“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.|
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?
Resident Evil 4
Who is this imbecile and why is he wandering around Europe unsupervised?
A wild game filled with wild ideas that features fun puzzles and mind-blowing environments. It has a great atmosphere, and one REALLY annoying flaw with its gameplay.
Are Lootboxes Gambling?
Obviously they are. Right? Actually, is this another one of those sneaky hard-to-define things?
The Best of 2012
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2012.
The Biggest Game Ever
How did this niche racing game make a gameworld so massive, and why is that a big deal?