applies equally well to many members (especially the most vocal ones) on both sides.

                I’m totally stealing that. Yoink!

              2. Perseus says:

                Yeah but whether the Earth is flat or round is debated every day on the internet too. And I don’t think anyone’s minds are going to be changed by arguing that either, no matter how ridiculous one side is.

              3. MichaelG says:

                Honestly Shamus, you could say that exact thing about ANY controversial topic. No one on this site is going to resolve any political, philosophical or scientific problem. It’s just a big bull session.

                I don’t see the difference between this topic vs. home schooling. Everyone has an opinion.

                1. Shamus says:

                  Right. But schooling is tangential to this discussion, I’m interested in it, and it’s far less likely to cause anger. It’s far less stressful to read and moderate. It’s also a fresher topic, and people occasionally say things I haven’t seen before.

                  Evolution is far from the original subject of this post, prone to rage, hard to moderate, and you can find the same points from the same sides appearing on the web, every single day.

                  The evolution debate is inevitably a gateway to the God debate. We can look at the comment counts to see just how that is going to turn out:

                  1) The posts where I discuss the frustrations with the school system: 100-200 comments

                  2) The post where I talk about religion: 900+ comments

                  EDIT: I will add that moderating that 900 comment thread came very close to a part-time job this week. :)

                  1. Alexander The 1st says:

                    One thing you could do is add a “lockout” function, where you can make a post stating why it’s locked, then lock out replies to any posts in that thread, allowing new streams, or other streams, to be continued, but it blocks that discussion out.

                    Just a thought, at least.

                  2. Abnaxis says:

                    Awww, but I *liked* that thread. You need to enslave yourself to this page, so we can have more!

                    1. noahpocalypse says:

                      We MUST have a thousand comments! We can make Shamus put in a new die!

              4. krellen says:

                Does this mean I have to delete the conversation thread I’ve been having with Eldiran over in that other post?

                1. Shamus says:

                  No, no. And that one isn’t the “Evolution is settled vs. just a theory” thing, which makes my teeth ache.

                  1. krellen says:

                    Clearly the internet needs a better dental plan.

        3. Tizzy says:

          Don’t forget local science societies, discovery centers, and possibly even colleges and universities: many of these groups include directing home-schoolers to available resources as part of their mission, and the others usually have members who make it their personal mission.

          1. ben says:

            Back on topic, I was homeschooled for 2 years due to issues I and by extension my parents had with the Georgia public education system.

            And there was a significant problem with finding decent textbooks that were both affordable and unbiased. One company we contacted actually sent what were essentially door to door missionaries to show us the samples of their homeschooling resources.

            I ended up using my parents’ old college textbooks for everything except math, coupled with encyclopedia Britannica, and educational television/games.

            If I hadn’t had the good fortune to have highly educated parents with their own library, there really would not have been very many options. We would probably have ended up relying on the local library.

            1. Heather says:

              Interesting. We have never purchased a textbook (don’t actually use textbooks.) Between the library, our extensive personal library of books (from the thrift shop), and the internet combined with real life experiences there is plenty available to fill the need to learn especially when one is actively interested in learning.

              1. Paul Spooner says:

                We are really blessed to have a huge brand new public library in town and 15Gb/sec internet at home. I don’t know about you, but if I need a textbook, I’m doing it wrong. I still have several of my college textbooks (the better ones) but it’s almost always more informative to look up the topic on Wikipedia.

                When we were growing up, we had a horrible “textbook” source called Lifepacks. I don’t know about now, but they were terrible at the time. Not only were they filled with busywork, dull to read, and difficult to understand, but they presented outright falsehoods. One quote I distinctly remember is, “Heat flows through wires to make electric motors run.”

                As far as I can tell, the vast majority of textbooks are written to be revised, not to instruct.

                1. Zukhramm says:

                  I don’t know. I find mathematics and physics quite hard to learn from Wikipedia. The textbooks I have used have better explanation of the steps involved, their relation to each other and more examples. Wikipedia is great if I want to foind out a specific detail or refresh something I already know but to learn something from scratch using it? I don’t think it would work for me.

                  But it depends a lot on both the person and the subject.

                  1. Heather says:

                    See my kids use Youtube and Mythbusters to learn about physics and we talk about it a lot. (Not bad considering they are 9, 11, & 13). Same goes for advanced mathematics– cool thing about having Shamus for a dad. I actually had an amazing physics teacher in high school who physically demonstrated every thing that he possibly could (managed to electrocute himself in class twice). I only just passed the class even though he let us have note cards full of the formulas for tests (dyscalculia is a fun thing– I knew HOW to do it, I knew WHAT to do, but the math hates me.)

                    That said, the thing is you don’t have to use Wikipedia to learn those things. (I heartily recommend Kahn Academy for mathematics if you like the more textbook-y route.) Everyone learns differently and finding out how YOU learn and what works best for you is the key. If you love textbooks– awesome, but they are not best for everyone.

                    1. Zukhramm says:

                      Oh I don’t love them. If I can find another way I’ll use that. Khan Academy is great for example but the videos on physics there doesn’t go beyond classical mechanics and the videos on mathematics end at vector calculus.

                    2. Nick says:

                      Well, as long as you don’t use the last 7 or so seasons of Mythbusters to teach them about scientific method. They really seem to have abandoned that in recent years.

                      I really wish they’d stop “testing” the obviously fake Youtube videos and obvious scientific principles too.

                2. Heather says:

                  Oh I hate Lifepac (someone gave me one– people always give us their old curriculum and occasionally the kids decide to use some element or other but never the way the company planned — gave it away so never got beyond opening and saying, “This is stupid, we won’t use it.”) Our kids spent much of their time on the computer (and probably the other half at my dad’s pond in the water, woods, or up a tree though occasionally they are found helping my dad build something.

                  Made the mistake of buying a science text book for my son at the thrift shop (probably Rand McNally or some such.) Thought he, being science obsessed might enjoy it. We sat down to look at it for about 5 minutes, realized how basic it was (the boy has watched every Mythbusters at least 25 times and spouts scientific info off at random and experiments on his own (right now he is intent on fixing my sonic screwdriver– the wire isn’t connecting and he tore it apart, figured out the problem, and is trying to come up with a viable solution so it works again.) Even though the book was “age appropriate” it was useless– not enough info on ANYTHING he was interested in so why bother.

      2. Actually, that was the idea behind Deweyite education.

    2. Destrustor says:

      I agree with that feeling. Usualy I would have been one of the first to turn in these things but I always waited until at least one other kid did before me. I just didn’t want to be the super smart nerd who “wins” at school. I didn’t like to attract attention.
      Besides, finishing first and having to wait after the others gave me all the validation I needed to feel smart, AND some free time to doodle and daydream. Total victory in my book.
      I’m sure it sucks very much to be the last one to finish and I don’t think kids need that kind of pressure. It surely pushes a lot of them to drop out when they start thinking that they’re just not smart enough. A competition is usualy not a good learning environment.

      1. susie day says:

        In my opinion, there needs to be enough diversity so that every student gets to “win” at something. I am not so great at math or spelling, but I excel at reading and retaining information (if it interests me). My ability to be first in some topics mitigated my feelings about being last in others.

        Some kids don’t excel in any topic, but that’s where I feel the school system should include more variety. Maybe they are a great actor, maybe they are an athlete, maybe they excel at caring for others… life isn’t all about times tables and proper spelling, and school shouldn’t be either.

    1. Dragomok says:

      At first I thought this comment was just a placeholder or some injoke to Shamus, but then the more I thought about it, the more it seemed deep, symbolical and multilayered.

      My mind is a funny thing.

  2. Aelyn says:

    In college, I got an accounting degree. I hate accounting. Incredibly useful knowledge to have, but I am *not* cut out for that. I couldn’t see it at the time, but suffice to say my grades were not top-notch. I had a fellow student get on to me one day about the talent-versus-grades discrepancy. It still haunts me after 20 years.

    1. Alex the Too Old says:

      Funny, I took accounting too, but mainly I was training to be a consultant. (Then, of course, the dot-com bubble burst.) However, I prefer accounting or, hell, just data entry or even cleaning floors, to trying to talk people into buying my crap or my opinion. Life is funny like that.

      I’m trying to think if I had an “aha!” moment like young Mr. Young’s in school. I seem to recall that I always knocked any sort of long-form writing assignment out of the park. Unfortunately, that’s a much harder skill to monetize than the ability to quickly analyze and fix large logical patterns. We’re in a weird place in our societal development where it’s easier and easier to distribute more and more things without an identifiable labor, materials, distribution or opportunity cost, which ironically reduces the number of activities that result in a living wage. There have been musings that the growth sector of the future will actually be maintenance personnel, since it’s much harder to automate emptying wastebaskets or fixing a roof than to automate financial transactions, coding, research, and even writing (e.g. ).


      1. MichaelG says:

        No, once robots have good enough eye-hand coordination for a reasonable price, the trashcans will be emptied by machines.

        1. Right, but the problem you run into is that maintaining, upgrading, replacing those robots and paying someone to look after them can actually end up more expensive in the long run than just paying people to do it, especially if there is high unemployment (like now, for example)

          A set of programs interacting on a server or set of servers doesn’t have to relate back to physical inputs or environments and so is waaaaaaay more predictable. And trust me, those type of programs still fall over on a regular basis. We’re a long, long, long way from robot janitors that are even slightly financially viable

          1. MichaelG says:

            You might be right about an unstructured environment like a home. I don’t have a Roomba or similar gadget, so I don’t have any feel for progress being made.

            However, I seem to remember reading even back in the 90s that Infiniti or one of the Japanese automakers had “dark factories”, which were almost completely robotic.

            I think this attitude that “there will always be menial work for people to do” is probably a mistake.

            1. Nick says:

              Is that literal “dark”, do they operate 24 hours a day in the complete darkness, can you go there in the middle of the night and just hear machines making each other, like a Terminator factory?

              1. Paul Spooner says:

                Yes. Search for FANUC and you can find pictures of their fully robotized factories which produce robots. Apparently these factories can run for up to a month at a time without any intervention. The only thing they need people for is to bring in the raw materials and drive off with the finished goods.

      2. Heather says:

        I discovered an ability to get straight A’s as long as I could write– essays, papers, whatever. Mostly this was because my mom weas a teacher and at home taught me something my fellow students didn’t know: proofreading, drafts, and editing. And because I had the ability to talk all about a subject in writing (and I mean a spew of words– lots of them when writing while I was very shy and quiet in person) teachers were pleasantly surprised to find how much I had to say on a subject and would give me an A. That said this did not benefit me when I graduated as both high school and college writing is not about conciseness but how many words can you use (once passed a math class I was failing because I wrote a 19 page extra credit paper– the extra credit was based on how many pages you wrote not what you wrote.) I am a natural at researching and then using too many words but not very good at choosing them based on my audience (usually my writing sounds smart to less intelligent people and just overly verbose to more intelligent people) or being concise. So essentially I have spent the last 15 years learning to type less instead of more after years of training in verbosity.

        1. Will says:

          One of the things the school system tends to teach is ‘how to pass tests’ rather than actual competence in the subject at hand. That particular result contributes quite heavily to the rate of first year university drop-outs as people, especially those seeking law degrees or similar, discover that while they are excellent at taking a bunch of books and memorising enough to pass a test on the contents they actually don’t understand any of it.

          Even doing an arts degree i noticed about a quarter of the people who dropped out in first year did so because they discovered they actually lacked the basic skills neccessary to complete the assigned tasks. These weren’t stupid people (well most of them weren’t) and it wasn’t that they’d had a terrible education, they’d just learned the wrong things. My cousin who did a law degree assures me that the number is more like two thirds in those.

          1. toasty says:

            Its funny that you say that, because one of the guys that I knew that dropped out of school did so because he never went to class or did his assignments and as a result lost all his scholarship money about half way through the first semester.

            1. krellen says:

              Wait, you know me?

              1. Deoxy says:

                He knows one of the millions of “you” – the ones who did just exactly that.

                The one guy I’ve ever met who was unquestionably smarter than me (that’s so hard to admit) had this problem – his mother MADE him do his homework all through high school. In college he passed… band.

                Last I knew, he was still delivering pizza. Kinda sad, actually.

                1. krellen says:

                  Our educational system seriously disadvantages the truly gifted among us. I’m still undecided on whether focusing on raising the bottom at risk of removing the top is worth it or not.

                  1. 4th Dimension says:

                    It’s really a question how much would such person be able to contribute to society. Obviosly the subject he was studying didn’t interest him much. So I don’t think even if he did get a diploma, he would be of much use to the rest of society. And on top of it all he said he is still delivering pizza. Even witout a degree he should have been able to pull himself up higher than that.

                    On other hand there are allways exceptions. But screwing 85% of people to fit 1% of exceptions is not a good thing.

                    1. krellen says:

                      Surely there exists a superior system wherein we could help the 85% and the 1%.

                    2. 4th Dimension says:

                      Hmm, there was no Reply link under your post. Had to cobble this reply by editing URL.

                      Anyway, while there certanly is a better system, I doubit there is a PERFECT system that covers all people. Maybe the best system is to treat those outliers separatly from the rest of the students. But than you might be crating a feeling of segregation, and the cost of the education that state has to pay for, mught go up too, so there are no easy solutions.

                2. Destrustor says:

                  I passed high school way above average without ever studying anything just because I have a pretty good memory.
                  When I got to college I failed almost everything because memory is just not enough. Without truly understanding that fancy “studying” thing and being a lazy slop, I eventually dropped out.

                  1. krellen says:

                    Actually, my only problem in school were all those other unrelated classes (things that weren’t computers or history) that I didn’t care about. Every class that actually interested me, I aced with ease.

                    1. Sumanai says:

                      Yeah, that. So I am studying about electronics, right? Why do I have a mandatory class for Swedish language?

                    2. Sekundaari says:

                      Because you’re obviously going to become a government official, Sumanai, and after that, of course, have constant contact with those members of the Swedish-speaking minority who can’t actually speak Finnish. Obviously.

        2. PAK says:

          Heather, I really relate to this. In my first two high school English classes I stopped reading the books (I am not proud to admit my adolescent laziness, but there it is) because we were graded primarily on essays we wrote in response to them, and I knew that if I just spewed out enough words vaguely related to what the teacher had said in class, I would get an “A.” Other kids would turn in two-page, concise and on-topic papers, and would marvel over how I could generate these five-page bloated epics. I marvel now that most of the time, I was graded better!

          Years later I ended up working as a technical writer for several years. And in many ways I was well-suited. I did grasp the basic mechanics of writing pretty well, and my vocabulary has always been prodigous. But I had to learn editing skills and brevity on the job. I got a LOT of notes on my drafts in those first years. At my first review for my second tech writing job, my boss praised my attitude and attention to detail but noted that I should be careful, when creating my documentation, of “using a lot of unnecessary words that don’t really say anything.” :/

        3. Mari says:

          This is so me. I came across a stash of my old school papers several years ago when my folks broke up housekeeping and read through them. It almost nauseated me to read those old papers because they were such blatant BS. It was all thousands of big words with no meaning or understanding. All surface puffery with no depth or dimension. And these were A papers.

          1. Heather says:

            Yup, have several that my mom kept– was so proud of those things (only thing I ever got an A on until I was diagnosed with multiple LD in college then suddenly straight A’s — only change made? Letting me take tests in a quiet place away from the crowd either with just the prof or even in the vestibule on the floor.) .

          2. Alex the Too Old says:

            Hah, the really ironic thing is that, as one might infer from my previous comment, I literally cannot bullshit to save my life. Literally, if I were in a situation where my survival depended on sustained falsehood or exaggeration, write me the hell OFF.

            What probably padded the length on my writing assignments was the the vocabulary and exhaustively complete phrasing – I am, as Tycho once described himself, a “lexiconnoisseur”. But even if I’m saying something in a hopelessly opaque fashion (as I’m sure I do on a regular basis on these comment threads), it’s from an Aspie-ish dedication to precise expression, rather than a lawyerly effort to hide information or lack thereof behind words.

          3. Alex the Too Old says:

            Hah, the really ironic thing is that, as one might infer from my previous comment, I literally cannot bullshit to save my life. Literally, if I were in a situation where my survival depended on sustained falsehood or exaggeration, write me the hell OFF. What probably padded the length on mine was the the vocabulary and exhaustively complete phrasing – I am, as Tycho once described himself, a “lexiconnoisseur”. But even if I’m saying something in a hopelessly opaque fashion (as I’m sure I do on a regular basis on these comment threads), it’s from an Aspie-ish dedication to precise expression, rather than a lawyerly effort to hide information or lack thereof behind words.

        4. Khizan says:

          The biggest problems I’ve had with writing in high school and college is the assigned length limits.

          We’re assigned an 8 page paper. If I have a well written 5 page paper on a subjecte, I might make a D, maybe. If I take that exact same paper and bloat it with overly verbose language and repetitive segments, I’ll make an A, even though it’s a distinctly worse paper.

          My favorite teacher was the one who first used the line “The proper length of a paper is the proper length of a skirt: Long enough to cover everything important” in my hearing.

      3. Duffy says:

        My ‘aha’ was even less obviously useful, at around 5th grade I realized it was a little odd that I could read 800+ page novels without batting an eye. (I had a weakness for Star Wars novels early on.) Out loud reading sessions were particularly painful for me as I could not comprehend why my fellow students could not read, I would often get ‘reprimanded’ for finishing whatever book we were reading out loud weeks before the class did.

        Strangely enough I never got around to reading LOTR until junior year of high school which coincided with the first movie releasing.

        1. susie day says:

          aaargghh .. I hated when books were read out loud .. soo slow! I would read the book at home, then daydream while the teacher read to us.

          1. Shamus says:

            Group reading is torture. Yes, slooow. Some kids stumble and mumble and you can’t get a feel for the story at that pace. It’s like watching a movie at 1/10th speed. So I start reading ahead. Then the rotation comes around to me and I’m in some other part of the book, and I get in trouble for NOT PAYING ATTENTION?!?

            Is the point of this exercise to absorb the material, or to teach us to read at the speed of the slowest talker?

            Gah! Rage!

            1. LadyTL says:

              I got in trouble a different way during the ridiculous group reading stuff. I would be reading a book I brought from home. I was the only kid in school to get trouble for reading. Other kids would be throwing pencils or paper and stuff but I was the only one getting in trouble because I was reading a non-school book.

              1. Sumanai says:

                Oh how I hated that sort of stuff in schools. I was pretty good at avoiding them, but I hated to watch others suffer for something that shouldn’t have been a problem.

            2. noahpocalypse says:

              Complete ditto. I always finished before we were a third through.

            3. uberfail says:

              I never had a problem with this as I was generally the reader (we didn’t force people to read) and a Drama student. I think you can imagine the results.

            4. Khizan says:

              I used to respond to that kind of scolding by reading my assigned portion aloud at the speed of an auctioneer and refusing to go slower.

            5. Mephane says:

              Oh yeah I remember this. When I was the one picked by the teacher to read it out loud, I had trouble following the contents of the text at all, mainly because if I read silently, I do it about twice as fast as loudly, so I had even trouble with my own pacing.

              Oh and I also was always reading ahead. I began that in my very first class in Elementary School: at that time, all kids here were meant to first learn a special variant of cursive, which ought to be faster and pretter when handwritten compared to the normal, latin alphabet. The other kids hadn’t even learnt half the letters of cursive, when I had already started to read normal latin alphabet on my own.

              Similar things happened throughout my education. Especially in scientific classes like physics or chemistry, I often read ahead when it all went boring again.

              Todays this habit manifests itself in severe issues of “wiki-walk”, heh. Sometimes a specific question comes up which I promptly decide to look up on the Internet, only to find myself an hour later having read half a dozen totally unrelated things on top of it.

            6. Sumanai says:

              I usually marked where the reader would stop with my index finger and then started reading. After the reader changed, I repositioned my finger. Still meant that it would take me a short time to get back into place, but nothing bad. I faintly remember a teacher once looking amused that I flipped the book a couple of pages back in order to start reading aloud.

            7. Katesickle says:

              Ugh, I HATED this. Not only is it painful to listen to people read at a snail’s pace (and I CAN’T read ahead silently while someone else is reading out loud–my brain refuses to let me filter out the speaker’s voice), but I would also spend the entire time terrified that I would get called to read next, and would somehow screw up.

            8. Nathan Sanzone says:

              I think the group reading experiences that both of my parents had in grade school may have been one of the primary reasons they ended up homeschooling me and my siblings.

        2. Blue_Painted says:

          Apple ][e was new fangled stuff .. I started on a DEC-10 at College, from there a Sinclair Spectrum and from there a plain ol’ Apple ][ …

          “And you tell young folks today and they won’t believe you!”

          (The above is often considered Monty Python, but the Four Yorkshiremen sketch pre-dated even MP)

        3. Blue_Painted says:

          Did you ever get the “You can’t have read big-fat-book-X, you must be lying!” from the teacher? Followed by “I’m going to test you … humiliate you … by making you stand in front of the class and answer questions on book-X”

          EDIT: Damn, I wanted this under Duffy’s comment; now it doesn’t make sense.

          I had this THREE times in my school career and I don’t remember that I failed to answer a single question correctly — not a one. On the third time I admit I was feeling pretty cocky because this was (still is) MY THING and it does feel good to show off a bit when you can.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      I was in college, chasing down that engineering degree. One semester I had some extra space in my schedule. “Hmm, why not try accounting?” I thought to myself, “It’s just simple math, right?” So I signed up.
      I promptly backed out the door when I saw what the first assignment was. Rows and rows of busywork that you could do in a spreadsheet in five minutes, but would take hours and hours to do by hand. Oh, and the assignment was to do it by hand.
      Of course, (what I perceive) the point of college is to get a paper that proves you can jump through a huge booring four year long hoop. I jumped through the Engineering hoop, but I admire you for toughing it out in Accounting. That must have been a long four years.

      1. silver Harloe says:

        It’s weird that neither Shamus the younger (as described by Shamus the current), Shamus the current, nor any of the commentators I have read (note: I tend to saturate around 50-75 comments in, though) have noticed that the point of homework isn’t always busy work.

        Calculus is easy stuff, but only if algebra and trigonometry are _second nature_ to you. Something you do by reflex. And you can only develop reflexes by repetition. It’s the reason martial artists do the same simple moves over and over and over. It’s the reason basketball stars play for hours every single day whether they “need” to or not. It’s the reason musical instruments take years to master. The same thing applies to math: you simply need to do the time to make it reflexive enough to build upon it so that the next stage is easy to learn.

        1. krellen says:

          The subject was actually touched upon in the comments of the last instalment.

        2. CrushU says:


          I was lucky to be homeschooled, and my parents were actually apparently wise to the ways of education. (Dad has a bachelor’s in Mathematics, barely missed having an Avionics degree. Mom didn’t go to college I think, but she works as a veterinary technician.)

          Because I remember, distinctly, when doing a whole slew of 3-digit by 3-digit multiplication problems, that I stopped and went “Uh. This is pointless. I can obviously do this, why should I keep doing it?” And my mom just said to me. “This is basic, yes, but the point is so that you can do it easily and without much effort. Also so that you can do it without a calculator at hand.”

          This was 3rd grade, I think. Maybe 4th. Anyway, yeeeeeeeears later, I get A’s in Calc I II and III, and in Calculus-based Statistics. Calculus is muuuuuch easier if you can do algebra by reflex.

      2. Kacky Snorgle says:

        But there’s a purpose to doing things by hand that a computer could do nigh-instantly. Namely, to gain a deep enough understanding of the process that you can then go program the computer to do it, rather than merely plug inputs into an existing program.

        Now, it’s possible that for the first assignment in the first accounting class, you already had that level of understanding before you even started. In that case, yes, the assignment would’ve been rather pointless for you. But I very much doubt that most of the students coming into the course were in that position–or that you yourself would’ve been in that position regarding the material covered later in the semester.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          True enough. I stand corrected on both counts:
          1. Homework is valuable. I did most of the homework in school, and it payed off. Also, as a pianist I recognize the value of training the subconscious and the reflex.
          2. Education should be focused on understanding. If I had stuck it out (like Aelyn did) I would have learned many valuable things about accounting. There’s nothing I like more than comprehending the entirety of a task. I was frightened off by the fundamentals, and I missed out.

          However, my main point was this: Though one can learn in college (or high-school, or elementary school), learning and training are not the product. The product is a standardized output of people with endurance. A college degree does not mean “I’m smart” or “I know lots of stuff” or even “I’m an achiever”. All it means is “I made it through a minimum of four years of bureaucratic mostly-pointless exercises without giving up or giving in”. This is a valuable statement, both for yourself and for others, but it is little more than that. The stated goal is education, but it is a largely missed target.

          To have valuable homework, it must train the right thing. Math classes are usually good about this. Engineering and social science classes are notoriously lacking. Sure there were a few good ones, but the vast majority were like the class “Fundamentals of Engineering Design” which was universally referred to as “Fundamentals of Wasting Time”.
          To convey understanding, the instructor must first possess understanding. While there are a few good teachers most are the product of busywork, and only interested in propagating the same.

          Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but I probably could have learned every important lesson from four years of college in a month of on-the-job training. I’ve never heard of anyone who was properly taught what they needed to know in school. The learning isn’t the point. The point is demonstrating perseverance. Now, maybe I’m smarter than most, and maybe I learned more than I let on, but I’m pretty sure the education system is a test, not of knowledge, but of how much time and money you’re willing to waste to impress people. Me? Four years and $40K is plenty.

          So, good work to all of you who earned a college degree. I mean it, it’s hard work! I’m just not convinced its “getting an education”.

          Edit: Sorry for the wall of text. The sad thing is, we’ll probably be having this discussion again when Shamus gets to the “flunked out of college” part of his life story.

          1. silver Harloe says:

            “A college degree does not mean “I'm smart” or “I know lots of stuff” or even “I'm an achiever”. All it means is “I made it through a minimum of four years of bureaucratic mostly-pointless exercises without giving up or giving in”. This is a valuable statement, both for yourself and for others, but it is little more than that.”

            This is why many jobs require degrees but do not actually care what the degree was in.

            1. Chuck says:

              Hmm, while that may be part of it, I also considered that college was to teach a person to think analytically and critically.

              That may be because of my area of specialization, though. And the need for a PhD to get a decent career related to said specialization.

          2. TSED says:

            I have to confess, I find myself learning a lot from my English courses that I simply wouldn’t’ve in a more autodidactic fashion. Simply put: English professors have their interests, and set up classes around their interests (and expertises). I may or may not be interested in that subject, but I simply don’t know about it or do not know how to get into it.

            Granted, these interests are completely irrelevant to all but the most arcane of jobs, but now I know I share them. Before, I had no idea about the topic at hand. For example, my postcolonial lit class is focusing entirely on one subject: London during the wave of migrants (note: not immigrants) that showed up while the British Empire was collapsing. It is truly fascinating stuff, but I didn’t even know THIS HAPPENED before I took the class. Or my class on science fiction – the interests in SF that I would have developed further were completely different than the professor’s, and now I have a broader and deeper understanding of everything in the genre as a whole. On the other hand: SCREW the romantics. In every available orifice, all the time. Thanks to education, I know I really, really hate them.

            And lastly, this always bothers me. “Learn what was needed,” etc. etc. Why can’t I become educated in subjects that interest me… because I’m interested in them? When did our society begin to say that personal satisfaction through education is a fool’s errand? That education only serves the purpose of opening “better” financial doors? Why can’t learning – not teaching, but learning – be a respectable life goal?

          3. Personally, I think high school is very similar. Our society’s institutions don’t want or demand independent thought from the majority, so they discourage it. And it’s actually becoming a problem: You are absolutely right that many people might have learned more in on-the-job training than in college, and employers know it too. Many employers find that there is a substantial and systemic skill gap in anything from MBAs to law degrees.

    3. Unbeliever says:

      I find I must now relate my Accounting story.


      Once upon a time, I was a freshman preparing to attend the University of Houston. I knew from high school that I loved computers, and wanted MORE. BS Degrees in Computer Science from UH came in two flavors: “Science Option”, heavy on math, and “Business Option”, heavy on accounting.

      Well, I had thoroughly enjoyed Algebra I and II, Geometry and Trig, and “accounting” felt like boring grunt-work — so Science Option it was!

      …and then I was involved in a hit-and-run accident with an 18-wheeler named “Calculus”.

      As taught at UH by whoever the hell was teaching it, every Calculus course I tried was exquisite torture. All previous math classes made SENSE — Calculus was “memorize a thousand random formulas, apply them at random times, and don’t ask why”.

      After failing, then barely passing Calc I, then failing, then barely passing Calc II, I’d finally had enough.

      Business types weren’t boring grunts, they were the ones who made the big bucks, and kept the world turning! I’d switch to Business Option, and be done with Calculus forever!

      One semester of Accounting 101, was enough to convince me that Calculus Wasn’t All That Bad.

      I fought and struggled with the demons of Calc III and Differential Equations, and finally earned the piece of paper that said I should get paid a decent salary for playing with computers, all with the sheer terror of Accounting nipping at my heels, behind me…

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        I feel the same way about Accounting. Haply, I didn’t have trouble with Calculus due to instructors skill or natural talent, but mine could have been a very similar story. I’m guessing that higher math isn’t a common prerequisite for CS courses? I know a few guys who got stuck in Calc III and were held from graduation for years.

  3. noahpocalypse says:


    But who gets the fourteenth comment…?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I did! Didn’t even realize it at the time… Is there a prize?

      1. krellen says:

        You get a gold star. Congrats.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Wow, thanks! I feel so valued and rewarded! If only someone had given Shamus a gold star when he was young…

          1. noahpocalypse says:

            Once your testing is complete, you will get cake. Please begin the test.

  4. ccesarano says:

    Interesting. When I was in third grade my class started doing cursive writing. I was the first one done and had gotten it correct, and the teacher asked me and another girl that had finished just after me to help other students.

    This was an awkward moment for me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be accepted by the bullies or if I wanted to get revenge. Either way, this was the one time they let me help, but their agitation was clear on their faces. I could tell most of them resented that I had to help them with something.

    It didn’t matter, though, because when all was said and done I sucked at sports and they didn’t. The only time anyone ever gave me words of encouragement was when I broke out a sketchpad and drew stuff. That’s when everyone started talking about how awesome everything was.

    …until about 6th Grade. There was a girl that I had no previous contact with until this class, but because she hated my best friend, she hated me as well. So one day I’m drawing a bunch of the characters from Chrono Trigger. She leans over, and says loudly and in one of the most biting tones I had ever heard: “Why do you guys always draw cute girls? Is it because you can’t get a girlfriend?”

    I’m dumb founded. I literally don’t know what to say. I’m drawing them because I’m drawing the characters from the game! I’m including all of their information such as weapons and character bios! Like what you see in the strategy guides! Look, here’s a frog-man! And a robot! Why did she just pick out the girls? And aren’t we too young for girlfriends? I’m not even thirteen!

    This girl completely baffled me, and I literally had no clue what to do when she said that.

    …dammit Shamus, your nostalgia is making me nostalgic, and I’m turning your autoblography comments section into my own autoblography!

    We put a blog in yo’ blog in yo’ blog so you can blog while you blog while you blog.

    1. swenson says:

      Argh, that was the annoying thing about doing work. The teacher always expected you to teach everyone else too, and it’s like, no, you’re the teacher, why should I be expected to help other people? The worst was in sixth grade when a teacher flat-out admitted she’d put me in a group with some of the low achievers in the class (and not Shamus-type low achievers, either) so I could “help” them. Which we all knew translated to me doing all the work because I was kind of scared of bad grades.

      (And before anyone says “it’s to help build social skills”, I have still not gotten over my crippling shyness and lack of self esteem (except on the Internet and when playing TF2… games are serious!), so it obviously didn’t work.)

      I kind of felt the same way as you about how people thought about me–I couldn’t tell if people liked me when I helped them or felt threatened because I understood something they didn’t or what. In high school it got a bit better–by ninth or tenth grade, we really didn’t have any of the bully-type people left, for whatever reason. Even the people who’d be fairly nasty in elementary/middle school improved. So that was nice for helping me realize that people didn’t entirely hate me!

      1. krellen says:

        Actually, it isn’t to help build social skills. It’s to cause you to retain, demonstrate that you have retained, and further develop upon the lessons you have been taught. I learned a lot more from tutoring my peers than I ever did from listening to the teacher’s lecture or reading the text.

        1. uberfail says:

          Fortunately for me it’s generally been at the request of my classmate rather than the teacher.

          1. Jarenth says:

            Anecdote time:

            First year of university, I had a mandatory SQL course. Now, I had done SQL work in high school, and this was just on that level, so I knew everything already. And I happily explained these things to my friends.

            Part of the course was a weekly practical class where you basically did assignments. This was presided over by a teacher who, bless his heart, knew about half as much about SQL as I did. He tried his best, but he just couldn’t explain the material very well.

            During the second week there, while the teacher was struggling to explain something, a friend of mine said something along the lines of “Hey [Jarenth], maybe you could explain this to us instead”. A little loud. Loud enough for everyone to hear, in fact.

            I had distinct problems looking that teacher in the eye for the rest of the class.

        2. silver Harloe says:

          Before age segregation was the norm, rural schooling was like a room with 20-30 kids of all ages and one teacher – the students often tutored each other. Not to do the teacher’s job, but because they were all at different levels and there wasn’t really one curriculum that could apply to everyone. The teacher tutored individuals more than lectured the group, and the students tutored, and they learned a lot from it.

          1. Blake says:

            I was lucky enough to have something like this for primary school. It was a small hippy place up the road from me that varied from 15-40 students with 2 teachers.

            It was a very good environment that taught us how to learn and get along with people. Moving into a high school with 800 students was a bit of a shock to the system, but was incredibly important for my social development. It was essentially at that point I learnt of how different social groups were to a bunch of individuals.

        3. 4th Dimension says:

          AND most maybe importantly, for the techer who needs to mantain discipline in the class in order for kids to learn, it occupies early finishers while the rest of the class finishes, so they don’t raise ruckus.

        4. Yeah, teaching others is integral to teaching yourself. You realize where the gaps in your knowledge are that you’ve been papering over by habit or guesswork. And it does also help with social skills and camaraderie: If you’re good at what you teach and excited about it, you can turn yourself from a nerd pariah into a liked person just by being magnanimous.

      2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

        In middle-school and high-school, I flat out refused to help other students or participate in any group projects. Even in college, if an assignment called for multiple people, I would rather fail than work with another student.

        Yet I practically taught Photoshop and Illustrator classes during the lab hours at my community college.

  5. I used to finish first….but would sit in my seat and pretend to work until someone else handed in their paper
    I always wondered if anyone else in my class did things that way, it never occurred to me that I WAS the actual first one done
    But I am the complete opposite of competitive
    Which means I don’t want to finish first or last, but would rather not play at all

    1. noahpocalypse says:

      I did that once or twice. Mainly because I hadn’t paid attention, and I didn’t really know what to do with the paper.

      1. swenson says:

        Haha, same here! I was too busy reading or drawing to listen to directions, and I figured out fairly quickly that teachers get upset if you ask them after they already told the class once. So I’d either pester the people around me for the directions or just wait until other people did it!

        1. kmc says:

          I was terrible at hearing what the instructions were! You could always figure out the assignment when they handed it out, but I ended up almost failing half my classes in 6th grade because I never heard the teacher ask for our homework, so I never turned it in. Whole semesters of work were just in one enormous stack in my backpack. And of course, nobody said anything until grade time, which was already months of missed work, and I didn’t even think about it. I guess I understood that homework was something I was supposed to do, but once I’d done it, that was it, right? Forgot all about turning it in.
          But I think I remember waiting until someone else turned an in-class assignment in before I’d get up and turn it in myself, mostly because I was usually finished really early and I worried that I’d forgotten or missed something. I wouldn’t check over my work; I just figured that if I waited long enough it would be okay and nobody would think I was conceited. I was really self-conscious as a kid.

    2. Mari says:

      I did that all the time from about 3rd grade on (which is when the worst of the bullying kicked in for me) because if I was first and showed it people might NOTICE me and then they would hate me more. At least in my head. The best thing was to keep my head down and avoid drawing any sort of attention to myself, positive or negative.

      1. I flipped the other way – people were jerks, so they were going to bully me anyway. I took refuge in being first – it didn’t matter that no-one played with me, or that I couldn’t understand the social movements going on around me, if I could be first I was worth something!

        This attitude brought me to something of a shock when I left primary school and went to a selective grammar school, where suddenly there WERE people around me that were as good or better than me at many subjects I had previously been the tiny King of. But yeah, that’s how things went for me

      2. Heather says:

        I always finished last (or next to– there was a girl who took longer than I did on everything because she was a perfectionist.) Me? It was because I was too busy getting distracted by all the cool stuff going on around me and daydreaming. I was suppose dto be in special ed because of various LD but my parents said no because I would be shipped to a different scol further away and they didn’t want that and instead helped me at home every. single. night. So essentially I went to school all day then came home, learned nothing, came home where my parents (who were also teachers and friends with my teachers) would reteach me everything I was supposed to be learning at school. So I went to school but essentially was also traditionally homeschooled. Yeah– during the school year I got literally no free time except a bit on weekends.

        1. Perseus says:

          It’s too bad they couldn’t quite get you to spell right, but c’est la vie.

          1. A spelling lame? Really?
            How churlish.

          2. Mari says:

            Really? You’re going to insult the spelling of the blog owner’s WIFE after she just admitted how incredibly difficult school was for her? Way to make friends and influence people.

            1. MichaelG says:

              Not to beat up on Heather, but Firefox and some other browsers have built in spell checkers. If half the words are highlighted when you finish writing a comment, is it too much trouble to go back and fix them?

              1. Sumanai says:

                Heather has mentioned before that yes, yes it is when you don’t have the time.

              2. Mari says:

                There’s the fact that I frequently have my browser’s spellchecker highlight plenty of words that are spelled correctly. They just didn’t make it into the default dictionary for whatever browser I’m using because they’re big/weird words. That and my tendency to throw in the stray “u” or “e” Queen’s English style.

                But more importantly, believe it or not, Heather doesn’t have tons of free time and for someone with multiple LDs it takes a fair bit of time to correct all those misspellings. That’s time that she could be spending building a website, painting, moderating one of the SEVERAL groups and forums she’s in charge of, or – I dunno – being a mother to three active kids and a wife.

        2. Mephane says:

          Interesting. I found myself on the opposite end of the scale, the only thing slowing down usually was the speed of my handwriting (and my hand aching after a two-hour-long test). I’ve never had trouble to fully concentrate on something, to the point where I actually have trouble not totally losing myself in that very specific thing I’m doing right now and totally forgetting anything around me. That’s also why I tend to forget a lot of things I gotta do if I don’t write them down somewhere I will have to stumble upon the note, or make an alarm on my mobile phones calendar, even for simple stuff like “pay this bill today”.

          I think this is the biggest reason why I went through school rather easily. But in the end I had to realize, this wasn’t an accomplishment of mine. Others have severe trouble concentrating on a task at hand, especially when it is uninteresting, while I just had the luck to automatically focus on anything I am doing, regardless if I’m actually interested in it.

          In retrospect, I sometimes think that it was really unfair that a few people, including me, got the good grades without breaking a sweat, while others spent days trying to memorize some stuff just to end up being judged “mediocre” at best. They deserved the good grades for their effort alone…

      3. Cerapa says:

        Personally I saw finishing first as a way to prove myself that I am smarter than the bullies and as such, their opinions are irrevelant.

        Plus actually changing my behaviour based on them would mean that they win.

      4. I still live this way
        My brain invents thoughts for others
        I can’t stand the thought of being the best at something for fear of making someone else feel inferior
        I can’t stand the thought of being the worst at something for fear of being ridiculed
        A perfect day for me is when I’m not being noticed

        I play a lot of single player games >_<

        P.S. Thought experiment:
        When ever I run errands to the store or in town
        I Spend my time imagining the schedule of that day for every person I see
        Applying the same method to days days that have past, back filling a history for each person
        Go back into the past until I get dizzy
        I don't know these people, will never know these people, I can't ACTUALLY know what their lies have been like
        This means multiple past lives for every person I see
        These people become real, and begin to frighten me
        And I start to regret how my brain functions
        This is how I live, and wouldn't recommend it

    3. Dovius says:

      I still do this (High School) mainly because I am so shy and scared of people thinking badly about me that I don’t want to appear as better than them in any aspect, so I wait and pretend to be busy until several other people finish at the same time so I can just melt in with the crowd.

      1. Alexander The 1st says:

        Then let us change tbat. Don’t change to drop to their level, be better at the things you can be. Be the Professor X of your class.

        Presumably, you’ll thank us later.

    4. Meredith says:

      I was going to make the same comment. I often finished first, but I would sit and go over my answers again or pretend to look something over so as not to be first to hand it in. When I was younger, I’d hand in the work and start reading, but as we got older I didn’t want to call attention to myself so I’d let at least one other person hand in their work first. I still had the satisfaction of knowing I was first without the social stigma of being the smart one.

      1. Alexander The 1st says:

        Can you imagine if there was an entire class of us?

        Educational standoff. :p

      2. Destrustor says:

        Exactly what I tried to explain higher up before reading the comments up to here and realizing this would have been a much more appropriate place.
        Now I feel dumb/too impatient.

      3. krellen says:

        I almost consider it a mortal sin that out schools allow there to be a stigma around being “the smart one”.

        1. Well, if you create a competitive environment and have it set up so that for many education in the society is completely irrelevant to their blue collar and/or service sector lives, don’t be surprised when kids resent the smartypants (who is probably going to be middle-class).

    5. Rayen says:

      i once had a teacher that would give you a zero if you were the first one to turn in your paper and you had one thing wrong with your paper. this created a atmosphere of paranoia and hate among the classroom. Lots of people would just finish and sit there moving their pencils just above their papers waiting for some one to turn in their paper first. ANd you didn’t let some people see your paper because they would call the teacher over to check your work. Apparently you just weren’t supposed to finish quickly although she did say it was because we were suppose to check our work. but if we didn’t know it’s wrong we can’t exactly fix it can we? many a class would go by where everyone would wait until the bell rang and then just left their work on the desk.

      1. noahpocalypse says:

        That’s just plain wrong. It’s not at all fair. Did you tell the other teachers? Your parents? The teachers can’t do that- totally illegal.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Wait, what? What law is there that says a teacher can’t give you a bad grade if they think you turn your work in first?

          1. CannonGerbil says:

            I’m not sure about the legality about such things, especially considering I’m unaware of your location, but most schools tend to frown on teachers artificially lowering the grades of their students based on something other than whatever they are supposed to be grading. It’s mostly concerning things such as giving a student straight Ds because he misbehaved in class, but yeah, It’s technically legal yet at the same time it’s not something you want to be seen doing.

            1. noahpocalypse says:

              I’m saying they have to give you credit for the problems you got right! They have to do that, don’t they? Missing one problem is not a valid legal reason to assume the rest are wrong!

              1. LassLisa says:

                No, what’s happening here isn’t assuming the rest are wrong – it’s giving a 0 for rushing and not checking your work. Because the process of checking your work is more important than the material. At least, that’s the theory that makes sense to me; it’s very poorly implemented however, since making it based on who ‘finishes first’ is… really stupid. It reinforces the idea that you’re competing with your classmates to base it on ‘if you finish first’ rather than something like ‘if you finish in less than half the time’ which would at least be an attempt to detect rushing per se.

        2. Rayen says:

          I know for fact that other teachers knew about it because they would sometimes be in th class room when she gave out that instruction, and it was written on the blackboard on day 1 and stayed there most of the year. I’m not for sure whether the principals knew about it though, again unless they were being willfully ignorant i don’t see how the couldn’t.

          I don’t know if any other parents knew or found out about it, but when i told my parents they didn’t think i was being serious and that it couldn’t be that bad. I would be more angry with them but this was during a particurly rough time for me at school where i was being bullied relentlessly and at home i was sometimes prone to exaggeration.

      2. Raygereio says:

        From your description it sounds as if that teacher was just lazy and didn’t want to go through the effort of finding something to do for the kids that finished quickly.

        1. Rayen says:

          yeah i kind of started seeing that way too. She was one of those teachers that forbade talking unless you were finished with your work. like i said most people just feinted work until class ended.

  6. lazlo says:

    I wonder if you could have been sufficiently motivated by having the right motivation? If they had told you “As soon as you finish your work, we’ll let you leave class and go down to the room down there with nothing but you and a computer”, would you suddenly have become a star student?

  7. blue_painted says:

    On the subject of “Computer to program” I’m going to plug:

    One of the motivations for this project is to (re)capture the Shamus’s of our world and get them programming.

    1. Wes1180 says:

      I can’t wait for that to come out, don’t know what i’ll do with it, but it’s a teeny tiny computer :P

      1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

        For only $25!

      2. Sumanai says:

        Apparently the initial release won’t have a cover, so I might have to wait until later. I’m not trusting myself with an open electronic devise for long periods of time.

        1. 4th Dimension says:

          I’m not trusting students with closed top computers, let alone open topped ones.

          1. Sumanai says:

            “Open top” implies sides and a bottom, which I don’t think the device will have. It seems like it’s just a circuit board with the components soldered on.

            Notably, I went to school about electronics and one of the courses was about making cases for what we build. So that should be two reasons why I should be fine with a caseless model, but I know myself better than that.

  8. Abnaxis says:

    My class was *weird* in elementary school, because every single assignment was competitive like this. I think the teachers got away with it because fully half the class were other teachers’ kids and so it actually was a heated contest to see who got done first. I remember we had these little laminated dollar bills we could use to buy stuff–small plastic toys and candies–if we could finish problems in bonus books, with an extra “cash” prize for the first one done.

    It created a very odd culture for a public school–it was like in the show Eureka, where the shrimpy little nerdy kid bullies around the jock. Being able to excel at sports was important too, but the primary determinant for status was how smart you were.

    Unfortunately, I moved after fifth grade–but I never lost my competitive streak. Dear God, but the kids at my new school made my life HELL…

    1. Cerapa says:

      That sounds like fun.

      I would have gotten all the candies. All of them.

      EDIT: Well, actually, occasionally my teachers give a 5(A for you americans and what-not) to the first one to finish.

      I always get that. Its actually pretty awesome since it bumps up my average and as such, I can give an even lesser crap about my grades.

    2. Heather says:

      My 4th grade class was like that and it provided absolutely NO motivation for me. External motivation didn’t really work. I WANTED to do well but being in a classroom just didn’t give me the quiet I needed to focus (weird issue with me where I literally cannot shut out the noises– everything from pencils scratching to whispering to a mosquito all vie for my attention so have a constant onslaught and when stressed it is much, much worse.)

      1. kmc says:

        Ugh, I hate that! It’s actually gotten worse as an adult. I work with what must be the twitchiest people on the planet–people who just pace around the room clicking pens rapidly to think. I actually have to close the door (which is a major step around here because my boss doesn’t like closed doors and will reprimand you for closing your own office door) because whistling from another room will make me unable to concentrate on a conversation I’m trying to have. (Strangely enough, the louder the whistling is, the easier it is for me to ignore.)

        Actually, I always thought I was just a jerk who was too focused on what other people were doing until I read some of Temple Grandin’s work (and no, I’m not trying to say I’m autistic or really open that discussion up again; it just resonated with me). She talks about the way the brain orients on sounds and how some people can tune it out, but some just can’t. She mentions that if a truck is backing up or something when she’s lying in bed, she will not be able to go to sleep because the sound will never fade into the background. It immediately hit home with me because I’d lie awake for an hour listening to the kids playing basketball in the middle of the night at the elementary school behind our house, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I put all my clothes back on and tramped across the greenbelt to ask them to stop.

        1. Heather says:

          There is actually a name for it (when I was a kid it was lumped in with the LD that they knew I had issues with but now it is considered an auditory issue called Auditory Processing Disorder (a brief explanation can be found here:

          1. Duffy says:

            The theory is I developed CAPD from almost constant series of middle ear infections until I was about twelve. Luckily my mother was a Special Ed Teacher (specifically for speech related therapy) and she did a great job of compensating my speech and reading development to offset the traditional issues in children with CAPD. At the time I had no idea why she made me do all this extra work but in hindsight I’m thankful.

            The biggest problem is even when people with CAPD develop related skills normally it’s not like the underlying problem goes away. It’s an ongoing challenge trying to listen and comprehend people in non-ideal environments. Not to mention simple things like trying to sleep with a cable box in the same room. It’s low thrumming can drive me crazy if I’m awake when it decides to rev up.

            1. Jarenth says:

              In that case, I can only strongly recommend that you never get a studio apartment. I occasionally have trouble sleeping when my fridge decides to go into cooling mode, and I’m the kind of ignorant can’t-stop-moving twitchy person that would make your work experience unintentionally terrible.

          2. Paul Spooner says:

            We’re friends with a whole family who is like this (probably to a lesser extent). It is kind of odd talking to them, because they are intentionally very VERY concentrated on what you are saying. Conversation is interspersed with “What was that noise?” and “Sorry, what were you saying?” Very likable people once you get to know them (and sharp as a tack), but still kind of funny to watch.

            They are (in majority) excellent pianists though. My guess is the unfiltered audio input led them to structure the sound around them. It’s an amazing ability, when it’s in the right context.

          3. Hitch says:

            I had kind of the opposite problem when I was in school. I got so used to the noisiness of other students and things going on around me, that I couldn’t concentrate if it was too quiet. I couldn’t do homework without a TV or radio on to provide background noise. I had no problem ignoring whatever was on, but without it there, every tiny little sound distracted me.

        2. Abnaxis says:

          As one of those people who absolutely CANNOT sit still, I’d like to tender an apology if you’ve ever been in the same room as me. My wife has similar issues–I never realized how much of a problem it could be until I met her. There are times–especially in college–where you have little choice in where you work, because you have to keep some book in the library or meet in a public place with a group, and she always had a terrible time of it.

          She’s come to just a hair shy of ripping my head off when we work together at times–I don’t know why it is, I just can’t sit still…

  9. I had an Advanced Calculus class in high school in which the teacher had demarcated the criteria for grading early in the year. We had one textbook and we could read it at our own speed. At the end of each chapter, there was a test, to which we could supply written answers to our teacher and get credit for having completed the lessons in that chapter (if we passed the test). If I completed X chapters, I would get a “C”, X+Y chapters, I would get a “B”, etc.
    So there were some excellent math students and near the end of the year, several of them had passed the “Grade A” chapter. When asked about their grade, the teacher informed them that they would not receive an “A” and she had additional work for them. The whole class was stunned. We all started repeating what she had said before that completing X+Y chapters would get someone an “A”.
    To which she replied, “Well, I lied.”
    We went silent. One of the “Grade A” students stormed out of class and put his hand nearly through the glass door in the front of the school. (It was wire-enforced so it cracked but didn’t break.)
    I was a “Grade B” math student, so there wasn’t anything for me to do but go back to work. It could have been a good system, allowing each student to progress at their own rate. It was just too bad that she had underestimated what the best of us could have done.

    1. Meredith says:

      That seems like a very odd system for grading and of course she couldn’t let them do nothing for the rest of the school year. Still, it was unfair of her to go back on her word.

      Edited because I failed to thoroughly read the original comment. Sorry.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Wait… Why can’t you do nothing for the rest of the year? If you’re finished with your work, can’t you go home? Isn’t demonstrated comprehension the point?
        You make it sound as if public schools are a child prison system… are they?

        1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:


        2. Lintman says:

          In college, I had an instructor in a writing class sorta do that. There was a major research paper due a few weeks before the end of the semester, and she said if you got an A on it, you got your A for the course and didn’t have to attend the class any further. Only 1 student got the A, though (and one other was a near-miss), but she did keep up the bargain. The last few weeks were time for the rest of the students to do rework and improve their grades, so this made sense.

          In high school, though, I wouldn’t be happy if one of my children’s teachers set a too-low bar for an A and then let those kids sit around for the rest of the year. They’re there to learn, and if they have truly mastered the material (which I’d be a bit skeptical about), they should be taught something more advanced to take advantage of the time available.

          That said, it was a stupid offer in the first place, and the teacher’s “I lied” handling of it was terrible.

          1. Hitch says:

            In too many American school systems students are not really there to learn (in the secret view of school administrators), they’re there to occupy a desk for a certain number of hours a year in order to justify a continued level of funding. A teacher letting student go early because they’ve completed the work ahead of schedule could cost the school money.

            Yes, that’s very cynical, but that doesn’t make it false.

            1. Heather says:

              There is a lot of truth to that but also, state law requirements mean that the school district could not legally let kids go home early or finish a school year early without loosing the “right” to graduate that years students on to the next level as well as without losing funding. Kind of a hands tied situation– especially when strikes occur or the budget gets cut. In fact often we had to leave early due to snow or whatever and had to wait till after lunch for the sake of the lunch lady union and also because otherwise it wouldn’t be “counted” and we would need to do another full day.

        3. We were still doing lessons every day from the textbook. It is just that we were allowed to work on other sections either during a portion of the class or after class. Students who had already learned the material still had to attend the class with us.

        4. Mari says:

          That’s exactly what we call it at our house. This year one kid stays home to learn and the other goes off to “kid prison” to do so.

        5. 4th Dimension says:

          Because this class that you ‘completed’ might not be the last that day, so you would either had to stand around school doing nothing while you wait for the next one (and not be observed), or mot likely you would have to sit in class doing nothing. And if you are doing nothing, your mind starts to wander, and easily you will start chatting, arguaing with the rest of the students which in the end leads to total anarchy.
          Add 3-4 other students in similar position, and the class would sooner go to hell, and the teacher wouldn’t be able to teach, neither would the students be able to learn.

    2. 4th Dimension says:

      Umm. This mught be a stupid question, but what was stopping ALL students from copying those tests from few good ones?

      In my country that kind of deal is simply asking for the tests to be solved by older brothers and sisters, or better students and then copyed by the rest.

  10. Jarenth says:

    I guess this is one area where Young Shamus and Little Jarenth would’ve been different, then. If a teacher had tried to influence me by way of enlisting my classmates, and had I pierced through that deception the way you did, I would have been furious (as furious as I could be by that age, anyway). But then again, I’ve never really liked being deceived, even if it was for my own good. The idea of basically being lied to and being talked about behind my back would’ve weighed much more for me than the realization that it was done to help me.

    1. Yeah, me too actually. But then, I was a cocky little bastard; low self esteem was never my issue, no matter how much anyone bullied me. I was always sure I was brilliant. When I was being ragged on, chased around the schoolyard and mildly beaten up if they caught me, I didn’t assume there was anything wrong with me. I assumed most of the species were basically vicious subhuman rejects who naturally got a bit upset when they realized their inferiority.

      (It was only much later that I realized smarts isn’t a purely rankable thing, and that people who basically were much dumber than me could still now and then have good ideas that were not ideas I would ever have come up with)

      Given that, I wouldn’t get or need the self-esteem upside of such an intervention, so only the downside would have hit me. Plus I always valued straightforwardness and honesty over tact; anything that smacked of deceit would have cheesed me off nearly as much as my all-time blood-vessel-popping annoyance, condescension. When adults talked down to me (and to this day when anyone talks down to me) my reaction was always fury.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        I’m in the same boat as both of you. Of course, the reasons that no teacher has tried to inciting peer encouragement for us are:
        1. We didn’t need it
        2. Even if we did, it wouldn’t have worked
        So, maybe the teachers and other students are smarter than we gave them credit for (as you said) as evidenced by leaving us to our own smug selves.
        Now, with that said, I’m totally smarter than both of you put together! ;)

    2. JPH says:

      I probably would have had a similar reaction, but I wouldn’t have been angry; I would have been distressed. I generally freak out when people talk about me behind my back. What are they saying? What did I do wrong?

  11. monkeyboy says:

    “One girl (let's call her K) treats me like she treats everyone else, which is incredibly valuable to my sense of self-worth. She's not nice to me out of pity ““ she simply doesn't have anything negative to say to me.”

    I’m fortunate that my kids really are the “get along with everyone” kind, but I still keep an eye on them to keep them away from any of that stupid cut one out of the herd stuff that goes on, having been subject to a little of that myself.

  12. GTB says:

    It’s nice to know that there were other people like me, who were completely disinterested in school except for the computer lab. The first time I sat down at an apple IIe (im OLD) when I was in junior high, I realized that this was something I wanted in my life. I was desperate for it, in fact. We were too poor to have a computer at home, but from that point on I spent pretty much every waking hour huddled in the computer lab, teaching myself apple BASIC. I went from skipping classes and going home early to skipping classes and spending all that time in the computer lab. Once my school upgraded to PCs, that was game over for me. I would show up, check in to home room, then spend the entire day (skipping all of my classes) in the lab. I’ve never been quite so obsessed with anything as I was then.

  13. Paul Spooner says:

    I understand the mockery and the verbal “abuse”. It’s really difficult to care when the society you’re surrounded with tells you to go away. Girls do tend to excel at this, and it’s very hard to police. I’m glad you met K, and had a baseline for normal extra-familial behavior.

    I’m always surprised by reports of physical bullying in schools. Isn’t there any security? Don’t children report abuse? This is so strange to me.
    My siblings and I were homeschooled, but we still ended up hanging out with other kids. Occasionally kids would try to intimidate us or push us around, but there was always plenty of supervision, so it wasn’t a problem. All you had to do was report the troublemakers and it got taken care of.
    Of course, there were times when things got out of hand. Playing out behind the transformer, or around the back where no adults were around. But in my experience bullies don’t really want a fight. The two times (as a child) that I actually got in a fight it ended with the other guy on the ground getting kicked in the face. (Not saying I’m proud of this. I was only eight or so.(Well, maybe a little proud. It thrilled of justice.)) We didn’t have any trouble after that.
    I have a nephew who’s the same way. Took down four bullies at once in a fight. They ambushed him on the way home. He absolutely destroyed them.
    I don’t understand bullies at all. It seems like a bad deal from all angles.

    1. krellen says:

      When we (the bullied) report it, we tend to be instructed to either a) work it out ourselves or b) ignore the bullies and they’ll go away.

      At least this was the case while I was growing up, only a few years behind Shamus.

      1. Dovius says:

        This is still the case, at least in the Netherlands. It was pretty much the only reaction I ever got out of a teacher when I reported the bullying.

        Of course, bullying a guy with massive amounts of pent-up rage can work out itself once said person finally snaps and solves it themselves.
        I still have fond memories of that scar on my hand and the resulting peace I had for the rest of my time on that school.

        Naturally, I’m not encouraging the use of violence in relatively small things like bullying, but it kinda becomes inevitable if authority figures do nothing about it.

        1. krellen says:

          My pent up rage was misdirected, and resulted in an incident wherein I may have killed my brother had not two of his friends been present.

          That was a life-changing moment for me.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Man, that’s a tough way to learn. I’m guessing he’s okay now?
            If you don’t mind me asking, what did you take away from it?

            1. krellen says:

              Don’t let the anger pile up until it explodes. Let it out before it becomes destructive.

              And my brother is fine, currently well on his way to becoming a lawyer.

      2. Shamus says:

        Also: tell on a bully, and it’s your word vs. the word of the Alpha male and his minions. Now you’ve been bullied, been denied justice, and given them a reason to bully you again after school.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Wow, that really stinks. Remember kids, stay out of school!

          So there is really only a token nod given to protecting children from violence. For all the metal detectors and rules, this seems criminal negligence on the part of our society. I can see how removing the ability for teachers to enforce the rules, incentives to report abuse, and painful punishment would arrive at this situation. What I don’t see is how this is a good thing, and why there is nothing done to stop it!
          Now I sound like Heinlein’s novel-length rant against the philosophy of removing punishment from training. That guy was a bit crazy, but he sure got Starship Troopers right.

          1. Shamus says:

            To be fair, my time is school was LOOONG before anyone even thought about metal detectors. I don’t know what the place is like now. Maybe things are better?

            Then again, there are all of these unhealthy social stigmas against seeking help. “Don’t be a snitch”, and such.

            1. Abnaxis says:

              I thought the detectors were an answer to school shootings and stabbings? There’s a world of difference between Columbine levels of violence and getting the snot beat out of you in the playground (I should know, I received enough of those beatings…).

              1. krellen says:

                It should be noted that the Columbine shooters came from the same stock (socially, at least) as Shamus and I. I don’t think things are really all that different for the bullied kids now.

                (I might also mention the recent case of the Facebook bullying that led to suicide.)

                1. uberfail says:

                  It’s because what they lacked in physical ability they made up for with guns. Funny how games were blamed rather than the culture of you schools.

                  All this experience of bully is completely alien to me. My school has no tolerance for bullying. You’re seriously more likely to be harrased by an over eager seagull than another student.
                  I think this combined with the spread layout of the school sitting on a hill overlooking the sea combined to make a much freindlier culture.

            2. Duffy says:

              As someone who subbed in a public school where metal detectors and police were present and needed, this was in a suburb mind you, I can categorically say that not only has it not improved in some places, but even if you want to punish them you generally can’t. Given the area I live in anyone who can and cares* sends their kids to private school or home schools.

              Disclaimer: A lot of people seem to find this idea bizarre when I bring it up. Apparently elsewhere most people associate private school with being rich, but that is not the norm around here. The area I live in has/had a very high density of private (predominately Catholic) grammar and high schools. The numbers have been dwindling over the years but for a very long time if your parents cared the least about your schooling you went to private school regardless of religious affiliation. There are definitely some good public schools here now, but for a long time they were generally considered inferior.

        2. Yup.
          Plus in many places there’s a weird sort of code, which makes no sense once you’re not there any more but somehow does at the time:
          Snitch and you’re more despised than before. You broke the code of school Omerta and your name is mud. Basically it’s like what happens between kids stays between kids, involving outsiders (adults) is cheating.

          This code is really theoretically intended for even fights and other squabbles, ends up mainly useful for the bullies, but the rest of the kids internalize it much the way broader society internalizes the idea that it’s bad to rob banks (an ethic really intended to apply to other real people and their real belongings which they will really suffer if they really lose, but which we end up applying to banks and other fantastically wealthy nonpersons who victimize us).

          My daughter’s grade school doesn’t seem to have had that code, or much bullying. Don’t know quite how they did it, but they managed to establish an anti-bullying norm that trumped child solidarity. Incidentally, whatever the specifics of how they did it, the general thrust was exactly the opposite of the heavy punishment, metal detectors and such approach. It was more like part of the kids’ education was about ethics, empathy and such. I suspect it made it less criminal to tell on someone if the result wasn’t going to be THE MAN coming down on them like a ton of bricks, but something rather calmer and more like working with the kid to convince them to act different. I think heavy punishment places tend to have lots of bullying–I mean, if the example from the adults is that they bully kids they catch, how would that convince the kids bullying is wrong? Lead by example.

        3. Mephane says:

          Oh yes I remember that. I actually learnt that lesson in kindergarten already, where telling a teacher that someone has done something bad just resulted in both the teacher and the other kids accusing you of squealing, with an undertone of “you only say this because you want to do him harm”.

          But I think the real reason for these responses was laziness, this way they wouldn’t have to bother at all about the issue.

    2. Methermeneus says:

      I'm always surprised by reports of physical bullying in schools. Isn't there any security? Don't children report abuse? This is so strange to me.

      This video has some good points about how just having cameras in the classroom could cut down on bullying (among other positive effects). If you think teachers might object, I will point out that the person who made the video is himself a teacher.

      WARNING: Don’t watch anything outside his education playlist if militant atheism offends you. GI keeps his opinions on God out of his videos on education, however.

    3. Mari says:

      Personally I find the mockery and verbal abuse to be much more harmful and distressing than the physical bullying. For the most part the results of physical bullying will heal. Being subjected to daily doses of verbal bullying for years at a time doesn’t really heal. It stunts or deforms your emotional development in ways that can stay with you for the rest of your life. This is something I feel very strongly about. What a 5-year-old is told daily for months and months that she’s weird, she’s bad, she’s worthless, she’s completely unlikable and then repeating that every school year for 6 more years casts and band-aids don’t really fix the problems. Especially when those things are reinforced by classmates threatening similar treatment to anyone who IS nice to the target which completely socially isolates the victim. How do you fight back against THAT? How do you recover from it? And as importantly, how do you STOP it?

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        I don’t think you can separate one from the other, in most cases. Physical bullying, sure, the scars (if any) will heal, but you still have the emotional impact of the physical bullying as well – ‘why are they hurting me? etc.’

        Also.. the root of bullying comes at pre-school age, when kids aren’t taught that it’s a bad thing.

        1. Mari says:

          Strangely, many schools near me have managed to isolate the two forms of bullying. They’ve set up a school culture that makes physical bullying unprofitable, uncomfortable, or just downright next-to-impossible by defining even the slightest physical altercation as “bullying” and handing down swift punishment for even accidental physical violence. But at the same time they turn a completely blind eye to verbal bullying, going so far as to claim that no such thing exists. All of which serves to foster an atmosphere where the bullies channel all their rage through their mouths instead of their hands and feet.

          1. ben says:

            From my personally experience, the physical bully has been almost entirely replaced with the troll.

            The prime tactic in fact being to verbally abuse their target until either they break down completely, or until they snap and retaliate physically. At which point their victim is penalized for “bullying” them.

            The only time I was actually physically bullied, the other party had multiple accomplices who denied that the event had even taken place.
            AND they also took refuge in audacity because they immediately went and told the teachers that I had been bullying their friend before I recovered enough to call for help. Thus forcing me to prove my own innocence before the teachers would even listen to me.

  14. Joe Cool says:

    Was the puzzle you had to solve a Cross Sum (AKA Kakuro)?

    I used to love those things as a kid. Still do.

    1. Shamus says:

      I don’t know. It’s foggy now, and I can’t picture the page anymore.

  15. RichVR says:

    I also had a rich fantasy life consisting of drawing and doodling when I should have been paying attention. In the 7th grade I had an entire notebook devoted to drawing monsters. My father was an artist. Around 4th or 5th grades he let me read his anatomy texts. They actually had drawings and photos of nude women. But I honestly didn’t care for them. What I did love was the studies of musculature and bone structure.

    I started drawing muscular aliens and the like. When the book was mostly full, I made up a sheet to vote on which creatures were the best. I’d pass it around class and people voted. They all thought the drawings were incredibly cool.

    Eventually, Mr. Friedman, a history teacher intercepted the book. After looking through it for a bit he picked his favorite and gave it back. He asked me not to pass it around in his class anymore. I gladly agreed.

    Later in the term he gave me an 8X10 photo of the Marx brothers to copy onto a large poster board. He was obviously impressed by my artistic abilities.

    I never finished it. It was an assignment and so I had no interest in it. I could have done a great job. I just didn’t want to.

    He never let me forget it either, in a joking way. He was a cool teacher.

    Edit: spelling

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      That’s really cool! Did you grow up to be an artist? Can you link some of your awesome aliens? Sorry for the gushing, I have almost no intrinsic artistic ability, so I love seeing what a talented artist can do.

      1. RichVR says:

        Thanks for the reply, but no. My life took a different turn after High School. Long story very short I’m an IT guy that draws as a hobby. For a while I was doing cartoons with a couple of Rapidograph pens. Then I got interested in photography. Then I got interested in sex and drugs. Then I was a waste of space for a good many years.

        Now I’m 52 years old with a 25 year old son who’s doing very well. He’s going to take the NYC firefighters test soon. And a stepson who is also an IT guy. Also a wonderful wife who just got a promotion to financial manager of a rather large company.

        I’m okay with the way it went. Of course I might have done a lot better without spending the 1970s and part of the 1980s in a drug induced haze.

        Kids, don’t do drugs. MMkay?

  16. Methermeneus says:

    The beginning and end of your story both make me nostalgic for high school. That was when I started getting decent teachers who would say “You’d get great grades if you’d just turn in your homework!” (instead of ones who would just be satisfied with giving me the bad grades), and other kids would say the same thing out of a sense of bafflement (“Look, man, I get the same grades you do,” from the only idiot jock in the class (we mostly had overachiever jocks, oddly enough)).

    Unlike you, I tended to do my classwork, at least, because I got tremendously bored just sitting around doing nothing, and past fourth grade no one would let me just read whatever book I had with me, and I usually turned in my class assignments before anyone else, which, again, kind of stopped bothering people in high school. I suspect they noticed that I turned in writing assignments last, both because I had to write really slowly to force my handwriting into legibility and because I tend to write long. (I think I annoyed my teachers by making them take twice as long to grade my papers, but in college my Classics professors loved me.)

  17. BenD says:

    If anyone here is interested in game- and model-based mathematics curriculum, look up The Math Learning Center or their curriculum, Bridges In Mathematics.

    I’m not paid to say this, but I am very biased, so consider this advertising if you want. ;)

  18. Neil Roy says:

    “Going to school is like having to do your taxes five times a week.” Love this, that is how it felt to me as well, although I have always loved learning, I just disliked how the schools taught it and the atmosphere of bullying.

  19. We like to get our homework done really quickly! That way we can play games on the computer, like you!

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