Autoblography Part 21: Homework

By Shamus Posted Friday Sep 30, 2011

Filed under: Personal 153 comments

“Just make sure to do all the work, and you will pass my class.”

My heart sinks. I hate when teachers say this. It means the bulk of our grade will come from doing things, not from knowing things. It’s the first day of tenth grade, I’m sixteen years old, and I’m hearing this a lot today. Some teachers even go so far as to grade the notes we take in class. This is infuriating to me. In the past I saw school as this perfectly arbitrary trial of mysterious activities. Now I see it as a house of incompetents. Our goal is ostensibly to learn things, but the system of rewards and incentives is often completely divorced from this idea, and sometimes even runs counter to it.

If we think of grades as “pay”, then we aren’t being paid to learn. We’re being paid to turn out volumes of worthless forgettable busy work.


Now, if this was an either / or thing, I might be okay with it. Either pass the tests or do the work, and you will pass. But instead, it’s structured so that over half of your grade comes from homework. It’s possible to blunder through the class without learning anything and still pass, and it’s possible to learn everything, ace every test, and then fail for not doing the work. I am keenly aware of this, and it offends me on some deep level. Either the people who designed this system are stupid, or they are lying when they say the goal is to learn things. “They” is a somewhat nebulous concept in my mind. Parents? Teachers? The school board? The National Education Association? I have no idea, and it hasn’t even occurred to me to wonder who “they” are. I’m simply another student bumping around in the system with the inescapable feeling that all of this is senseless.

Teachers sometimes try to scare students by telling them their grades will impact their future employment, but this always gets a big eye-roll from me. I can’t imagine a company that would care what grades an applicant was given when they were sixteen. The idea is silly. Moreover, I’ve never heard of anyone getting a job, or failing to do so, based on their high-school grades. Once again, the teacher is either a fool or a liar.

Sometimes teachers are a little more honest and suggest that poor grades might keep you from getting into a good college. This sounds plausible, although it doesn’t motivate me at all. The threat that I need to work hard at this boring crap now so that I can qualify to do four more years of boring crap makes me want to fail all classes to irrevocably burn that bridge before I even arrive.

I do very well on tests now. I sort of daydream and doodle through class and absorb the lesson aurally. I try humoring the teachers who insist that we take notes, but doing so means I’m just going to all the trouble of writing down stuff that’s already in the book. I can either listen or write, but not both at the same time. So taking notes means missing bits of the lecture (which I would otherwise remember) in order to write down notes (which I don’t need and won’t remember) during class. I get that some people learn differently than I do, but nobody else seems to have made any allowances for my sort of learning. This would be fine if the school simply graded us on how well we retained knowledge, but by grading homework and notes they’re obliging me to learn less in order to get better grades.

I eventually find an equilibrium where I can reliably score a B on the test, do some modest selection of the assignments, and skate through the class with a C- average. Since most homework is scored on a per-assignment basis, I tend to cherry-pick assignments, looking for ones that won’t take much time. The whole thing becomes a sort of game where I see how little I can do and still pass a class.

Of course, I could do much better if I was willing to spend time on homework, but I spend my evenings coding and that time is non-negotiable. I’ll flunk a class rather than give up on my nightly programming sessions. I already see school as something that wastes seven hours of my day to deliver about two hours of lecture. I’m not going to feed more of my time into that hole, not for something as arbitrary as grades. Not when there’s programming to be done.

This is one of the last pictures where I am taller than Patrick. This is also about the point in our lives when I stopped picking on him and taking his stuff. I’m sure these facts are completely unrelated.
This is one of the last pictures where I am taller than Patrick. This is also about the point in our lives when I stopped picking on him and taking his stuff. I’m sure these facts are completely unrelated.

Part way through the year, I get knocked out for the first time.

The boys have imported the “checking” concept from hockey. In the mornings before school begins, students pointlessly walk laps around the dimly-lit corridors of the school, and sometimes one dude will walk up behind another dude and slam him face-first into the outer wall of lockers. The victim recovers and spins around in rage to see a shuffling mass of students with no obvious culprit. Once in a while this leads to fisticuffs. The students are primed for this, and instantly form a jeering mob around the combatants. The entire system of walking laps and shoving seems to exist to agitate the crowd and create these fights. I wisely avoid the whole thing by hanging out in the library while this is going on.

The game is repeated in gym class. As we do our warm-up laps, boys begin shoving each other into the walls. I stay at the back of the pack to avoid being checked. I often wonder how this flagrant jackassery escapes the notice of the coach, who is in the gym with us and really doesn’t have much else to do but watch us run. He always seems to be having a conversation or doing stuff with a clipboard when it happens. Then he hears the impact, turns to look, makes sure there’s no blood, and goes back to what he was doing. I decide he’s either an idiot, or he is amused by the game.

I open my eyes and find myself looking up into a circle of faces. The right side of my body – and my face in particular – is throbbing and tingling with all sorts of bad sensations. I remember the sound of the impact, an abrupt thundering as my body struck the folded-up bleachers on the outer wall. I don’t remember falling, or who pushed me, or how I got so far from the wall. Did I bounce?

I pick myself up and find I am dizzy. The coach gets everyone back on task and I’m allowed to walk the rest of the laps in a daze.

What exactly is the point of this class again?


From The Archives:

153 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 21: Homework

  1. Zaxares says:

    I was fortunate enough never to get knocked out in school, although I was MORE than happy to finally reach the last two years of high school when we could pick what subjects we wanted to study (and gym class was left off my list for the rest of my life!) *gazes at his belly* Although I kinda regret that decision now…

    1. Double A says:

      Stomach fat always beats brain damage. Probably because it can take a better beating than your skull.

      1. Aaron says:


        That’s not to say that an extra year of “gym class” in high school would’ve necessarily helped … it can take time to find the particular formula for one to get / stay in shape. And everybody’s body is different. The same amounts of nutrition and exercise applied to two different bodies could have wildly varying results.

        Also, self-acceptance of yourself, as you currently find yourself, helps.

  2. Gruegar says:

    This made me happy about the education system here for the first time ever. Most grade’s here come from test’s (i think my homework got checked twice).

    1. Avpix says:

      I’m several months into the school year, and I’ve only had 3 graded assignments in Advanced English: an essay, a presentation, and a test. It’s all very nice.

    2. hitman says:

      But on the same note, I know plenty of people who aren’t dumb, but struggle on tests of any sort. And by having lots of graded assignments they can still manage to pass and do decently well. They learn the material through repetition, and these graded assignments provide that.

  3. SoldierHawk says:

    *wince* That sounds extremely painful–and I PLAY hockey.

    We had an oddly similar, yet different, phenomenon in my high school. Rather than trying to provoke actual fights, a group of students would walk around the halls shouting “FIGHT FIGHT!” and “OOOOH!” as if there was something happening, purely to provoke the adults. Of course, they shut up and scattered as soon as said adults showed up. Although I’m sure it was frustrating for the authorities (so to speak), I still find the whole thing rather amusing.

    1. says:

      In our high-school there was shouting only when some massive shit was happening. For an example, 2 guys were pushing each other, one hit a glass armoire and a huge chunk of broken glass impaled his shoulder. Yeah, it’s more messy than it sounds. :/

      1. Irridium says:

        Reminds me of the time I was walking to lunch, and one kid slammed another’s head into a window.

        And another, less fight-y time when two kids in math class were just screwing around when the teacher finished giving her lesson and everything(it was a Friday, last class of the day, everyone was pretty much done). They were throwing crap at each other and one threw a baseball right threw a window.

        1. CTrees says:

          I went to a high school with ~3000 students, grades 9-12. Now, the honors program was quite good, but the rest of the school… this was in a Southern state, so, there you go. Freshman class was over 1k students, Senior class was under 700, graduating class was ~550.

          Fights? Yep, with lots of arrests, both legit and ridiculous. On one side of the spectrum, I remember a girl being chased down one of the long hallways by another girl, screaming and weilding a claw hammer. On the other side, one kid hit one of the campus cops with a thrown bag of Skittles, and was charged with A&B w/ a deadly weapon.

          Also, we had a very poorly executed drug raid, my senior year. Big, but terrible. How bad? We made Oprah. CNN was impressive, but Oprah?

          I’m rambling and getting off the topic I wanted to address, but let me just say, so many things in this series are resonating with me, with regards to school and my regrets… I sympathize totally, but it’s making me sad (though I can’t stop reading).

          1. Irridium says:

            I remember drug searches in my school. About once every two months they’d bring in police and dogs and have them sniff around.

            Not sure if they ever found any drugs, I do know they found a piece of baloney that was in the locker for about 3 months though.

            No wonder that area of the school smelled like rancid crap.

            1. Jason Cole says:

              The drug dogs found an experiment in a friend’s locker. He wanted to see how long he could keep a container of spaghetti with red sauce in his locker. Turned out it took about 6 months.

          2. James says:

            Dude Skittles are deadly, there not only are they light and small but they do no damage ‘cus the force is absorbed not only partially by the bag itself, the air but the body armor the cop is whereing (or his fat :) ).

            there was this one time in my school when shit well and truly hit the fan, i mean properly, there was essentially a Riot between 2 years (grades) yea that went well.

            Also part of the school i had to spend alot of time had asbestos in the roof. so yay for that. place was locked down for a week after that.

            all i did in my last few years was slack off and play card games, or go to the local supermarket for food, cus thats fun right?

    2. SolkaTruesilver says:

      Wait a minute. I read on Hockey Board that if we remove hitting in the NHL, we’ll end up watching Woman Hockey.

      Are you telling me that there is *gasp* contact in woman leagues?!?!

      (Oh, and you know me under the name of Heinji. Love your series, SH!)

      1. Jethro says:

        Let me tell you, I enjoy hockey. I’m Canadian, after all. But women’s hockey is WAY more enjoyable to watch than men’s- especially when you talk about Olympic or junior leagues. It just seems like they spend a lot more time playing hockey, and less time being babies or fighting. And definitely a lot less time slacking off.

        1. SolkaTruesilver says:

          Olympic Hockey is definetly superior to most other games, except the World Cup of Hockey (like in 2004).

          And it’s true Women’s hockey is really fun to watch at many level. But I just love the Habs’ style of game, which is closer to the Olympic-style of hockey than, let’s say, the Bruins’.

          Too bad you never got into Hockey Shamus..

    3. Tizzy says:

      The only hockey game I’ve ever watched was a collegiate game with rather lightweight-looking players. It looked like they were having a lot of friendly fun checking each other. To me, it looked exactly like a mosh pit: a lot of fun if done with a positive attitude, but could turn devastatingly ugly if one or two people decide to be asses about it.

      1. Kdansky says:

        I don’t think “competitive play” and “play like a gentleman” mix well together. You can hardly blame people for wanting to win (and use all legal means) if there is a huge prize money and their career on the line. It might work for your friendly saturday match, but not for serious leagues.

  4. Angie says:

    I’m with you — I did very little homework in high school because it was pointless. I have a weird learning disability that lets me absorb concepts, cause-and-effect, the big picture type stuff, effortlessly, but makes memorizing individual data items a grinding chore that takes six or eight times as much effort (and time) for me as it does anyone else. So if I listened in class (also not taking notes, because like you I retain better listening) I picked up all the conceptual, linked-web-of-info type material right there, which meant doing piddly drill-type homework assignments on that material pointless. And if the class was doing memorization type stuff (foreign language vocabulary, names and dates in history, a lot of math) then doing the homework wouldn’t help; I still wouldn’t remember even after doing forty problems, so why do the problems?

    I got great grades on tests, unless we were meant to be regurgitating something we’d memorized. I learned to be absent for US History exams (which were mostly fill-in, memorization type questions) because make-ups in that class were always essay exams, and I consistently aced those. I got a 1420 on my SAT way before they made it easier, but graduated high school with a 2.6 GPA. My mom and my teachers were frustrated with me, but no one (including me at the time) knew what the problem was.

    I agree with you that the major problem is that there’s no allowance for kids who learn differently in a way that makes doing less more efficient. They assume that if they make everyone do every little bit of possible work, they’ll catch everyone, which doesn’t actually work if the kid realizes how much pointless garbage they’re expected to do.

    And in my case, I needed to do more work to memorize all those individual data items, but since no one had noticed that I had a real problem (it was all, “Angie isn’t trying — if she’d only try she’d get straight As!”) I was just flailing around on my own until it suddenly hit me, about seven years into a two year college degree. [cough]

    Nowadays the people in charge of education have admitted that a kid who’s way smart according to the IQ tests can still have a learning disability; they’re called doubly or multiply exceptional children, and there’s some recognition that they have problems despite their test scores. When I was growing up, though (I graduated from high school in ’81, as a landmark) once you were IDed as “gifted,” that was it, you were on your own and any problems were assumed to be character flaws on the kid’s part.

    I hated school, avoided it whenever I could, and spent most of my free time reading. Funny how much you can learn on your own when the authorities leave you alone. [wry smile]

    Anyway, massive empathy here.


    1. MaxDZ8 says:

      Would you elaborate more on this? It rings a few bells here.

      1. Angie says:

        Max — I’d rather not write a second thesis on my personal educational issues on someone else’s blog. :) If you want to chat about it, e-mail me at angiepen at gmail dot com.


    2. Tuck says:

      What you describe shouldn’t really be called a learning disability*, even though it’s categorised as such. I know several people, including myself, with the same “symptoms” (I was lucky to be homeschooled and thus this facet of my brain function wasn’t an issue).

      It’s a manner of learning which the education system didn’t provide for — the system is what’s lacking, not the individual. If you’d been homeschooled it probably would never have been called a disability (and you’d still have aced the SAT tests).

      * unless you can get money from it by calling it such? :D

      1. ccesarano says:

        This. I have the same difficulty, but there’s no way I’m calling it a disability. It’s not. I can’t believe that there are people out there who WOULD call it a disability.

        I discussed this in a previous entry, I think with Miri (Miri, right?), when we brought up being good at understanding concepts in history, but dates and times get all fuzzy. World War II was the early 40’s, and I think we got in at 1941. Or 1941 was an important year for something else. I don’t know.

        That’s not a disability. It’s just my brain being stronger in different aspects. It’s why I can memorize patterns in math better than actual formulas. Despite having done it several years in different classes, I still don’t remember the math for converting farenheit to celsius and vice versa (and that’s an easy one).

        I always excelled at writing classes, but you ask me what it means to “never end a sentence in a preposition” and I shrug my shoulders. Hell, that rule might make sense after I’ve looked up the meaning of the word preposition, even. But it’s a rule, a fact, and it’s not something I can memorize unless I understand the meaning.

        I do not have a learning disability. My brain is just better at certain concepts and tasks than others. No one says someone has a learning disability if they can memorize a list of facts, yet has no talent at putting them together into something meaningful. Then again, the educational system isn’t built for that, clearly. I remember my senior year of high school we were given a term paper assignment asking us to write about something abstract. However, to help out were about a dozen recommended topics to try and cover if you couldn’t think of one. They basically gave students the thesis, and all they needed to do was get a bunch of research together and put it together as instructed in this point-by-point outline of how an argument is properly formed.

        In other words, all a student needs to do for this assignment is gather facts and organize them nice and neat.

        1. krellen says:

          The only reason I ever remember when the US entered WWII is because of the board game Axis and Allies, which starts in Spring 1942, right after the US entered the war.

        2. glassdirigible says:

          I realize that I’m kind of missing the point, but it’s ok to end a sentence with a preposition.

          Grammar Girl gives a really good explanation here if you’re into learning random things.

        3. says:

          Same problem here.
          I too excelled at writing classes, without really learning any grammar. I could write any time a better structured and gramatically correct text than 90% of the students in my class, which knew grammar. I have an extremely wide vocabular from extensive reading (both books and online texts, in my native language and english), which helped me many times, and I can accurately write even the most complex texts just by “sound”.
          To make matters even more interesting, my native-speaking language, Croatian (, has a pretty complex grammar in which sentences can be easily misinterpreted, and taken out of context if you don’t take the whole sentence into consideration.

          When I had to take the “intelligence test” (it should be called logic pattern recognition test) as a part od the driver’s license, I solved 99% percent correct answers, which would put me at MENSA level intelligence, which I personally doubt. The test is nothing more that pattern recognition, the only variable changing is the number of steps between the example patterns (example: a circle’s radius rotating clockwise for 30° per step 20 times, nothing more).

          I found out that I can easily understand even the most complex designs and processes (read: logic) from pictures, sometimes from WELL explained texts (examples: RAM memory management, fluid dynamics, signal processing). Hell, college physics would be a walk in the park if there wasn’t calculus involved. I even learned myself how to subnet networks via a obscure, graphic way for my Cisco classes. Well, it works :D

          On the other hand, I almost forgot everyone from high school (almost all names, faces less so), elementary’s 95% gone. I can’t remember locations which I don’t visit for a ling time, so after several years a route I’ve taken before is a new experience. Thank god I can remember every D&D session from several years, even the party’s equipped gear, and every location in an RPG. That’s some selective memory for you :)

          TL;DR – start from the beginning.

        4. Angie says:

          Ccesarano — I think of it as a disability because our society expects that everyone can easily memorize short data items, and our institutions (not just school, but all over) are set up on the basis of that assumption. I’ve lived in my current residence for over a year and a half now and still have to pull a piece of index card out of my pocket with my address and phone number on it whenever I’m filling out a form. Most people think this is weird, some of them actively think I’m stupid for not having this info memorized. It’s such a strong assumption that everyone CAN do this, quickly and easily, that being unable is close enough in my book to a disability. It looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc.

          I agree with you that, in the long run, I got the better end of the deal — I can easily do the “hard” part, the analysis and pattern recognition and comparison and extrapolation and cetera. But so much of early education is based on memorization that my life through high school was hell, and even now, in my late forties, I have to come up with workarounds for all sorts of things that other people don’t have to think about. It’s enough like what my legally blind husband has to do to cope with the world whose organization is based on the assumption of normal sight that I’m comfortable calling it a disability. If you don’t want to, that’s your option. :)


      2. Angie says:

        Tuck — given that our school systems are set up to depend on memorization, I call it a disability. You’re probably right about homeschooling being better for me at the time, if it’d been available. Although it was my mom who came up with the “quick and easy” flashcard scheme to get me to memorize my multiplication tables, so I wouldn’t put any huge amount of money on homeschooling being that much better. :/ There’s a lot more info now about different modes of learning and of one-on-one and small group teaching specifically to support homeschoolers. When I was a kid, it was all but unknown, and only weird religious people did it.


    3. 4th Dimension says:

      Sounds similar. I for example can in my head construct a detailed model of something (being an engineer that is verry usefull), but for the love of God I’m unable to remember the name of the thing model models, and am generally ignorant to naming conventions, wihich on the other side is BAD:

    4. MadTinkerer says:

      I used to have a similar problem, but then I discovered a note-taking style that allowed me to take notes fast enough to pay attention. And then I discovered that although it didn’t affect me absorbing the big picture stuff, taking notes did help me with the “individual data items”. And here’s the kicker: I usually didn’t even have to read the notes; the act of writing them down was enough!

      Still didn’t help me for years before I developed the note-taking technique, though.

  5. ben says:

    I suffered a severe achilles tendon sprain once during gym and the coach refused to believe that I wasn’t faking an injury to get out of class. I ended up having to just ignore him and and hobble away, despite his threats of disciplinary action and my inability to put any weight on that foot. I was using crutches for weeks afterwards, and the bastard still required me to run laps with the rest of the class.

    After one particularly awkward faceplant into a mud puddle, I came to the realization, that because the class was essentially attendance graded, I could just stand around doing nothing.
    The only punishment he could mete out for my not running the laps, was ordering me to do more of the laps I wasn’t doing!

    1. Jarenth says:

      Lucky. My later gym classes were performance graded, and while it would’ve been hard, it was theoretically possible to fail a year on a failing gym mark.

      I remember having to do laps or sprints for grades; the amount of distance you could traverse being directly responsible for the height of your grade. I always just managed to push myself to the bare minimum of a passing grade, and would then unceremoniously collapse on the nearest bench or bench-like equivalent.

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        I got really lucky with the sports coach. The classes were performance graded too – basically a nation-wide mark that a kid of age x must be able to run/do y amount in z seconds. And, well, that was a problem for me – at grade 7 (first year we had that coach), I scraped barely passing marks. (for disclosure, in grades 4 through 6, with a different coach, I was skipping the sport classes as much as I could – truly disliked everything about it; in grade 7 my parents got a statement saying that I’d have to attend or else I’d be thrown out of school.)

        However.. on the following years, the situation did get better, in a way – effectively the new coach (well, to the school’s discredit, there was a bit of pressure on him just plain raising my grades to not sink the average) agreed to give a better grade – along 6 or 7 out of ten or so – as long as I’d attend and participate in all the activities and, well, just do as much as I physically could. So, rewarding effort and commitment, not so much physical ability.

        Of course, it didn’t really help or improve my physical state – two hours a week is obviously not doing anything – but the real benefit, for me, was knowing the fact that there was a normal human person as a coach, with whom a reasonable arrangement could be made, and that I would be graded on a personal development merit, not against an artificial bar that was never calibrated… And it naturally did push me to actually put effort into the sports classes – because there was real incentive and benefit to attending. Ofc.. I still disliked the classes – it’s just not my thing – but at least I wasn’t feeling like an utter loser every time, there was the sense that I realistically had the option of doing well enough.

        Ofc, I still consider that having sports grade influence and being of equal importance with, say, maths and literature, in an academic institution of learning is utter bollocks that makes no sense.

        Edit – hm. not so much a reply as a new entry. Oopsie.

        1. Dovius says:

          This, just a good sports coach can make a MASSIVE difference.
          The one I’ve got this year grades PURELY on effort. (To quote him: “I don’t give grades for tricks”) You can run the best time and still get a 3 out of 10 because you’re screwing around and annoying the rest of the class.
          Me on the other hand, a 300 pound nerd with the stamina of physical skills of Jabba the Hutt, is on an 8.5 average through sheer effort, because that dude is INSPIRING.
          He actually makes me want to exercise, even outside of school, which I’ve never had before with any other teacher!
          Which, seeing my body’s state, is brilliantly timed.

      2. 4th Dimension says:

        Our gym was different. Yes, you were theoretically graded on how good you are, but if such grade is below your average score, and you are at least trying, you were allways given a lot better grade than you should have been given purely on performance. I was for example an excellent fat student, and would have probably gotten barely passable marks, but I allways in the end got A because of my other grades.

        And generally the teacher mostly graded effort.

      3. Kdansky says:

        We got graded too. Once, we were given time to train and learn a few dozen movements on [some googling later] what is apparently called a “high bar” and prepare a presentation of sorts. After having sat around for four hours or so (over a few weeks) just talking to classmates and being bored, I finally walk up to the teacher and tell him: “Okay, I’m ready.” then I walk in front of the bar, push myself up, and then I get down again, and strike the “Finished” pose (badly). He looks at me with disbelief in his eyes and goes “Can’t you do at least [some ridiculously easy thing]? I’ll have to give you a [worst grade in the system] otherwise.” to which I answer: “No, please just go right ahead.”

        I could not care less for a grade which would have zero relevance on any relevant average, or passing requisite. High bar?! What a waste of my time!

      4. swenson says:

        Mine was performance graded too, and it was awful. I was (and still am, to be honest) a shrimpy little girl who, while relatively in shape, had no muscle at all. I can run OK (and I am still proud of the fact that by the end of the class, I could even lap some of the “athletic” students because I actually put effort into running), but when it came to anything regarding upper body strength… I was toast. Push-ups? I think I did like three by the end of the semester, and even that was impressive compared to the beginning. Pull-ups? I couldn’t even do one by the end. We did weight training as well (which, surprisingly, I found very interesting), and at the beginning of the year, I couldn’t even bench the bar, which is 45 pounds–I had to use dumbbells of about 30 pounds.

        By the end of the year, like I said, I had gotten to be able to do multiple push-ups, improved in my running such that I could sometimes lap the athletic kids, and I’d even gotten to the point where I could bench the bar plus fifteen pounds, so 60 pounds total… double what I did at the beginning. I’m pretty sure if graded on improvement (as my teacher, the football coach of all people, claimed our grade was partly based on), I would’ve had the highest score in the class.

        Obviously, he ended up scoring purely on what we could do at the end of class. At least I passed.

      5. Meredith says:

        I think we were mainly graded on effort, but since I hated gym and wasn’t good at it, I didn’t put in much of an effort either. The thing that kept PE from bringing down my entire average was that we split the time 50/50 with Health class (which is a completely different discussion). I’d ace everything in the Health part, get a C or so in the PE part, and average out to a B. Whew!

      6. Vipermagi says:

        I always and invariably ended up with a three for the sprinting dealio. For those unfamiliar with Dutch grading: a 5.5 is the bare minimum to officially pass, grades scale from 1 to 10.
        That is coincidentally the lowest grade I could get on those tests. Participating got me from a one to a three! Yay.

        At fist I thought I was just horribly bad at it or something, and my first five teachers seemed to agree. My sixth PE teacher (my second-to-last last year on school) was a pretty amazing guy, and the only one to ask why exactly I stopped running so soon. I described how I felt and he recognised it.
        Apparently, I was suffering from a condition of which I don’t recall the name and Wikipedia is of no help *fistshake*. It causes my lower legs to burn to a cinder if I run more than a few minutes. Well that’s how it feels anyways, which is bad enough.
        That said, I wouldn’t have gotten much more than a four or five in good health.

        Luckily I was ~okay at the non-running bits of PE, so I got out with a good grade ultimately. Until I stopped participating anyways, but that’s another story altogether.

    2. krellen says:

      I took gym during summer school the year before I started high school, specifically so I wouldn’t have to deal with gym nonsense while I was actually learning stuff. When it’s your only class of the day, it’s easier to deal with.

      1. acronix says:

        On my shcool of the far, far south, during what you`d call “high school” we had gym class before all of the others, outside the school building (they had a sort-of warehouse they used for acts and gym classes) and before the actual schedule. So it was a double pain.

        EDIT: How did this got here? What a mystery…!

      2. Abnaxis says:

        I had the misfortune of taking “Conditioning” during the summer. The class consisted entirely of kids on the football team, basically doing their pre-seaon conditioning for credit (the class was radically different if taken during the year). It was like boot camp, three hours a day, every day.

    3. CTrees says:

      I don’t really remember PE in lower grades, but my HS class was graded on a mixture of attendance and effort. However, if you were a varsity athlete, it was a little different.

      First (and best), if you were a varsity athlete, you had a locker in the varsity locker room. Seems obvious, but everyone in PE used the JV locker rooms and showers, which were always a pit. Varsity? Clean, and during PE classes, nearly empty. Huge advantage.

      Second, if the class was doing something in your sport, you were used to help teach the other kids, since you obviously already knew what you were doing (my HS had 3000 kids – it wasn’t easy getting to varsity on ANY sport). Even then, you mostly weren’t doing drills and so on like the rest of the class, as you were instructing people. That was actually pretty cool, for me, though some people hated it.

      Third, when you were doing something other than your event? It was 95% “screw around time.” Theory was, you were already getting more than enough exercise, and as long as you got the idea of whatever you were doing… you were cool, and if you had a game/meet/competition that day, it was “sit and study; you need the rest.”

      As one of those strange kids that was at the top of his class, a complete and utter nerd (I played Warhammer during lunch. Miniatures, dice, and everything. NERD), and a varsity athlete (eight varsity athletic letters), this was an excellent arrangement. Plus, the PE coach I had was amused by showboating, so doing things like, when we were timed for the mile run, running it backwards the entire way and still finishing first cracked him up and didn’t lose me any points.

    4. says:

      In high school, me and a friend really didn’t see the purpose of running 2-3 laps around a stadium next to our school. So when we passed half of the first lap, we just sat on a bench and discussed the important stuff in life (HoMM3 and 5 tactics, religion, new anime episodes and TV shows). It was quite good, the running exercises.
      And in the first year of college, we had similar running arrangements, only it was running beside a water canal which was going to a small hydroelectric power plant. We had to go all the way to the water plant (From point A to B), but luckily we prepared ourselves for the session. On the way there, there are several pedestrian bridges along a gravel path
      (MAP: , ignore the path trough the city, the walk path is straight from point A to point B).
      We parked the car loaded with booze next to the first bridge and hastily dashed towards it, yearning for the booze. After we drank everything, we somehow managed to get to the finish line as last on our own two feet. From there on, we hit the bars (no worries, nobody was driving that day anymore, we’re responsible adults :)

    5. TSED says:

      I’m really surprised by all of these “I hated gym!” comments. Not because I think everyone should like gym, but because… jeez, stereotypes!

      I mean, I hated gym too, but for completely different reasons than everyone else. I was very actively involved in martial arts (I had my black belt by highschool) so gym class was a breeze for me – I recall one unit where in my shoulder was separated, and we were marked on push ups. I did the maximum allowable (ie “stop, you’re done, 100%”) with one arm. Aww yeah. I think it was 65 or something? It’s been a while.

      Anyway, I hated gym because I’m a prude. I don’t show off my body, to this day the last pair of shorts I owned were part of the mandatory middle school uniform (that’d be… almost a decade?), and I had to CHANGE MY CLOTHES? Are you serious? With all of those other guys in the change room?

      In grade 9 and 10 (gym was optional after that) I tried to set those classes up so that they’d be either at the very beginning or (even better) at the very end of the day, so that I only needed to change once. When I was done with gym forever, my life improved 100%. My favourite unit was even dance, because they didn’t make you change for that. I liked the dance unit, even though I couldn’t (and still can’t) dance for the life of me. (Throw me in a mosh pit though, aww yeah.)

      Bears repeating: I am a giant prude. I don’t (and never really have) oggled women, touching / hugging is extremely rare for me, etc. etc. Physical contact is just something I am not interested in.

      A few unfortunate side effects of the musculature have kicked in, however. I still have pretty impressive pecs, but they just look like man boobs, and my glutes make my butt look fat. I’ve got a bit of jiggle on me (and ALWAYS have), but my muscles make it look like I’m just plain pudgey. :(

      1. Jarenth says:

        If I could do sixty-five push-ups on one arm, I’d probably care even less about my out-of-shape physique than I already do now.

        1. TSED says:

          Be aware that is definitely past-tense.

          I doubt I could do 65 regular push-ups right now. MAYBE if I had some crazy strong motivation and was willing to spend half a week sore for it? Probably not.

          Also: I was talking to an old highschool friend of mine, and he said it was 50. So, not 65.

  6. Destrustor says:

    Another part 20? That’s the second one. I was confused for a bit.

    1. Piflik says:

      Well…he was knocked out…maybe that had some long term effects :D

  7. MaxDZ8 says:

    No matter how one puts it. School sucks.

    1. MadTinkerer says:

      I think the biggest problem with high school is all the people who don’t want to be there, who are willing to take their frustration out on those who otherwise would want to be there.

      I knew by 13 that I would rather be in college than high school, and I turned out to be right. If I had planned ahead, I might even have dropped out of high school, then gotten into college on a GED.

  8. Zak McKracken says:

    The problem with homework:
    My homework was not graded, and you had good chances getting away without doing it. Although _if_ the teacher found out, that was bad for your grades. Anyways, in the subjects that I liked (the others didn’t matter anyway, arts and history and stuff are useless anyway, right?) I was extremely good. I absorbed the lesson, I got the best grades. With some teachers I earned a special kind of standing which gave me additional freedoms. If the teacher asked something, I knew the answer. So why bother with homework?
    For a while I got by pretty well just doing them in the five-minute break before the lesson when they were due or just faking it and figuring out the solution on the fly, while the teacher was asking me for it.
    The problem was, though, that I kind of entered a mode where I would try to prove to myself how good I was by putting even less effort into it. Well, and after a year or two, sometimes a test didn’t come out as good as planned. In maths, I could derive all formulae I had not memorized, during the test. But for lack of training I wasn’t able to apply them quickly enough. I still did quite good, though, but I completely lost my status. Which was OK, I had just made peace with the other students and didn’t really try to show off as much.

    Well, but later at University, that came back to haunt me, because some of the tests are more time-constrained than based on understanding. Which I hated anyway, so alright. The other problem was much bigger, which is that I have never gotten used to just doing my homework, and do it right now, not just before class. That inability almost killed me during each assignment, and time management is still my biggest enemy.

    I guess the real problem here is that as a student you can’t really decide what’s useful and what not (like: arts and history and stuff. Pretty important, actually), but your teachers often aren’t helping. I’ve seen a few students declare “I’m not gonna learn that because I’ll never need it”, and mostly, that’s just laziness.

    Maybe this could be improved if teachers had to explain to kids why they need to do or learn something. Which means they’d have to think about it themselves first. Although some of the explanations may be difficult to convey to a primary school kid. (“we need you to know about arts because we want you to become a complete human being, and arts is part of that”), some of those explanations might even make the teacher change the style of their own lessons (“we teach you history and politics because one day, you’ll be allowed to vote and we want you to know what you’re doing”)…

  9. blue_painted says:

    I'm not going to feed more of my time into that hole, not for something as arbitrary as grades. Not when there's programming to be done.

    That’s almost exactly how I felt about school in general and homework in particular: If you can’t teach me on YOUR time, then I’m sure as heck not going to let you waste MY time to make up for your incompetence. I’ve been out of school for 32 years and the whole notion still annoys me.

    Even worse, when I talk to my friends who are educationalists they tell me that one of the main reasons for giving homework is “Because we always have done, and if we don’t the parents will complain”

    1. Phill says:

      About homework being doing more work in ‘your’ time – it’s a vaguely defined concept. Would you prefer that the school day was an hour longer, and you had to do the exercises set for homework in a school room. You end up doing the same amount of work, but with less flexibility about when you do it, and without the ability to do what you like if you happen to finish it quickly.

      Maybe you should think of homework not as extra work that you have to do, but a bonus way of being flexible with some of your school day.

  10. Zackrid says:

    So Patrick grew taller while you pestered him? I guess it was finally revealed that all along he…
    …was the bigger man.

    1. Jarenth says:

      I guess that all throughout the pestering, Patrick kept his head held high.

      1. Zackrid says:

        Or, maybe he wanted to speak up and finally rose to the challenge.

    2. swenson says:

      Rutskarn would be proud of you.

  11. SyrusRayne says:

    As far as I understand it, school /is/ meant to prepare you for the work-force. Most teachers don’t seem to know it; They seem to think they’re the bees goddamned knees, and that they are gods gift to the poor, ignorant students. Really, though, they’re just a stand-in for all the idiot managers you’re going to get in your life, who give you pointless busy-work for meager pay. You’re rewarded when you do it, no matter how arbitrary it seems, because that’s what you do when you work in the ‘real world’. You fill out the forms /this/ way, because that’s the way your boss tells you to do it, not because it makes any logical sense.

    Same thing with the students; Hostile atmosphere, competitive jackoffs who climb to the top by standing on the backs of the people they’ve beaten down – In the case of school, sometimes literally… Your coworkers, basically.

    None of this, of course, occurred to me while I was suffering through that pit. I kept my thoughts on the matter simple; “This is stupid and everyone involved in it is an idiot.”

    1. Drew says:

      Yes, this was the conclusion I came to from my time in education. College might actually teach skills, but high school and earlier are meant to teach you to eat shit from those above you in rank.

    2. krellen says:

      “This is stupid and everyone involved in it is an idiot” sums up my assessment of most modern business, actually.

      1. Rayen says:

        i’ve thought that about most of the human race.

        1. Cerapa says:


          How about all. And yes, that includes me.

  12. Abnaxis says:


    I could have written the first five paragraphs of this entry and it would not have turned out any different. Every time I heard the “you have no excuse to fail this class–all you have to do is turn in work” rant, I wanted to scream. The worst part is, every else seemed to share this attitude–all the other students were jubilant when a class said at the outset that it didn’t require any real thought, just mindlessly churning out useless work. I have never understood this mindset.

    Also, I am terrible at taking notes and listening at the same time. Even when we were graded on it, I refused to do it. I always got weird looks and eyes rolled at me when teachers noticed my empty desk (it was always great when they would get that condescending attitude and tell me “No, there’s no way you’re going to do well without taking notes!”), but then I always turned around and aced all the tests until they finally shut up.

    1. Wtrmute says:

      My wife is a teacher, and a good chunk of her grade is in-class work — she knows her students won’t do it if it’s homework, so she has them do it in class. Still you get students who only turn in one of five, two of six, and get a two or so — sometimes they shout at her, accuse her of flunking them on purpose. You know the best part, though? When the students do the University access exam, their grade in that exam has a very high correlation to the grade they get from her… in other words, the “mindless busywork” actually makes them absorb the material in a way that the kids who listen to class, decide they understand everything, then don’t do any fixation exercises simply doesn’t.

      The folly of youth is to think they know better than a person who not only went to school four years to learn that stuff, but has seen (in my wife’s case) 300 students per year do this every year for a decade, so they have a pretty good grasp on the statistics of what methods work and what don’t.

      Allow me to say that I, when I was a kid, almost never did homework, and my grades were relatively good — but I certainly did graded class work, I wasn’t fool enough back then to think that they would simply take my word for it that I had understood…

      1. CTrees says:

        “they have a pretty good grasp on the statistics of what methods work and what don't”

        On average. For kids that don’t learn quite the same way as your average student, many teachers seem to learn nothing. For instance, that busywork you’re defending? Unless the subject involved pure memorization (history comes to mind), it didn’t even remotely help me. Nor did taking notes – I read the material in the book, and I listened to the lecture. Thus, I knew it (until college; then some things took study). Students may not “know better” in general, but some know better what works for them, as individuals, than a given teacher does. Just so happens, most teachers seem to dislike those outliers, and would prefer to teach to the lowest common denominator.

        However, I’m interested – what’s your opinion on grading students on their notes? I would think the tests should handle that well enough on their own, and as I was much like Shamus in note taking generally hindering my ability to absorb the information, it was a source of great irritation to me. Thus, I have a personal interest in your answer.

      2. Phill says:

        In something like maths there is simply no reasonable subsitute for doing ‘mindless, repetitive’ tasks. If you want to be good at it, you need to do the same things over and over, ingraining the patterns into your subconcious. The number of times I’ve seen students claim they know how to do some maths problems but only get 50-60% of them right, when a competent person could get 100% with no effort in a quarter of the time (mostly spent reading the questions)…. Repetitive, mindless work makes you better at maths, period.

        It’s no different to anything else in life. It is widely quoted that to become a world class expert at something (golf, piano, whatever you want) takes something like 10,000 hours of work. And much of that, in any discipline, is doing the same, very basic things over and over and over and over. Even expert pianists spend time playing scales. World class golfers still practice their tee-shots over and over. You build up ‘muscle memory’, and the endless repetition causes your brain to develop specialised pathways to deal with the task.

        It is simply a human trait that we need to repeat doing things many times to improve. But kids are experts at convincing themselves that they know perfectly how to do something despite the fact they routinely get (much) less than perfect marks in tests.

        1. MisteR says:

          “kids are experts at convincing themselves that they know perfectly how to do something despite the fact they routinely get (much) less than perfect marks in tests.”

          You sound like you dislike kids :(

          1. Phill says:

            Nope – I adore my kids (and am generally well-disposed to kids in general). But where adults are fairly good at fooling themselves into accepting belief over evidence, kids are expert at it. I have a generally low opinion of the ability of humans to be rational (including me as it happends :) )

      3. MisteR says:

        The youngsters that do not turn in their graded class work often have problems that prevent them from doing the obvious. Implying instead that they must think they know better than their teacher is insensitive. Dyslexia, depression or ADHD are only a few examples that could cause the symptoms you described without it being the student’s fault in any way.

        Your last paragraph implies that you yourself thought of the graded class work as mindless busywork rather than a learning device. ” I wasn’t fool enough back then to think that they would simply take my word for it that I had understood…” Isn’t it outrageous that they didn’t take your word for it? And what if they did? What if they simply allowed you to fail if you hadn’t understood and pass if you did? In the first case, you learned that you made a wrong call and that you probably should be doing those assignments, in the second case you learned that you correctly judged your own capabilities and you would’ve avoided wasting a lot of time and energy that could be utilized in a different fashion.

  13. lurkey says:

    So you stopped beating up your bro just because he grew taller? Pansy. When my sister outgrew and outstronged me, it only made fighting more interesting. I had to apply tactics.

  14. Jarenth says:

    Shamus, in both that picture and this entry you seem to be turning into some kind of alternate-universe version of my best friend. He also despises busywork and manages to succeed in classes (with relatively little effort) on his intelligence and no small measure of luck.

    In his case, though, it was mostly lazyness that makes him dislike homework. I should tell him to grow a goatee.

  15. noahpocalypse says:

    You know, my kindergarten teacher had something against me. She was always trying to make me write with my right hand and make me sit still, neither of which I was good at. The sitting still part is sort of reasonable, considering I’ll need that for the rest of my life (though she could have handled that better). But she just couldn’t stand my left-handedness. I would get in trouble for it, which led to me being shy during class. I remember being sentenced to go to the principals’s office on the behavior chart (don’t ask) twice, but never actually going. I guess they asked her what I did then decided she was being ridiculous, or more probably, they called my parents into the office first, and they took objection about how I was writing wrong and, for that, being sent to the principal’s office. *sigh*

    1. Abnaxis says:

      My wife’s father forced her to learn to write right-handed when she was little. I never understood it–what’s wrong with writing with your left hand?

      (Note that I, myself, am left handed, and I’m fully cognizant of the pencil smears and slight awkwardness it can cause when trying to use tools designed for righties, but this seems more like a stigma sort of thing than a practical issue in these cases.)

  16. Reet says:

    I can tell you if someone had “checked” me like that I would have kicked the crap out of everyone I so much as suspected. I was quite laid back for the most part and I wasn’t easily provoked but when I lost my temper I lost control. It’s just that kind of shit that could have made me that angry. Thankfully I never really got into a fight, guess it was the reputation. If there’s one thing that gets to me it’s when assholes can go around attacking others and the authorities do nothing. hitting back got them involved but not in your favor. Sorry, this just brings back some bad memories. How can society claim to be just and then turn the other cheek when it’s convinient, only to crack down when victims retaliate? Blergh, that is something that really annoys me.

    1. X2-Eliah says:

      Well, see, there’s people who hit back impulsively, and there’s people who know that hitting back will mean actual ‘meeting’ with the ‘checkers’ after school, or on the next day – and that it won’t stop at one time.

      Ofc you can say that it is not true and that you got to stand up and they’ll leave well away, but.. Eh, didn’t seem to work for me, just got things worse. Furthermore – the people who do hit back impulsively are known that they will hit back all the time. Kids who haven’t struck back until one time, and strike back one time, well, the ‘tacklers’ don’t assume that those kids will now strike back all the time, the ‘tacklers’ assume that those kids need a good bloodying for daring to stand up for once.

      And, finally, normally a kid is being ‘checked’ purely because he’s not very good (or even able) to “kick the crap” out of those responsible.

      1. lupus_amens says:

        This brings back ‘nice’ memories of high school, i never was a popular kid but mostly left alone except when the bullies felt like it, mostly during PE(or im my case lichaamelijk onderwijs) never physical up until one time and when they did, and i kinda snapped and ripped a corner pole out of the field and threw it at someone only missing him by a hair, and let’s say that they left me alone after that…

        Ah fun times, being left alone as soon as you prove to not care about their survival chances.
        It has left me with some aggression problems though so +1 for classic education….

    2. theLameBrain says:

      I was picked on in school a lot. I mean a whole lot. I constantly had bruises on my shins from people kicking me, and on my upper arms from people punching me when authority figures weren’t looking.

      It finally stopped one day in high school. I had ducked into the empty spanish classroom for something, only to find that three of the worst bullies had followed me. One of them must have just come from the shop class because he had a broken peice of blade from the wood lathe, it was a couple feet long. They blocked my exit and were walking toward me, whispering insults.

      This particular spanish class had those desks where the desk part is pretty small and is attached to the chair. Underneath the chair there was a basket for books and such welded on.

      I discovered that this made a FABULOUS weapon against three older boys, and it had the added benefit of being very loud when it struck something, getting a frightened teenager some teacher support rather quickly.

      I was pretty much left alone after that. Granted I was considered weird and violent, and was therefore outcast, but before that I was considered weird and pathetic, and was therefore outcast…

  17. Zeta Kai says:

    BTW, I heard the term AutoBlogOgraphy on NPR yesterday, & I was struck by how similar it was to the title of this series. I don’t think the story has aired yet (mostly likely, it will air this weekend), but I thought it was a worthwhile coincidence.

    Also, teenage boys are the most worthless creatures you will ever encounter, as a group. I was when I was young, & so were all of my male friends. Our worth does not become apparent until our 20s, when the hormones that drive us to chimp-like antics settles down a bit & we can act like sentient beings for more than the length of a short funeral.

  18. Randy Johnson says:

    I had very similiar experiences all through high school. I would read books all during class, ignore the homework, and then score well on the test by paying attention during the important bits. I managed to skate by every class with a c average except 10th grade english. I absolutely loved all my previous english classes and even did a good portion of the homework for them because they had alot to do with reading. For whatever reason 10th grade english was the one outlier for me. The homework was comprised almost entirely of worksheets about grammer. And for whatever reason my consistently decent performance on the tests weren’t enough. I had to take summer school, and it was the easiest A+ I ever got. They never assigned homework.
    As for the physical assault, my first major one was also in 10th grade right outside my least favorite class. A random kid I did not know walked straight up to me in the hallway and punched me in the nose. I pretty much ignored him and went to the nurses office to have it taken care of. The nurse called the principle in, and she told me that because no teachers saw the kid bloody my nose, no action would be taken. I told her that my english teacher was right there, but it turned out that teacher was his mom and wouldn’t admit he did it.

  19. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Shamus, you have 2x Part 20 in a row

    1. SolkaTruesilver says:

      What I mean is, this is Part 20 : Homework.

      The previous entry was Part 20: Intermediate

      1. Zombie Pete says:

        See? If you’d done your homework, Shamus, you wouldn’t be making these silly mistakes now. Just sayin’.

  20. Raygereio says:

    “Just make sure to do all the work, and you will pass my class.”

    One of my professors at university always used this exact line. Basically he meant with it that if you could do all the homework assignments, it would mean you could apply the principles he taught in various problems.

    Concidering all he asked at the exams where slightly modified questions from the homework assignments, he reasoned that the only reason you had for failing his exams where one of two things:
    -Being too lazy to do the homework.
    -Failing to ask questions once you found out you couldn’t do the homework.

    It was generally true, with the occasional exception like me who – for some weird reason – just does horribly on exams even though I do understand the subject matter.

  21. Drew says:

    The checking sounds awful. In my high school the thing to do was ‘sac tap’ which meant to strike the groin of another boy. Needless to say this was also done as stealthily as possible and often between “friends”. My worst case happened during Phys. Ed. as well… I had all ready been hit twice in that hour. I don’t know why but the third time was particularly on target and it hurt so bad that I collapsed and vomited. I’ve never felt pain like that before or since. The only good to come out of that was that I didn’t have to do anything for the rest of the day. I also learned to be on gaurd whenever I wasn’t in class. I would fake like I got hit so they would stop too.

    1. Destrustor says:

      You hear this? This is the sound of empathy from every man on earth flooding you.
      I also got my fair share of testicular violence in my youth, but never hard enough for that. I don’t even think I can imagine the pain.
      I am truly sorry.

    2. retas14 says:

      Just like Destrustor i to got hit in the kill zone more than once, one time i just got home from one of those time to tell my dad ( i was six at the time), he was “oh ok i’ll go with you to school tomorow”.
      The next day he pulls up next to the schoolyard gets out and he’s like “witch one” i point the culprit and he goes “kick his ass”. Lets just say i did not turn back and jump on the little bully, the teachers where “OMG stop him”, all my dad said was “no he got what was coming”. It was a wonderful day of payback.

  22. Gary says:

    “I decide he's either an idiot, or he is amused by the game.”

    No, need to repeat yourself ;)

  23. Raynooo says:

    Teachers allowing this kind of things to happen either by incompetence or because they don’t care oughta be fired.

    Also, I like how between entries you balance emotions and avoid turning it into something that has your readers crying every time :)

    And don’t you mean “orally” instead of “aurally” ? Hmmm not even sure myself cuz “aur” could refer to the ear but “oral” refers to speech…

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      Well unless you think Shamus spent, all the time, the teacher was teaching, by eating textbooks, than it trully is aurally.

      1. Destrustor says:

        Nonsense! The teacher was a psychic, teaching with auras.

  24. Kdansky says:

    I realized very early at school that if I pay total attention during class and try to commit everything that is said to memory there and then, I can then completely ignore all homework and studying, as I already know enough to pass any test (of a difficulty that would allow the slow students to scramble by somehow). Obviously, this didn’t work so well when the tests were spaced too far apart, or over too large volumes of knowledge, or just plain too difficult without serious preparation. So it worked extremely well up to university, and left me completely unprepared on how to actually sit down and force knowledge into your head from a book.

    In a away, the school system succeeded (I learned a lot), and in a way, it completely failed (I didn’t learn to teach myself). To this day, I prefer someone explain stuff to me while I ask questions to any other method of learning.

    Luckily, I was very rarely graded on homework, and nearly never on notes. I would have hated that system.

  25. Abnaxis says:

    I like how you completely lost consciousness and the gym teach just had you walk it off. Reminds me of home, peeling myself of the floor after an exceptional round with my brother (we used to beat the crap out of each other for fun–though I suppose there was some occasional malice involved as well). The only question asked was “any bleeding?”

    If the answer was no, you walk it off. Otherwise, get some gauze and William (brother) had to go stand in a corner. Luckily I don’t bruise (seriously, you can take a crack at me with a pool stick and I won’t have a mark five minutes later), otherwise my father would have though my mother was abusive (joint custody).

    At school, however, an attitude like that is a lawsuit just waiting to happen. I guess it goes to show how much things have changed, over just fifteen years.

  26. modus0 says:

    You think being graded on notes is bad?

    My Junior year History/Senior year Government/Economics teacher(same woman)had the absurd idea of making your grade essentially an end-of-year essay.

    You could be failing her class, turn in an excellent essay, and get an overall A, or vice-verse. It didn’t matter how much of the homework you’d done, or how well you did on tests, if you didn’t get that single work assignment in you were taking the class again the next year.

    I ended up repeating History because I couldn’t think of an idea for the essay, and failed despite having an A or B grade. Fortunately, that class had a different teach, who didn’t have such silly ideas.

    1. CTrees says:

      For high school, it seems terrible, but for college… Not that out of line. I had several classes with only 2-4 grades recorded. Actually my favorite example was a professor complaining, early in the semester, about how the grades of all his law school courses had consisted of one essay, a midterm, and a final. Then, our grades in that classes turned out to consist of one essay, a midterm, and a final. Was fairly hilarious.

      1. modus0 says:

        I can see 2-4 assignments counting for your entire grade, but this was one single essay, that was entirely out of class work, and only pertained to the class due to the subject.

        Given the large range of, say, History, it can be a little difficult to narrow down a topic for an essay that seemed as pointless a the worksheets Shamus did as a kid.

        And if that’s how college does it, it seems kind of odd to me, why bother having any class work if only a few things actually matter?

        1. TSED says:

          College’s class work is completely different.

          You don’t go about boring tedious assignments to “learn better.” The professor goes “be familiar with because we’ll be discussing it in class.”

          Yeah, you can just skip out and not really be penalized for missing, say, a 40 period gap in a class on a 100-year period of literature, but you will PROBABLY suffer for it on the essays. For one, you’ve denied yourself all of the essay topics that come from that 40 year gap, for two – you make a point that is erroneous because of your lack of knowledge and WHAMF, say goodbye to your GPA.

          College isn’t teenager daycare, it’s actual education. The profs have better things to do than babysit you. Anyway, all of that being said, the sciences will likely have a completely different approach (liberal arts major, yo) and I’ve only had a handful of class that “2-4 assignments = your grade” held true for. 3 or 4 maximum.

  27. Friend of Dragons says:

    Sorry to say that well after you went to school, there is still many of the same problems with the education system. I was able to cruise through classes that based their grade mostly off their tests, but the classes where grades depended mostly on your notes and your homework were the ones I came damn near failing. I ACED YOUR [email protected]$%ING TESTS WHY DOES MY (nonexistent) NOTEBOOK MATTER??!

  28. The Hokey Pokey says:

    I must have grown up in some sort of magic land, because public school was nothing like this for me. Teachers weren’t liars or idiots. They were just good people who worked exceptionally long hours for kids who don’t care while enduring all kinds of abuse from ignorant parents. Actual physical violence against a student resulted in immediate expulsion, and in Phys. Ed. injuries were taken very seriously.

    I remember believing that my some of my teachers were idiots when I was in school, but now that I’ve seen things from the other side I realize that was just my ego. The fact of the matter is teaching is an incredibly difficult job, especially in high school. They are under tremendous pressure to get their students to perform, and some kids just flat out refuse to be taught. There is very little a teacher can do when a kid decides not to try, especially once the kid realizes that adults have little real power. What’s worse is that methods and curriculum are decided by politicians instead of educators, which really hamstrings a teacher’s attempts to instruct.

    I’ve enjoyed reading these posts, but the only problem I have is that you call a lot of people stupid. This isn’t entirely surprising, as I’ve been digging through your archives recently and you seem very quick to call people/ideas/decisions stupid. Maybe it comes from the same place that causes other people to complain about their boss.

  29. X2-Eliah says:

    One minor note. Why is gym/sports class referred to as ‘Physical Education’? there’s nothing educative about it… You go to the class, you try (and fail) to meet up to some arbitrary standard, you get a mark according to a pre-baked table. There’s nothing educational of any sort involved. Why’s it called ‘P.E.’ then?
    (In fact.. why is it not called “The class where tossers get to stay in school despite failing all subjects”?)

    1. acronix says:

      I wonder the same. The worst thing was when the “educator” would frown upon you and negatively nod his head when you failed to meet those expectations like if he had done anything to make you better, when the only times he bothered to teach you was never.

      The thing that made me endure it was this little proverb:

      “Those who know, know. Those who don`t know, teach. And those that don`t know nor teach, are Physical Education teachers.”

      Actually, I used it to endure most of school.

    2. PhotoRob says:

      I actually had a test once in gym class – a real paper and pencil one (I know – gasp!).

      We’d been doing soccer for a couple of weeks and ended that section with a written test about the rules. I’m still puzzled as to how we could have a test when there was no instruction whatsoever.

      I don’t think I did well on it, but I can’t be certain because I don’t remember it ever being mentioned again. Go figure that one out.

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        Heh. We didn’t have written anythings, but yeah, we were supposed to play basketball and football all the time. I still have no idea as to the rules. Closest I got to understanding is “when you trip, strike, touch or push another player, you are breaking rules. When other players kick, touch, push, strike you, it’s perfectly normal and within the rules”.

        I suppose it’s expected that you know the rules anyway because everyone knows the rules. #sports logic

        1. Glyph says:

          Yep, that sounds about right.

          “Nope, you just double dribbled.”

          “Jim did that exact same thing 30 seconds ago.”

          “Jim took a step before he dribbled.”

          “I did that and got called for travelling.”

          “Yeah, whatever. You suck.”

          I’m beginning to suspect that the rules of the game are entirely flexible based on others’ opinions of you. That might be the rule I was missing out on.

  30. Inwards says:

    This will sound snarky and somewhat conspiratorial, but it isn’t meant to be so. Learning is a tangential consequence of school, not its primary purpose. Schools were set up to teach the masses the three R’s, yes, but mainly to prepare people to spend the rest of their lives toiling away at boring, unfulfilling, intolerable work. In school you are paid in grades for this, in the real world, you are paid in dollars.

    The amount of people that derive real world benefit from serious learning is vanishingly small. And most of those people learn on their own. In fact, as you illustrate, it takes someone with determination and advanced degrees in education to keep them from learning.

    A school that treated learning as its primary purpose would produce students that would stick guns in their mouths after three months in workforce.

    1. MichaelG says:

      People repeat this “school trains for the factory” idea all the time, but I really don’t think that’s the motivation.

      For one, there were plenty of good factory workers available even before public schools. There was no real need to school them. Think of 19th century child labor.

      I also think the classroom-style “sit at your desk and memorize” education predates public schooling. It’s just the cheapest and easiest way of teaching a large group.

      Finally, not to be elitist about it, but this idea that every kid has some inner creative artist is just silly. It’s like looking over that same group of kids and thinking “I can make them all basketball stars, if only I can *reach* them.” People have varying levels of talent, interests and outlooks. A big chunk of those kids are not going to be creative professionals when they grow up, no matter how hard you try.

      I think what we have now is an education system designed by academics to produce more academics (because that’s what they value.) No emphasis on practical competence or the ability to learn independently. No connection between the curriculum and the real world. No idea what to do with the students who aren’t going on to college. The designers of the educational system don’t know anyone like that, and don’t care.

      In the U.S., 25% of kids drop out, and another few percent at least are social promotions. Most kids end up hating education and never read a book again for the rest of their lives (really! Think of the number of people in this country vs. even a best seller’s sales figures.)

      By age 30, most people have forgotten almost everything they learned in K-12 or college. They are running on a third grade education, plus some vague memories of other things. They didn’t use it, so they forgot it. Only skills used in their jobs or hobbies are retained.

      The school system as a whole is a massive failure.

    2. acronix says:

      I always thought of schools as prisons: you put the useless people (i.e. those that don`t produce anything in the economical sense) out of society so it can keep producing/working/paying taxes without worrying about teaching their children or being robbed. They even have the same structure: the proportion between watchers and watched is something like 1 to 30 (add or sustract some); you put them in small rooms where they can barely move; you give them some free time by throwing them all to the same yard/corridors while some watchers go get coffee and others just make sure the watched don`t kill each other:

      Once, on fourth or fifth grade, a classmate always mocked and insulted me in various infuriating ways. He had all the class on his side and most of the teachers (so I couldn`t ask for help to the authorities, and if I did they`d go “Stop bothering him.” and never take action). So one day he was whispering stupid stuff at my ear while we were in the yard. Something about my mother got me enraged, so I jumped him, thrown him to the floor and actively seeked to smash his face against the concrete floor. Luckily I failed: he slipped like a fish and ran away until he was on the other side of the yard.
      No teacher ever knew about it, even though there were three of them a few meters back.

    3. PhotoRob says:

      Part of the problem with the educational system is that it DOESN’T prepare you for anything in the real world. Here in the US, each stage of our education system seems to be set up to “train” us for the next one:

      Elementary school prepares you for Jr High/High school
      High school attempts to give you the skills and study habits necessary for college.
      College, supposedly prepares you for your chosen career, but really seems more like preparing you for grad school.

      And if you can ever find yourself breaking out of this system, you end up in a job probably unrelated to your field of study with no practical skills for surviving in the real world. That’s why we have highly educated college graduates who can’t calculate sales tax, balance a checkbook, or understand how credit cards really work.

  31. Matt says:

    It’s amazing to me how familiar all this is. I think one big difference is that I was far less aware of all this at the time than you seem to have been. I wanted to learn, but I didn’t want to do busywork. And I never really cared about trying to pass classes (except to please my parents).

    In high school (and jr high as well) I almost never scored below a B on a test (which I always enjoyed taking) or any assignment I bothered to turn in, and yet the grade I got in a class was somewhere in the range of A to F based almost completely on how much the teacher valued homework (which I almost never completed). I even had a couple semesters of symmetric report cards (I recall an ABBCDDF for example).

    Although I certainly recognize my own contribution to this (not being willing to play along like everyone else did), it’s not until now, reading this, that I realize completely how much of the situation was a failure on the part of the school system rather than myself. I particularly appreciate the insight into how little of the design was in any way related to learning.

    The phrase “do all the work and you will pass this class” particularly rankles.

    1. Tizzy says:

      The phrase “do all the work and you will pass this class” particularly rankles.

      It proudly advertises: there is nothing worthwhile to learn in this class, since anyone can do it by just putting in some effort.

      Why would anyone want to take such a class?

  32. HeadHunter says:

    Teachers sometimes try to scare students by telling them their grades will impact their future employment, but I can't imagine a company that would care what grades an applicant was given when they were sixteen. I've never heard of anyone getting a job, or failing to do so, based on their high-school grades.

    “I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record…”
    “Oh, yeah?”

    1. Tse says:

      It usually goes like this: get good grades at school->go to a good university->get good grades at university->get a good job, though in my country it’s usually: be related to someone important->get good job, work hard your whole life->barely survive on your wage.

    2. Drogmar says:

      Great! Now I have INSTITUTION! going through my head.
      Thanks, BTW ^_^

  33. Tse says:

    Wow, here in Bulgaria the final grade does not depend on homework at all. In fact, I got through math with a straight A record while doing less than a quarter of the homework.

  34. Van Tuber says:

    Interesting, I played a similar game where I did as little work as possible while still getting an A. I figured why get 105% when 90% was the exact same grade.

    1. Hitch says:


      Yeah, I know. ;-)

      It just reminds me of one of my favorite activities in school. I generally got mediocre grades because all I could do was pass tests. But I took full advantage of that whenever I could. Teachers would try to compensate for their lackluster teaching skills by announcing that they would grade the test on a “curve.” An actual curve was too much effort, so what they would do was take the highest score in the class and add enough points to make that a 100, then apply the same number of points to everyone else’s test. I bet you already see where this is going. I would frequently manage to ace the test with a natural 100 to deny anyone else free points. On more than one occasion that resulted in a teacher’s pet prize note taker looking at a failing grade. Or, the teacher would modify the rules and base it on the second highest grade leaving me with a score like 120%. After a couple of those I’d joke that I didn’t even need to show up for the next test. But I’d never pass up a chance to “blow the curve.” ;-)

      1. SolkaTruesilver says:

        Seriously, this is crappy work ethics by the teachers.

  35. Hitch says:

    I had less problem with homework than Shamus did. I actually wanted to learn, but my teachers were generally very bad at teaching with their lectures. They helped to a certain extent, but mainly as a foundation of “What were they trying to get at?” when I had time to sit down with the textbook and learn it for myself. The questions to answer or problems to solve at the end of the chapter were useful for determining if I actually understood what I studied. That’s where answers in the back came in.

    As far as mandatory note taking goes. What a joke. I hated it. I was never good at it. I, also, could not pay attention while writing. Note taking left me lost and confused. Other students were very good at neatly copying down all the notes the teacher wanted, then typically did very bad on the tests because they were so busy preparing a notebook that they hadn’t learned anything.

    As far as the gym teacher in Shamus’ story and the casual indifference to violence that stopped short of bloodshed, I’m sure if asked they say something like, “It’s character building.” Part of me wants to protest that that’s probably not the sort of character they should have been building, but given the products of today’s much more coddling environment, maybe there is something to letting students experience black eyes, bloody noses, and the occasional broken bone to drive home the consequence of violent behavior. Life is not a video game. They are not Ezio Auditore.

    1. Tse says:

      I’m exactly the same with notes. Trying to copy notes while learning something new usually means learning it again afterwards. That’s why I usually asked other people for their notes at university.

    2. X2-Eliah says:

      Is there anything to making sure some students don’t start enjoying and reveling in constantly giving others black eyes, bloody noses and the occasional broken bone? Because frankly, just letting them keep going at it, tossing it aside with ‘cuddling is bad, m’kay? ‘ (which it, ofc, is – I am not arguing that) – I don’t think that’ll teach them about any consequences.

      1. Hitch says:

        The key is allowing a limited amount of retaliation. As it is (typically) now, a bully gets to abuse other students and it’s immediately stopped with punishment that means nothing to a bully. If you let it go just a bit longer, chances are that sooner or later some victim is going to go all Ralphie from A Christmas Story.

        In the situation Shamus was describing, it needs to be curtailed before it becomes chronic. Ideally by letting the instigator get popped a good one, then facing punishment while the provoked retaliator gets off relatively scot-free.

        1. modus0 says:

          Except often the retaliator ends up getting punished, and the instigator doesn’t, because the instigator wasn’t seen, and the faculty have the attitude of “we can’t do anything about something we don’t see.”

          I remember once I got into a fight with another student on the bus(who out weighed my by at least 80 lbs. at about age 11) because he tried to steal my glasses, and the school wanted to kick me off the bus permanently.

  36. swenson says:

    No, you want to know the most pointless teacher rule ever? Way more pointless than unnecessary note-taking. My eleventh grade pre-calc teacher wouldn’t let us do anything in pen. Vocabulary? (yes, we had to turn in vocabulary sheets in an advanced math class) Pencil. Notes? There was a little more leeway, but she preferred them in pencil. Any and all work, up to and including tests? Pencil.

    I have… weird texture and sound issues, if that makes any sense. I don’t like touching dry glass or porcelain, especially with dry fingers, things like that. And the feel/sound of a pencil on paper particularly annoys me, so as soon as I got to a point where teachers didn’t force you to use pencil any more (middle school sometime, I guess), I started using pens and never looked back. Yeah, I know it can be messy if you have to scribble things out, but I just. Could. Not. Stand. Pencils. And they’re so messy, too! Pencil lead all over the place. Ick.

    So of course I still used pen as much as I could. To be honest, a lot of the time I simply forgot to use pencil and, once I remembered, didn’t feel like redoing it. So she consistently marked me off one of the three points on my homework. For not using a pencil. Yes, one-third of your homework grade was solely dependent on what you used as your writing utensil. Insanity!

    I did try talking to her about why I didn’t like pencil and asking if I could use pen instead, but she wouldn’t even discuss it with me. I still have no idea why she was so obsessed with pencil.

    Do I have time for one more story? Well, I’ll tell it anyway. It’s about the doing-OK-on-tests-but-not-doing-what-the-teacher-wants topic. I, like you, learn just fine from hearing alone. I listen to a lecture, stuff soaks in, I go happily on my way having learned everything. And I’ve got a good memory for facts and that sort of thing, so I have no difficulty remembering everything later for assignments or tests. Because of this, I barely ever studied in grade school, and even in university I rarely have to do more than look over the PowerPoint slides the teacher gave us or maybe skim a few sections in the book. Sure, I don’t always get A’s, but I pass, and that’s the important thing to me.

    Anyway, back in grade school, especially in middle school, the teachers were always trying to encourage good study habits. (Which meant taking copious notes and reading your textbook cover to cover. Apparently they were unaware that not all students learned best visually.) So after tests, they’d always take some time to berate the class for not studying well enough. Inevitably, this would include a singling out of a student who had done well on the test to explain their studying method. Often (at the beginning of the school year, anyway) that would be me.

    Even in my goody-two-shoes days, I took a great deal of satisfaction in politely (but publicly) revealing that I had done no studying whatsoever. At all.

    They generally very quickly moved on with what they were saying and learned never to ask me again, except in one memorable instance where the teacher gave me an annoyed look and snapped, “Well, tell them what they should do, then!”

    No, I’m sorry, lady, but you are the teacher here, not me. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging good study habits–in fact, that’s probably a good thing–but don’t try to play this game. We all know what you’re trying to do, and I in particular know exactly what you want me to say. Which is why I refused to say it.

    I think if teachers had said something more along the lines of “do you have any advice for the class”, I would’ve been more willing to say what they wanted. But the poorly veiled attempt to coerce me into saying it was just annoying.

    1. Tse says:

      Getting singled out because you’re doing well is really annoying, especially in tha small grades (before grade 5). Getting asked how long I study when I never opened a school book is infuriating and doesn’t help with the bully problem, not one bit.
      P.S. I didn’t study, but I did read a lot of books.

      1. swenson says:

        Oh, same here. Usually in class when I was supposed to be listening with all of my brain instead of just part of it. :D

  37. Rayen says:

    you know the school system is even more broken now than it was then. I slept in 5 out of my 6 classes per day all through high school. i still passed with a 2.8 GPA.

  38. Maldeus says:

    You look a lot like a young Han Solo in that picture near the top, Shamus. I think it’s the smile.

    1. Patrick the Bastard Son of Lucas says:

      HAN SOLO?!? The guy in black leather from Star Wars? The space odessey’s version of John Wayne and Elvis? That Han Solo?

      So you’re saying the picture of Shamus in which he has acne, a crooked smile, cheap hair cut and the ugliest teal shirt to have been made in the 80’s bears a striking resemblance to what most Nerds and Dorks hold to as the epitomy of all that is Man?!?

      I bet you think Stewie Griffin looked alot like James Earl Jones too….

      1. Maldeus says:

        It’s easier to see if you don’t sacrifice sheep to the man every full moon.

        1. Patrick the Billie Dee Clone says:

          Wait a minute…sacrifice to which guy? Lucas or Shamus?

          And it isn’t every month, every 3 months during the seasonal solstice. And they are RAMS…not sheep.

          SO THERE…nnnnyyaaaaahhhh

  39. Rylinks says:

    My favorite class during high school was my second semester of AP chemistry. The teacher agreed to give anyone who got a four or a five on the AP test an A in the course, so I promptly did none of the homework, spent lecture reading the text, and aced the AP test.

    It didn’t hurt that in the 5 weeks of do-nothing time after the AP test and before the end of school, we had a contest to see who could launch a pipette bulb farthest with a gaseous mixture. My group used a mix of Butane (from a lighter) and Oxygen, but it ended up rupturing the pipette and it didn’t go very far.

  40. Patrick the Surrealist Mime says:

    I’m trying to remeber what were talking about in that picture, but duuude I was sooo high that day… it was like…yea dude…break out the Omni magazine bro’….

  41. I learned (probably a little too late) that my main form of learning is through listening
    I also learned that I can’t listen and write at the same time
    The bane of my existence were the occasions when the teacher would write notes on the board and then proceed to talk while we were meant to copy the board (usually expanding ideas and giving nice little extra tidbits of information)
    I wasn’t until college that I realized how I retain info (my sister is a teacher and we often talked about our experiences in classes)
    So now I know how to absorb the information faster and retain more for later use
    But now my teachers have a low opinion of me because they assume I’m being lazy
    “I’m telling you this so write it down so you’ll remember it…I’m not going to go over this again and if you don’t have it written down now you won’t have it to study later…get out a piece of paper!”
    I never took notes, and never studied and never got below a B on any test
    In my head I always imagined them thinking I was just getting copies of another students notes

    P.S. I’ve learned that a lot of my memory is based on sound as well (can recite whole movies/songs/conversations from memory), but still find myself having to make lists when shopping

  42. Spike says:

    It’s things like this that make me SO relieved that I am home-schooled.

  43. Schwam says:

    Hey, it’s cool that I finally found someone else who went through High School the same way I did. I felt the exact same way. To me, High School got in the way of my “Real Education”, which for me was reading books on Classical Antiquity rather than programming. I picked assignments based on easiness too and mostly coasted. I was always accosted and told I would never succeed, but I’m typing this right now from the dorm room of my dream university. So somehow, even though I didn’t do mountains of busy work, I ended up fine.

  44. Hratari says:

    Really surprised to hear that over 50% of your grade came from homework. Once I entered high school, homework was never worth more than 20% or maybe 30% of the grade (and those are the regular level classes; it’s usually 5 to 10 percent for the advanced classes.)

    1. Avatar says:

      It varies a lot depending on where you are, or even from class to class. I had some teachers who graded on nothing but exams; I had some teachers who would grade such that you could miss every exam question all year long and get a C if you attempted all the homework.

      The problem is that teachers get a ration of crap from the administration if they flunk a lot of students. Flunked students mean a lot of work for the administration – they’ve got pissed-off kids because they’re off their extracurriculars, they’ve got pissed-off parents who think their kid walks on water, and they’re pissed off too because now they’ve got to figure out how to get this kid his credit in whatever to avoid delaying graduation (because if they can’t, kid will usually drop out, and school loses the revenue). Some teachers just decide “to hell with it” and pass everybody. A lot of teachers don’t -technically- decide that, but their grading system has that as a consequence – several of the classes I had in high school, you could literally not flunk for failure to learn the material.

      I was… just saying that I didn’t have to study doesn’t cover it. I was the kid who slept through a lot of classes and then the teacher would wake me up with a question from the discussion and I’d know the answer to it, after which the teacher usually took the hint and let me sleep. Certainly I never did more than a small fraction of my homework.

      Got through gym by joining the football team in middle school, and sticking with it for a season – I was manifestly out of shape and didn’t have any business being there, but I stuck with it and didn’t have to worry about bullying after that (it helps to be on good terms with the fifty biggest guys in school). Subsequent years, I managed the football team, which had all the benefits in terms of bully deterrence with the added bonus of not having to suit up. I’d routinely do the coach’s grades, too, so you can bet I got my A… (Coach wasn’t dumb, he’d say “hell yes, put an A down there for you!”)

      Got through several classes by getting the teacher to fudge the homework grade, mostly on the strength of the argument “I’ve got perfect scores on all your tests, and know the material better than you do, and I’m easier to deal with sleepy than surly”.

      Best teacher I ever had was an oddity – a coach who was genuinely interested in history, teaching an honors class that wasn’t required for graduation, and absolutely fearless about flunking kids. Grades were nothing but (not particularly difficult) multiple choice tests, which would have decoy answers: “The Persians were winning the war against the Athenians when d) the Athenian air force leveled their capital” etc. Half the class didn’t make it to the semester break, which is kind of sad, given that reading the book and listening in class was plenty, and this coach could give a great lecture. Once the chaff was separated out, we got a heck of a lot of learning done.

      1. TSED says:

        My grade 11 English teacher almost flunked me. I had to work 3 or 4 days STRAIGHT to catch up on homework and still managed to pull off a 51% (basically a D-).

        I’m an English major.

        I kind of want to track that teacher down so I can tell her “you know, you almost screwed me over for life with your outdated, ineffective teaching methods,” but I’m too lazy for that.

        And I have essays to write anyway; why aren’t I doing that?

  45. Mom says:

    Did I ever hear of this event? I am furious to read it now. And NOW one of those delinquent, incompetent, overpaid, irresponsible, drain on public funds is STILL causing one of my sons unjust and unprovoked trouble.

  46. Graham says:

    I sort of daydream and doodle through class and absorb the lesson aurally.

    Interestingly, while you may have thought you were slacking off by doing this, apparently doodling (and I assume other minor distractions) can actually help you concentrate on the lessons being taught, and can increase your comprehension and recollection.

    Yeah, I know, it sounds crazy, but there have even been studies done. Check it out:

    You seem to learn better when you give the creative part of your mind something to keep it busy, while the analytical part of your mind absorbs the material. This way, the creative part isn’t getting bored and fighting the process.

    It has also been found that, as you discovered, taking full and complete notes does mean you will often miss parts of the lessons. Many schools nowadays actually teach paraphrasing and only writing down important points as note-taking skills these days. Both of these force you to not just listen and regurgitate, but to actually think critically about the material, in order to summarize it into the smallest necessary note.

    Maybe this is more in Canada than in the States, but it’s what I was taught, so luckily, schools do seem to be learning these lessons.

    Not fast enough, of course. And not enough of them. But it’s thankfully coming.

  47. MadTinkerer says:

    “I eventually find an equilibrium where I can reliably score a B on the test, do some modest selection of the assignments, and skate through the class with a C- average.”

    Fun fact: you can pass a GCSE level math test with only American Elementary school level math knowlege. I know this because I wasn’t allowed to take the more advanced classes. If I had been wiser, I would have stolen some of the textbooks and taught myself what they wouldn’t teach me.

    Fortunately, I finally had two years of American high school level math after I graduated from British high school. It turns out you can ace the SATs and any American community college entrance exam with just the knowledge from Algebra I and Geometry I. Which is good because that’s all I got at the time.

    I’m glossing over a lot in this story, but that’s basically the end result.

    “The boys have imported the “checking” concept from hockey.”

    Okay, I’ll give my high schools credit for this: The only time I know of this happening to someone I knew while I was there, the culprits were almost expelled and that was enough warning to keep others from doing the same.

  48. deiseach says:

    I’m never going to be able to do a series like this because a) my childhood was so blissfully dull, and b) I don’t have a series of photos of myself as I went through school. You Americans and your crazy yearbooks!

    Oh, and c) I can’t write this well. Darn.

  49. Amanda says:

    I’m a teacher (college).

    The problem isn’t homework. The problem is just grades.

    Specifically, the problem is that we have to give them.

    The related problem is that you might want them for some reason.

    I don’t want to give out grades. I just want to teach the material, and see how I can get people to learn it. Right now I’m teaching an essay writing class. The most interesting part is trying to coax better writing out of students. The most boring part is trying to attach numerical values to their learning.

    The easiest way for me to manage this disconnect is to make my grading system as transparent and obvious as I possibly can. That often turns in to a “do the work, follow the steps,” mentality because it’s easier for me to check off. Yes, some of the grade is based on quality but a LOT of it is based on effort which is easier to quantify and be out in the open about. Ultimately I want to just teach writing, and see a real difference in skill between the start and end of the semester. But I am stuck having to give grades as well.

    On the other hand, I’m also taking an art class right now of a different sort. Two weeks in and so far it’s a great experience. Everyone just shows their work off. The work is critiqued. No one is given a grade so far. You can tell based on the feedback you get if a) you’re improving your personal best and b) you have a long way to go compared to other students.

    I want an amazing piece of work from the class. I do not care if a score is assigned to it, but I want it to be the best I can personally do. However, when I was younger, I was programmed and conditioned to want As. Then given the exact means by which to get there, or not. This isn’t a good way to teach children. It will take a hell of a thing to fix it though.

    The damn thing is that a lot of people are trying to “gamify” education in the wrong direction, by adding even more metrics and +1s and Gold Stars and pointless rewards, rather than trying to make the learning itself more fun.

    1. TSED says:

      I suggest you look into contract grades.

      I had a Creative Writing class with a prof who used them, and every single person in that class worked their bacon to the bone learning everything they could from that class. EVERYONE improved dramatically.

      Contract grades are awesome. I wish my current poetry prof used them.

  50. Chris says:

    I still cannot get over your brother declaring his intention to walk into a store in the mall and start donkey punching people.

  51. For note taking: As much as I myself agree with you that note taking for the sake of note taking is stupid, and also agree that if a conversation is fascinating or I really want to grasp a point I don’t want to write it down, there is a pretty immense psychological literature that says for the vast majority that writing something down, ANYTHING, improves retention.

    What I did was, instead of just writing notes about the class, I’d have two pieces of paper. One was about the class, ostensibly, but it still didn’t stick to only class material. If I made some connection or insight, I’d write that down too to return to. (This usually became fantastic essay grist). I’d also write down questions for clarification, things I thought were relevant. (Of course, you can see the difference between teachers and professors here: If you ask a primary school teacher something, they may not know the answer; if you ask a professor something, they almost always do, though I have heard more than once “Good question, I’ll research that and get back to you”). The second was notes for me: Inspirations for roleplaying campaigns or stories.

    The irony was that the second notes actually buttressed the first. Human beings remember things by networks of salience that are personal, not some kind of arbitrary classifications. If I get an idea for a story in a class, I am likely to remember the class material better.

    You’ll be glad to know that, when I went to school (the 1990s and early 2000s), kids were rarely graded on notes. In any case, my handwriting was (and is) so abysmal that teachers gave up on grading my notes. But when my notes were graded, I would sometimes receive Bs or Cs because I went off on tangents (which I might forget) and didn’t write down minutiae (which I could remember or research on my own time). I was being downgraded for being invested in the lesson.

  52. Noble Bear says:

    Yes! this! A million times this! So much this, the mind boggles!

    I nearly didn’t graduate high school and homework was right at the heart of it. Because of my learning disabilities and neurochemical SNAFUs I would often be up til midnight just trying to get the work done, till one day I just said fuck it and only did those assignments I liked or thought I could turn out in short order. For the most part, when I was in school, I was attentive and engaged, but when I was out of school, I didn’t care.

    No one was there to help me, or impart relevance or tell me what all my options were, just more encouragement to toe the line.

    In California,we started testing for basic skills in 9th grade, any of those tests you didn’t pass, you had to take the next year. I passed all of mine the first time, barely (and I was often the last student to leave), but I passed. At that point I should have been allowed to move on to Jr College, where I was was more successful or Art School where, while I still struggle, I am far more happy.

  53. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Gym is the most evil manifestation of what is wrong with public school, a place for the outmoded primates who have only begun to realize their own uselessness to lash out at students who actually have something to offer to society, allowing the former to undermine the latter. Mysteriously, these apes are allowed to walk amongst real people flinging their poo and are only locked in cages in adulthood.

    Yes I’m bitter much. People say “teachers aren’t paid enough” but they should be begging forgiveness for accepting the pay they get when they allow this evil to continue unchecked.

    In case anyone is confused or offended “primates” does not mean “normal or slow students” in this case. Primates refers to bullies. If you fall into my definition, be offended. In truth, I could never look a person in the face and not feel some empathy for them but I have a mass of anger directed at this unpersoned abstract manifestation of the “bully” and this seemed like the place to vent it. But in more recent years, I’ve come to resent teachers as well. Bullies are animals, they almost are not responsible for their behavior but the teachers certainly are.

    1. Wide And Nerdy® says:

      On the very off chance anybody actually read the above and you’re seeing this. If you feel at all like the 2014 Wide And Nerdy, see a therapist, get your meds adjusted.

      I especially recommend a cognitive therapist. Hollywood has tended to depict therapy as involving a lot of revisiting the past and working through old issues. This left me with the impression that the damage done to me as a child was forever a part of me, that the bullies had gotten one on me and I’d never be able to even the score. But a cognitive therapist focuses on your brain as it functions today and doesn’t need to take you back to the past to get you sorted out. It just looks at what your brain is doing wrong now.

      This means that whats in the past is really in the past and you can leave it behind because the past has already been left behind. And if anti depressants don’t work for you, talk to your counselor about getting bipolar meds. Just because you don’t have manias doesn’t mean you aren’t bipolar.

      1. Shamus says:

        Thanks W&N. This is the most informative comment I’ve read in a long time.

        I’m also happy to hear how much better you’re doing!

  54. Leah says:

    I think it is bad to not do your homework .

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