Autoblography Part 20: Intermediate

By Shamus Posted Thursday Sep 29, 2011

Filed under: Personal 97 comments

shamus_1986.jpg

It’s 1986, and I’m moving on to the next stage of school. I’m leaving behind the junior high and attending school at the Intermediate Building, which is for grades nine and ten. (I gather that this is unusual, and that most schools have a single building for grades nine through twelve. Perhaps this is due to our class size, which is well over seven hundred students.) The previous school building was an ancient relic from a bygone era, constructed of worn wood and tired bricks. The Intermediate Building is a snazzy new modern thing made with modern sensibilities and following all the latest trends in institutional design. Students describe it as “like a prison, only you never get to go outside for fresh air.”

At a few key points there are large overhead domes to let in the sunlight, like an upscale mall. This is good, because the rest of the hallways seem to be lit with twenty watt bulbs, like a Minecraft tunnel constructed by a guy running low on torches. A majority of the rooms have no windows. Of the few that do, they only get a pair of narrow vertical windows, which are angled carefully so as to avoid the dangers of students being exposed to daylight. These windows are so narrow that an adult would find it impossible to squeeze through one. Not that these windows open. No, these are hermetically sealed, to protect students from the hazards of fresh air.

So the student body mills around in this darkened box like a colony of mole-people, breathing the same air all day and forming wild theories about what sort of weather might be taking place beyond the doors of our vault. I don’t know that anyone has ever done a formal study, but it’s accepted as fact that the Intermediate Building has a higher than average occurrence of fights and sickness.

If you’d like a tour and you have an iron stomach when it comes to shaky-cams, then have a look around. The only thing that’s different is the addition of the Pepsi machine:


Link (YouTube)

(Also, in my time students were not permitted to use the elevator.)

In English class, we’re given an assignment to write an Epic. We’re given a list of attributes common to epic stories, and told to create a story with a similar structure. Thankfully, the list of attributes is fairly small – much smaller than what would be involved in creating a real epic – and it doesn’t need to be poetry.

It’s a freeform assignment, which means I’m interested in doing it. At first I decide to subvert the style by setting the story in a sci-fi future. I hammer away at that idea, but it’s too big and unwieldy for me at this age. The deadline comes and I decide I hate the idea.

A reasonable student would simply plow forward. After all, the assignment is due in the morning. It’s better to finish it than to start over. But I’m not a reasonable student. I’d rather turn in nothing at all than turn in something I hate. I get the idea to simply do a spoof of The Odyssey, which I title the “Odd Essay”. I hammer the whole thing out in a single draft, cursing myself for not thinking of the idea sooner.

This is my first work of parody, and I find it comes naturally to me. The title should give you an idea of the level of sophistication we’re talking about here. My style is a bit slapstick at this stage in my development, and most of my jokes seem to hail from the Mel Brooks area of the comedy spectrum.

I get a B+, which is a very good grade, but short of “excellent”. The teacher adds the note that she really enjoyed the story, but she had to detract points for numerous misspellings, a few small grammatical errors, and the fact that it was done in pencil. This being English class, I realize she was very, very generous towards me, and that my creativity had probably spared me from something much lower. I am gratified to see my work was graded based on originality, instead of exclusively on word count, page count, and neatness. The goal of the assignment was to learn about epics, but my goal was to create something worth reading.

This is an awful photo, but there are a lot of artifacts in it. On the far left you can see the map from Neighbor John.  On the bookshelf you can see Art and the Computer. Here I’m working at my computer, which is hooked up to a television, as was the custom in those primitive days.
This is an awful photo, but there are a lot of artifacts in it. On the far left you can see the map from Neighbor John. On the bookshelf you can see Art and the Computer. Here I’m working at my computer, which is hooked up to a television, as was the custom in those primitive days.

I’m still hanging out in the library in the mornings. I’ve discovered a group of six Dungeons & Dragons players that meet here, and I spend every morning sitting near their table, watching them play.

The DM is fond of traps. Every time the party goes anywhere he makes them roll, and then announces that they have just set off a trap. Then an argument ensues because they haven’t established who was leading the group. In a strange sort of ambiguity only possible in a tabletop game, they know someone in the group has been injured, but they don’t know who. The players all have reasons why their character wouldn’t be in the front of the group right now. Finally they come to some agreement, and one of them grudgingly accepts the consequences. They write down the marching order of the party, to avoid having this same argument the next time a trap is sprung.

Odds are, the note recording their marching order will mysteriously vanish before their next session.

I’m there with them, every day. Nobody questions this stranger dropping in on their game. Nobody gives me a hard time. I find the game exciting, but I never ask to play and they never invite me. I don’t even speak, because I’m afraid of committing some social blunder that will cause them to shun me. I just want to watch. It will be twenty years before I sit down at a table to play for myself.

I wish I knew what module they were playing. The only thing I still remember is that at one point they were running around on a bunch of walkways suspended in a black void. There were many levels, which were depicted on the map with color coding. They were supposed to figure out how to move to the other levels. After a while they got impatient and decided to use a rope to climb down to the level below. The DM didn’t like this because it clearly wasn’t the “right” solution as defined in the module, so he made them do a bunch of spoiling rolls. Finally someone rolled low and the rope broke, dropping one of the characters down and injuring him.

That’s it. That’s all I remember. Also, there may have been a Queen of some sort at the end of the adventure. Maybe they were fighting drow?

I might never figure out what module they were playing, because my memory is just too hazy. I wish I could remember the box cover. I could probably find it in just a couple of minutes if I knew that.

 


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97 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 20: Intermediate

  1. Pablo Fontanilla says:

    Following this series with growing interest!

    Also, the DnD module might be… this one? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_of_the_Spiders

    It’s from 1986, queens, drows… Actually, just a part of that one, Queen of the Demonweb Pits. It has pits, and all!

    1. Chuck Henebry says:

      That’s definitely the module, though the cover in that wiki entry is from a later re-publishing of the original module. This is the cover Shamus probably remembers:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_of_the_Demonweb_Pits

      And here’s the map:

      http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/269/demonweb.jpg

      I never played that adventure, but I had friends who did and I remember sitting as mute witness, very much like you.

      1. Shamus says:

        YES!!! That’s the map. That’s exactly it.

        Thanks. So much is coming back to me now.

        1. Steve C says:

          Crowd sourcing childhood memories…

        2. DaveMc says:

          I just knew someone would get it, though I must admit I wasn’t expecting it to be on the very first post. Quite a crowd you’ve got here, Shamus! Well done to the identifiers.

          1. Mistwraithe says:

            Ditto, was almost a certainty that some readers would identify it but Pablo really upped the ante by getting it first post! My hat is off…

            1. ngthagg says:

              For all those people who write “First!!!11!!1ONE”, this is how it’s done.

            2. Pablo Fontanilla says:

              I’m just taking advantage of the time difference… It was like 11 AM for me, here in Spain ;)

              Anyway, glad you found it, Seamus, I know it’s a pretty big rush when you finally get the name of something you were half-remembering during years…

      2. Eärlindor says:

        Ah, is that what it is. When Shamus said:

        The only thing I still remember is that at one point they were running around on a bunch of walkways suspended in a black void.

        I almost wondered if it was suppose to be Tartarus.

    2. Randy says:

      Yeah, it definitely sounds like Queen of the Demonweb Pits. It had Drow and spiders and the demon queen of spiders. It also had a colorful spiderweb map – http://images.trademe.co.nz/photoserver/tq/20/180963720.jpg

      -Randy

    3. Ah, beat me to it. I think I still have that hanging around somewhere. A classic. The grand finale to the series that starts off against giants (G1-G3), moves underground (D1-D3), goes to the drow city, and finally you go after their demon queen herself.
      I particularly like the one with the drow city. It has some adventuring stuff but at the same time it’s just this place where lots of drow live, so it describes lots of places that, chances are, the PCs will never see. Little compounds with competing drow merchant houses and whatnot. Considering the state of the art at the time, module D3 (Vault of the Drow) represented a real step forward.

    4. Samuel says:

      I think I might have played through part of this module very recently. In fact, I think it was the same scene Shamus was describing. Weird coincidence…

  2. AlmightyShmun says:

    First of all, I must say that I’ve been absolutely loving this series. Yes, it’s been witty and clever, but more than that, it hits pretty close to home. There’s a lot in your childhood I identify with more closely than I usually like to think about(alcoholic father, school problems, etc.), and it’s helped me put some things in perspective. Thank you so much for baring all of this out to your readers, and I swear I’m done being all gushy.

    Second, I expect that sort of behavior from adolescent GMs, but seeing it in grown men baffles me to no end. There’s a sizable gaming group at one of the local colleges, and every time I see something like that, I just have to shake my head and wonder why a 40-year-old man can’t stop thinking like a teenager.

    1. ccesarano says:

      I go to the local comic book shop once in a while, and every time I go in there on a Warhammer night or something similar, I can’t help it. I actually cringe and go “NERDS!”

      This is coming from a guy who regularly wears shirts that say things like “Press X To Not Die” and “Pass Me Another Character Sheet and Some Better Dice”. Yet these guys fill the stereotype so well that it’s hard not to cringe.

      The thing that is horrifying is that a lot of these fellows are in their 30’s and 40’s. I’m 26 and already starting to feel a little old and silly going to the comic book shop. These guys that hang with all these College kids…it’s like there is a part of them that doesn’t know how to respond to or react to other modern adults.

      1. Sydney says:

        He says, without any obvious attempt at irony, on the blog of Shamus Young – who happens to be, most likely, more man than most of us here in the readership.

        1. ccesarano says:

          When I think of Shamus Young, I do not think of these guys. I met Shamus. He cuts his hair and (now that he has one) trims his beard and cleans his clothes. He is not a mouth breather. He doesn’t discuss his master novella that he’s writing in his mother’s basement.

          In short, he isn’t this guy or this guy.

      2. Mazinja says:

        Growing up is overrated.

        1. CaroCogitatus says:

          It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

          1. MadTinkerer says:

            Hear, hear!

        2. Adam says:

          I rather think it’s the opposite; childhood is much more difficult than most people say and it’s being an adult that’s more fun.

    2. It has less to do with maturity and more to do with mindset. If you’re running a pre-written module, it’s a hard skill to pick up to guide people who are going off the rails. I find that working out the place I want to get to and adapting to player actions far better than having a linear script, but it’s a skill I’ve picked up through experience. If you view D&D as a series of tactical combat encounters (easier to do than with some other RP systems) then you may decide that you’re just a machine putting rails down to the next fight, and act that way.

      Anyway, managing PCs is like herding cats – find the fish they want and put that at your destination instead.

    3. Meredith says:

      I agree. My first thought was that’s just bad DMing. On the other hand, that party should have been searching for traps every step of the way after the first few.

      1. Isy says:

        Depends on what edition they were playing. We played a game of Basic for my friend’s birthday party. We were not allowed to search for traps, by the rules, because we did not have a Thief.

        We had three elves though. We found ALL the secret doors.

  3. The thing with D&D happened to me with Warhammer. I couldn’t stop myself from watching people playing it, but I waited a looong time before buying my first box. And when I finished gluing (does that word even exist ?) and painting everything… That’s when I realized it wasn’t cool anymore and nobody was playing it. Damn.

    1. SolkaTruesilver says:

      Wait, there’s more to the game than glueing and painting the models?

      1. Jarenth says:

        There’s also transporting your models from place to place, breaking them due to careless handling and packaging, and cursing.

        Cursing features prominently.

        1. Alan says:

          You forgot about packing them away for years on end then finding them, dusting them off and repairing them.

  4. uberfail says:

    That building sounds horrible.
    You should see my campus. It’s spread out. It lies at the top of the hill looking down over farms and the harbour. My chemistry class has an entire wall of windows with fabulous views of Rangitoto the rest of the harbour.
    It’s really a great place to teach 1600 students. (the school that is, not the chemistry classroom.

    1. AlmightyShmun says:

      Are you kidding? I’d love to see that class.

      “Alright, students. This morning, the left flank has a math exam, the right flank will be doing lab work, and the center line has a history lecture. After yesterday’s trampling incident, we’ll be changing the lunch schedule…”

      1. For the first year of medical studies, pick any french university that teach those studies and you’ll see auditoriums containing at least 2000 students… 95% of them are singing dirty songs about the teacher giving the lecture and 5% of them try to actually listen to the teacher. No need to say there’s a big drop in the number of students for the second year…

        1. Will says:

          That’s pretty standard for most universities i think. a 50% drop-out rate in first year is often considered remarkably low,

    2. Telke says:

      Wait, Rangitoto!? Hello, fellow NZer!

      Alternatively, Ew! Filthy Aucklander! Wellingtonian here.

      Reading this is definitely a note on how lucky we are with the school system here…like you, my high school was several blocks with plenty of windows, although your views beat ours significantly – we could only see the War Memorial!

      1. V says:

        I think we can agree that the entire North Island is filthy. Christchurch is really the only worthwhile place in the country.
        I went to middle school briefly in Southern California and we didn’t have any windows at all. I guess all that sunshine would have been far too distracting. We did get to eat lunch in an uncovered, outside area though, which was nice.

        1. Mari says:

          Actually there’s a very logical reason that US schools built after the 1960s didn’t have windows. First it was the Cold War. Apparently windows wouldn’t survive the dropping of atomic weapons but brick would (???) so windows were dropped from school building plans to protect students from the first wave of radiation, leaving them to survive and become terrifying mutants. Once the Cold War was over we continued to leave the windows out because of the Drug War. If there were no windows, rabid drug-pushing gangs couldn’t bust ’em down to force their evil, evil drugs into the waiting mouths and veins of unsuspecting school students.

          These days it’s the School Violence aka the War Against Kids in Trenchcoats. Classroom doors no longer even have those little strips of window above the door knob that used to allow administrators to wander around the school and make sure that the teachers are in control of their classrooms and not allowing drugs, mutants, or orgies. Because if the principal can see in, so can the scary guy with the gun.

          You think I’m joking but I’m not. My kids have, in addition to tornado and fire drills, ‘lockdown drills’ where the kids practice hiding behind desks in a dark, silent locked classroom when the principal makes an announcement like, “There will be no swim team practice after school today” which is the kids’ clue that it’s a lockdown drill since not only does this school have no pool, there is no school with a pool within 150 miles of us. They have to stay silent in the dark classroom until the principal comes around and rattles the doorknob to make sure it’s locked then gives a secret code knock to let them know all is well. The first time my kids’ school did this was the day after the West Nickel shooting. The kids weren’t informed of what was happening. My kids were in 2nd and 3rd grades. A couple of kids in each class spent the whole drill crying. One of the kindergarteners wet her pants and another one puked on himself. Once last year one of my daughter’s teachers forgot to lock the classroom door. The principal leaped into the classroom shouting incoherently and pretended to gun them down. One of the (then 7th grade) students in the class wet herself a little.

          School safety: vitally important to schools and a great source of entertainment for slightly sadistic adults.

          1. 4th Dimension says:

            About nuclear strike,

            It’s not a bad thinking. Nobody expects school to withstand a direct blast, but they probably did expect it to withstand a miss. Also since schools are the ussual place of gathering in the event of major catastrophy, they could act as shelters from the fallout because of their thick walls and hermetically sealed windows. So with proper decontamination procedures (striping and washing anyone who enters) a school like that would have been a quite a good shelter. Also slanting windows would have prevented flash blindnes (looking directly at the nuclear detonation can burn your eyes even if you are well out of the danger zone.
            Now all this sounds ridiculous, but at that time some verry smart people were thinking really hard about possible Cold War goung Hot scenarios, and to the goverment even a couple permil more survivors was really important.

            Also from what I know some people from that time theoriyed that windows weren’t good because they distract students.

            1. MichaelG says:

              Windows are distracting. I remember sitting in a classroom during spring and looking out at the green grass and sunshine and wondering if the day would ever end.

              Still, better than living in a cave.

          2. acronix says:

            Wow, your schools sound awful. The ones here, in the far, far south of the world, have at least one window with some sort of permanent protection to avoid the students to escape I MEAN for the evil ones outside to get in (there have quite a lot of cases of vandalism and robbery to schools, to be fair).
            There are exceptions, though, since some institutions have (a few) rooms with no windows at all and forty students inside.

            Of course, we didn`t have to worry about a nuclear cathastrophe.

          3. Nick Bell says:

            There is also another reason for the lack of windows in buildings from that era: the believe that windows hurt learning. On the surface, it seems logical. Windows let kids look outside, day dream, get distracted by other activities, etc.

            Actual research has proven this false. Both natural light and the ability to see outside both have positive impacts on education. But you can’t exact government to make decisions based research, instead of gut feelings. That’d be silly.

          4. kmc says:

            I grew up in Southern California in the 80s, and our schools were pretty awesome about fresh air–all the hallways were open-air, and the classrooms mostly had windows but it was okay if they didn’t, because every classroom opened onto an open-air hallway or no hallway at all, just a sidewalk. I do remember still seeing the various emergency plans (as a precocious reader and a bored elementary school student, I read every word on every wall of every classroom I was in multiple times just for something to do). The one for nuclear war was, no joke, get under your desk and put your sweater over your head. It was basically, “pretend it’s like you’re in an earthquake and don’t watch your inevitable demise.”

            1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

              SoCal student here as well. My class did not have open air hallways, but for a school with ~240 students (my graduating class was 44 students! A record!) it wasn’t too oppressive or anything. Despite being made of painted concrete, linoleum tile and fluorescent lights, since the ENTIRE CAMPUS (field, courts, and parking-lot included) was only 200 meters on the diagonal, it was not bad at all.

            2. Mari says:

              My elementary schools had those open to the outside designs. There were covered sidewalks all along three sides with an asphalt-covered courtyard where we played Four Square and tetherball at recess. It was probably a super-cool design for SoCal. We all hated it. We live in a place where most of the spring, fall, and winter is spent with 50+ mph winds (sometimes in excess of 70 mph sustained) and the design basically functioned to channel all the wind into small corridors we called “the wind tunnels.” It was awful. I’ve actually seen teachers of pre-k and kindergarten students TIE their kids together with long ropes to walk them to the cafeteria because the gusts from the wind tunnels would blow little kids over. Although thinking about it now gives me a huge chuckle, imagining small children blowing away on the way to lunch. Bwahahahaha.

          5. toasty says:

            It just hit me: Maybe THIS is why Moody Hall (one of the older buildings on my College Campus) has no windows.

            Like… yeah… that building is terrible. I hate it. Yet I’ve had most of my classes in it. >_> (I hope that changes later when I start taking more upper level classes… but I really don’t know where they’ll be. The Theology Department is so small…)

          6. froogger says:

            I’m sorry to hear what traumatic ordeals your children must go through, but you know it’s for their own good. Only by keeping them in a constant state of terror is it possible for government to come to the rescue and help them by making all those pesky and hard decisions for them. If they ever stopped waving the boogieman, people might begin to think for themselves and start demanding windows in public buildings, and god knows what else. Now, what kind of country would you have then, I wonder?

    3. Ruthie says:

      It was a terrible building. It was originally designed with the intent of embracing “open education”. There were no classrooms, only large open areas designated for areas of study. The math dept, the english dept…etc. There were several classes operating at the same time in this large open area. I have no idea how this work, or rather didn’t work. The idea was abandoned after just 1 year I understand. Then they constructed walls inside each of these departments to create classrooms. That’s why the whole place felt like a labyrinth. It was terrible.
      The Senior High was completely and wonderfully different. It was a design intended for a college campus. Seperate buildings with outdoor walkways to each. Windows Galore. I was a much, MUCH happier person during those years.

      1. Malkara says:

        Yeah, that’s how my school was. Of course, we also had a shit load of modular buildings (trailers) because the school had a few hundred more students than it was built for. Also the windows became something a touch bit more frightening when a cop and his k-9 were shot a few blocks away and we were put on lockdown as SWAT teams scoured the campus. Nothing quite like sitting in English class, and watching seven men with assault rifles rush past the window.

    4. Tizzy says:

      You could never have gotten me to go to school if I had not been able to go outside at all. (As a matter of fact, not only did we have access to outside, but the high-school kids even had access to the outside world).

      Why adults would inflict such buildings on kids (and then wonder why kids are so screwed up), I’ll never know.

  5. RichVR says:

    I don't even speak, because I'm afraid of committing some social blunder that will cause them to shun me. I just want to watch. It will be twenty years before I sit down at a table to play for myself.

    This made me terribly sad.

  6. noahpocalypse says:

    Love the Minecraft comparison.

    So you’re a freshman now? Man, this series is gonna pass me. Weird. Only a few more entries until then, I suppose. I might as well enjoy it while I can, then start learning what to do as an upper classman. (Or, considering the nature of this autobiography, possibly what not to do.)

    1. AlmightyShmun says:

      Honestly, man? There’s no secret. It’s just a time to do some more growing and see what fits. Try a few new things, date more, get in a little trouble(a LITTLE), see where the wind takes you. It can be a great learning experience, and not just academically(though it can be that if you get a good batch of teachers). Just don’t let anyone spoil it for you.

      tl;dr High school is the last great period of low-impact irresponsibility. Just don’t abuse it. :P

      1. sab says:

        Waitwhat? I just hit thirty last year, and I still wouldn’t consider myself a responsible adult. As always, xkcd says it best.

        1. Dev Null says:

          Good call, but for sheer refusal to grow up, I prefer this one.

          1. krellen says:

            My personal favourite on the subject of adulthood.

            1. sab says:

              Well, that’s one of the reasons why I will never refuse to take a straw for my drink in a cafeteria, YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD FOR STRAWS!

              1. Jarenth says:

                I agree with this notion 100%.

  7. Rob Conley says:

    The module was Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pit.

    http://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/modpages/q.html

    It could have been the supermodule version Queen of the Spiders
    http://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/modpages/super.html

    But the fact you saw color coded levels meant that it was probably the original Q1 release as the Queen of the Spider maps were all greyscale.

  8. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I always used to have either very good grades or very poor grades in French classes (your equivalent of english classes, since I am a native french speaker).

    My grammar was pretty bad overall, but my syntax and imagination were through the roof. So whenever we had an open-topic essay to write, I’d score pretty high, but on overall grammar tests I’d struggle to get good grades..

    I did ended up writing nice stories. I just hated when the teacher read them in front of the class without asking me first. I had this strange notiong that Student Essay had a Student-Professor confidentiality rule, silly me..

    I think my best 3 essays were about:

    – “Write About a Dream” –> Me and my stuffed animals were characters in Reboot and went to fight out the User in a game of Descent. (4th grade)
    – “Write About your Ancestor” –> A fictional journal of William Maloney, captured and brougt against his will by the Evil English on a ship, when he finally escaped near Quebec, almost dying in his attempt. (10th grade)
    – “Write About a Circus” –> A short story about a man stumbling upon a Squirrel Conspiracy to take over the world through the international organisation of the Cirque du Soleil (11th grade). It ends with the Squirrels killing most people in their takeover.

    How about you, Shamus. I loved reading about your Odd Essay, any other memorable essay you wrote you haven’t mentionned yet?

  9. Ruthie says:

    There is more different than the Pepsi machine. After I graduated they installed brighter light bulbs, and changed out the brown carpet that was the same color as the brown brick walls for white linoleum. It made a huge improvement.

  10. Rayen says:

    you know i’ve always wondered, why are schools so much like prison?

    1. SolkaTruesilver says:

      Because in part they act as prison. A place where parents can send their kids off not to worry about them for the day.

      So the school’s gotta make sure the kids stay inside, right?

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        What goes insid stays inside :D

  11. ozmasis says:

    My middle school, grades 6-8, which I think was built in the 1970’s had no windows except on the second floor where there was only administration offices. The other think was that it had very few interior walls, actually almost none when it was built. By the time I went there, late 1990’s, they were just dividers separating all the rooms, most of which just covered about 5 or 6 feet. So the school had no windows to distract the students and no doors to distract the students. It was a very interesting experience to say the least.

    1. Patrick the Subterranean Pugilist says:

      Dude, you just described tthe Intermediate EXACTLY. I wonder why during that time they decided to use that style of school. Some stupid Hippie thing probably….

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        Nukes, weird ideas about learning, and cheapnes of thin interior walls and expense of windows.

      2. Mari says:

        As your sister mentioned above, Sudbury and Montessori were on the rise and “open” schools were being designed to accommodate the alternative education theories that were being floated. In the end though, most of the public schools that experimented with such things tossed them pretty quickly in the firestorm of public opinion against non-traditional education. Back then my sisters went to a school where the first through third grades all had classes together with the third graders assisting the younger kids as “educational facilitators.” So they had huge, open class areas. The theory was that the younger kids learned better from people closer to their stage of development and then the education was reinforced for them as they taught skills to younger kids. It was tossed too, as being “too progressive.” Apparently folks in the ‘burbs had never heard of the one-room school house on the prairies and plains.

    2. Nick Bell says:

      The lack of interior walls also allows for flexible floor plans. In theory, you could make classes as big or as small as needed. My elementary school had a similar layout, with that particularly in mind. Of course, in all the years me and my siblings went there, the room layout never changed once.

      All the dividers did was provide excessive noise distraction every time any class did anything the least bit loud.

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        And maybe most importantly deviders are probably a LOT cheaper than actual walls.

      2. ozmasis says:

        The idea of flexible floor plans turned into dividing one big square into four smaller squares each equal size and just shoving as many desks and kids in as possible.

  12. Patrick the Subterranean Pugilist says:

    Several other points of interest in the Architecture of the Intermediate High school:
    1. In the video you see the lockers as a rusty, orange-brown color. Back in the day these lockers were painted a rainbow of colors, the three primary colors and green. The rest of the building is awash of brick and institutional materials commonly found in old hospitals. When mixed with splashes of brightly colored lockers it gives off the feel that this school was designed by Stanley Kubrick.
    2. There actually very large windows in the school, however most of them are on the inside and are used as walls. The library on the first floor was the surrounded by very large 8'x8' walls of glass. These large panes of glass were thoughtfully covered with every kind of poster and banner imaginable, making the glass itself completely obscured. But by far the largest windows were the 20'x15' enormous panes of glass that separated the 1st floor southern hallway from the pool area. In certain times of the day because of lunch periods, it was common to have students traveling from class to class, or from lunch to class while there were students in gym class using the pool. You can imagine how this felt for 14-15 year old girls to be placed on display in a giant fish bowl for every teenage boy to walk by and stare at or mock unmercifully. Even boys at that age still have a level of insecurity that can be multiplied by this design beyond the limits of their emotional capacity at that age. I knew this, and was still unable to NOT stare at the hot chicks in swim suits on my way to lunch every day. I mean, I was 14 and Stacy friggin Robinson is right OVER THERE IN A 2 BATHING SUIT!!! Seriously, who thought this was a good idea?
    3. The actual size of the school was enormous, but there weren't many actual classrooms. Sometime during the 60's or seventies someone came up with a version of public schooling that probably shares many of the same philosophies as Unschooling. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, go over and see Shamus' wife's page, she can explain it better than I can. The idea was to let the children learn what they wanted to learn, who they wanted to learn it from and in what style. Huge areas of the school were open areas, roughly the size of basketball court. Each of these areas was designated for English, math, science and so forth. Each child wasn't assigned a teacher or class for that period; they were simply assigned an “area”. Within this “area” were teachers surrounded by groups of students who have chosen to learn from that teacher, but if they wanted to they could go over to a different circle and learn from a different teacher, or maybe a different subject. Didn't like Mr.X? Go learn from Mrs.Y. Didn't like algebra? Go learn geometry. Maybe you preferred chemistry instead of biology, or Greek mythology instead of Shakespeare. I'm sure this sounds all well-to-do and modern approach to education, but it failed miserably as one might expect. Keeping attendance was impossible. Grading students took engineers from NASA to compute. No one actually learned anything, and the kids who actually DID want to learn got swept up in the mess and had their education scarred irrevocably. Now mind you this all happened YEARS before Shamus and I attended that school. When I went through there was a much more traditional approach to teaching, but there still WEREN'T ANY CLASSROOMS. Just large voids partitioned off by makeshift walls and chalkboards. It was very common to have your class interrupted by students on the other side of a piece of plywood. Paper airplanes and wads of paper were routinely lobbed over the “walls” to distract other classes. Teachers were constantly raising their voice so that they could be heard over the other teachers. It was mess.
    4. The largest area in the school was the library located dead center of the building. It has no ceiling and was open to the second floor and surrounded by a walkway. The tops of all the bookcases were covered in a thick layer of gum, scrap paper and other garbage within days of school starting. The tables underneath this balcony were always filled, and the tables in the center that were open live fire were always abandoned.
    5. Between my 9th and 10th grade years, walls were erected to permanently encase classrooms to eliminate all the problems I described above. Problem was they had more space and more classrooms than teachers and students. A few rooms were always empty and they commonly became rooms to go sleep in rather than attend class. On more than one occasion these rooms were used to settle disputes between boys in the manner that most teenage boys prefer, wildly throwing punches until it inevitably winds up a wrestling match. I personally settled a few disagreements this way, in the same room in the Math department. We were never caught. It was like a teenage fight club, but without the rules and soap. Rumors of sexual promiscuity also swirled around these areas as one might expect.

    1. tengokujin says:

      Sorry, this isn’t in response to anything you said, but THE PEOPLE MUST KNOW: ARE YOU AN UNDERGROUND BOXER?

      :à¾

      1. Patrick the Subterranean Pugilist says:

        start digging and find out…. bring 5oz gloves

    2. Tobias says:

      I didn’t notice it in the video until I read your comment, but this school is unrealistic.

      At least the walls are a nice brown, and they noticed that there can be no windows.

      But those bright floors, and ceilings. Totally unrealistic. They should be brown too. A good thing they noticed that at the end of the video.
      Even worse, the walls are to far apart. They need to be moved much closer to another.
      And then the setup itself. There are NO waist high wall anywhere, how could anyone expect to get anything done in this kind of environment.

      This sort of architecture could never be called realistic.

    3. Joe Cool says:

      It was like a teenage fight club, but without the rules and soap.

      So you could talk about it?

    4. ozmasis says:

      That is almost exactly like my middle school. Though we had three large square rooms that every other room was set off of. On one end was the library in the middle, where students entered, were the lockers, and on the other end was the cafeteria. The rows of books in the library were aligned with the rows of lockers. It was possible to stand at one end of the library and see clear to the cafeteria, maybe 100 yards or so.

  13. Jarenth says:

    Darnit, Shamus.

    “It's 1986, and I'm moving on to the next stage of school. I'm leaving behind the junior high and attending the at the Intermediate Building, which is for grades nine and ten.”

    Attending the what? My curiosity is going to bug me about that all day.

    1. Joe Cool says:

      He accidentally the whole attendance.

  14. Chris Headley says:

    Several of older schools around Denver, Colorado were built by the same contractors that built prisons because they were the lowest bidder which means that some of the schools resemble prisons. Not only the safety and the times but who the builder is does make an impact to the design of the school.

  15. Gary says:

    Those hallways are much bigger and nicer than MY highschool. Though from what patrick says about the rooms, we had a better design for the learning spaces… The architecture from my highschool and my college Engineering building we very similar. You make a large box out of cinderblock, then subdivide it into smaller cinderblock boxes connected by narrow hallways…

  16. X2-Eliah says:

    Hmm – no opening of windows and letting in, you know, any semblance of fresh air? Hell.. screw that.

    I recall from school, having to spend a 3-hour class without window-opening or breaks was enough to make the air unbreathable (to be fair.. that classroom was almost never aired anyway, but still) and by the middle of the third hour, I’d get proper headaches. Needless to say, learning *anything* when fighting lack-of-oxygen and dizziness is impossible for a teen. Was so relieved to have that class end at 9th grade, as it was.. horrible.

    Also, small windows and dark unlit corridors – that’s also really bad. You get all the dark areas, and then sunbeams / extremely bright sunlight through the few openings, bringing harsh contrast that really messes with the eyes (Well… Okay. I’m a bit sensitive to overillumination, perhaps) – highly annoying and disruptive. Better then to lose windows entirely or get some proper light everywhere.

  17. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

    I had that same ‘Write an Epic’ assignment as well… I wrote mine about mad-science time travel that goes horribly wrong for the subject. Very fun!

    1. I ended pulling the exact same stunt outta my butt as Shamus for that assignment. I spent all of the week-long assignment deciding to write the sequel to Jurassic Park before it occurred to me “Y’know, I may be biting off more than I can chew.”* I ended up hastily writing an original short story that came to my head and the teacher liked it so much, he submitted it to some writing competition. I’m assuming I didn’t win cause I never heard about it again.

      *There’s a scene in the third movie where Dr. Grant has a nightmare about velociraptors. This is something I had written in my story before people knew Crichton would even be making a book sequel, let alone the movies. :P

    2. 4th Dimension says:

      I do remember an asigment in my school where I wrote basically a verry verry short SciFi story. And you could see I was a NERD, because allthough it was about space travel, the name of the rocket ship and the destination planet, were not HollyWood style Cool McName, but boring and realistic alphanumerical callsigns. The name of the planet was something like XO123-5. And I didn’t like it when another student who owned a computer and was tasked to print out my story, put a frigging PLANE in the background. It’s a bloody space voyage, fjdfsdfksf….

    3. Theodolus says:

      The closest I ever had to writing an epic was an assignment to write a short story based off of one instance of symbology found in Dante’s Inferno. I chose the number 7, I believe it was, and wrote a story about a group of scientists exploring an installation on a dead world. The first two floors were basic setup, but on floor 3 one of them got stuck in a prison cell that slowly lowered down over the next 4 floors. Each level took away a sense. I didn’t follow the standard sense though. I believe the deprivation went speech, hearing, touch, sight, and the last was basically a void where the person was left trying to figure out if they even had a body anymore. The teacher loved it, but for some reason I lost it. I sometimes think about it and wish I still had it so I could re-type it.

      1. Zekiel says:

        That sounds like a really interesting concept! Shame you lost the story.

    4. Jarenth says:

      I had a writing assignment in one of the last grades of elementary school once (I was 11 at the time). I pretty much ripped off the storyline of Perseus wholesale, and I’m pretty sure I called my protagonist Zakharov.

      Our substitute teacher, not getting either reference, loved it. She even wanted me to read it in front on the class — something I refused, because I knew at least one of my friends would’ve picked up on it.

  18. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    Oh god that chair! That orange metal chair that wobbled and made
    Awful scraping noises on the floor. It had yellow spots and knobby metal bolts in the seat that made sitting uncomfortable. Oh god how I remember that chair

    1. Shamus says:

      And I sat on that horrible torture device for like 6 years straight. A pile of untreated lumber would have been more ergonomic.

      1. jraama says:

        When I saw that picture, I thought “Why are you kneeling of the floor when there is chair right behind you?”.
        Now I know why and don’t have to think about it anymore.
        Thanks

        1. swenson says:

          I just now realized in reading this that that’s what he was doing. I spent a good five minutes trying to figure out why on Earth he looked so short.

  19. Jon Ericson says:

    At the beginning of the video the cameraman mentions that they hack the elevator with a piece of paper, but it seems like he screwed it up. Anyone know the story with that?

    1. SteveDJ says:

      I think he used the paper to slide it between the doors – probably tripping an electric eye or other sensor, and causing the doors to open (as I’m guessing that the call button on the outside doesn’t respond without a key or something).

  20. Dev Null says:

    Gah! No wonder you hated Fallout 3, former (school) vault dweller that you are…

    I loved the Queen of the Deomonweb module, and that color map sticks in my mind to this day. At one point there is a level (room? passage?) full of portals to other worlds, each of which is only briefly described. I think the idea was that you were supposed to stick your head in, say “hey, this isn’t where we were going, and it looks dangerous” and leave again. I think we spent 6 months of playtime exploring those worlds, staging coups on local governments, fighting wars, etc. By the time we actually got back to the point of the module, we’d all levelled up half-a-dozen times and were way over-powered for it; we ended up relatively effortlessly squashing the end boss (I don’t even recall who or what, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess some sort of spider queen thing) like a bug.

  21. jraama says:

    My high school was an enormous 4 story building that took up an entire city block. The bulk of the building was built between 1905 and the 1920s, with smaller additions in the 1950s. It had double hung windows all around it. It was nice enough, despite its size and age. Especially nice was the Hemingway room, which had an exposed beam ceiling and a working fireplace.

    Also, there were specific teachers known to have staked out spots outside where they would take the class on the nice days. But that was in the 1980s, when there was only 3 securtity guards on duty. I heard there are a couple dozen now, Somehow I doubt they still allow classes to move outside.

  22. Destrustor says:

    From the video, your school doesn’t seem that bad. It actually looks on par with most of the ones I had, so I may have been de-sensitized.
    And is that a brick wall-themed wallpaper behind your computer? Oh the humanity…

  23. ClearWater says:

    In a strange sort of ambiguity only possible in a tabletop game, they know someone in the group has been injured, but they don't know who.

    It’s Schrà¶dinger’s trap!

    1. AyeGill says:

      Have i become some sort of… UNCERTAINTY LICH!?

  24. Neil Roy says:

    We used to have a group that got together for some D&D regularly. It was a blast, just a bunch of guys (and girls), with a few beer and a lot of laughs, like the time I took this golden statue or something which was an obvious trap and then manage to teleport out of the room leaving my friends behind to deal with the trap, which involved walls closing in on them all. LOL… hey, I was a thief in the game, I couldn’t help myself! :D We used to have one of those purple velvet crown royal bags with the gold rope and some gem coloured clear dice (like you have on your blog here). Good times!

  25. Leah says:

    I think it is scary to be in a dark room. I am a little bit scared of the dark.

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