Autoblography Part 22: UFOs and Moldova

By Shamus Posted Monday Oct 3, 2011

Filed under: Personal 121 comments

To their delight, the other students have discovered that our history teacher can be effortlessly sidetracked. She encourages a lot of in-class discussion, and doesn’t seem to have any inclination to direct it or keep it pinned to any particular topic. Almost as soon as her lecture begins, someone sidetracks her into school gossip, celebrity gossip, movies, and other fragments of pop culture. From there it follows the logic of free association or channel surfing. Then as the class time runs out she’ll remember that she’s supposed to be teaching and assign us pages to read from the textbook.

Television network ABC produces a TV mini-series about the Soviet Union seizing control of the United States titled Amerika. (Which is obviously just a cheap attempt to take advantage of the popularity of the movie Red Dawn.) I’m not watching the series, but our teacher is, and she won’t shut up about it. She spends a good bit of the class recapping the latest episode and chattering with the other students about the characters and forming theories about what might happen next. This isn’t part of anything we’re studying, it’s just something she’s into and wants to talk about.

This is a setback for me, since I usually depend on lectures for my learning. I can’t read the pages in class, because I don’t know what pages she’ll assign. Besides, it’s too noisy for studious reading with all the chatter. I have to sit through this long gossip session between her and a few key students, and then she tells the rest of us what we’ll need to learn for on the test. So we end up doing the actual learning on our own time. What really annoys me is that the other kids sidetrack her on purpose. They think this is funny.

That’s me, kneeling. Patrick is standing. Little Ruthie is adorable.
That’s me, kneeling. Patrick is standing. Little Ruthie is adorable.

“But wait a second,” I suddenly blurt out, “What makes you so sure these UFOs are space aliens?” I don’t even remember how we got on this tangent, which is light years away from anything that might be found inside the textbook.

“The galaxy is so vast, there just has to be something out there!” she says, somewhat annoyed. She was swapping recent UFO stories with a few of the chatty students, and doesn’t appreciate me derailing her trainwrecked lecture.

“Okay,” I allow. I’m not so sure we can make definitive statements like this about what is and isn’t out there, but I don’t know how to argue that point. I’m more interested in the absurdity of these UFO stories. Finally I stammer, “But how would they even find us?”

“You don’t know!” she says, as if to a child. A few other students nod in agreement. Clearly Shamus is simply lacking in imagination.

I want to attack this notion that space aliens could develop the technology to cross vast interstellar distances, locate other intelligent life, and then fly around over populated areas at night with ships covered in blinking lights. If they’re trying to remain hidden, they seem to have missed out on the crucial no-blinking-lights technology. If they’re here to make contact, then… what’s the holdup? Why aren’t any of the images in focus, and why don’t any of the sightings have more than one witness? Why doesn’t anyone ever get two pictures? Why don’t the sightings follow any sort of pattern and why does every sighting seem to look like a different ship? I’m not really against the idea of aliens, but these “UFO sightings” stories are ridiculous.

I try to make my case. How do we know there are aliens? The galaxy is so big there must be! How do we know they travel through space? There are so many aliens, one of them must have magical technology! How would they find us, and why? Naturally aliens that advanced would be curious about us! Why do they behave so irrationally? You can’t understand the motives of something so alien and intelligent!

The size and scope of the universe is used to justify any number of absurd assertions. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy does this for comedic effect, but it really annoys me to see someone doing it with a straight face. They’re using all of the unknown variables of the universe to write themselves a blank check.

I’m stammering my way through this debate, and not doing very well. My position is the unpopular one in the room among the talkers, and I’m not very organized in my arguments. Suddenly I realize I’m helping to hijack the class. After weeks of grumbling about how the lectures never stay on topic, I’m dragging everyone through a debate on space aliens in a history class. I shut my mouth. She turns away, happy to win the debate. I sit there red-faced and ashamed.

These are the only things I remember about her class: Amerika, and the UFO conversation. I don’t remember the book, the nations we studied, the time period, or anything else.

Another teacher does much better. He’s supposed to teach us the nations and capitals of Europe. This lesson is the very picture of dull, dead-end education. Students are given a bunch of trivia to learn. They memorize it, parrot it back for the test, and then forget all about it. Students are chalkboards where information is written and erased again and again in a long procession of forgettable busywork. A few years ago Neighbor John managed to convince me to learn my states and capitals. I did it because I liked John and he was personally motivated to teaching me. Here we have something that is mechanically the same lesson, but it seems much less relevant. I have a lot of classes asking me to memorize random trivia, and I can’t bring myself to care about all of them.

This information is largely useless. It doesn’t give us an understanding of European politics, or culture, or government. Learning those might be interesting. Why are all of the European countries so small? Why so many languages? Why don’t they unite? Why do they seem to get along so well since World War II, when they seemed to bicker endlessly in centuries past? What do they think of us? Are they as worried about impending nuclear war as we are? But no. Just as history class is a list of dates with no context, “social studies” is a study of national borders without explaining why the borders are there or who lives inside them.

If anyone finds themselves in a position where they do need to know the capital of Moldova, then they will probably need to know a lot more than just the capital. On the off chance that any of us needs to know the capital of one of these countries in the future, we would just look it up. So for 999 out of a 1,000 of us, this information is useless and quickly forgotten. For the remaining student, the lesson is grossly insufficient.

However, in this class the teacher is doing something different. Instead of giving us a raw list to memorize through brute force, he spends a couple of sessions playing a game with us. We’re tasked with coming up with our own Mnemonic devices. The goal is to try and work the name of the country and its capital into a single sentence. After we come up with them, we go around the room and read our lists to the class, so that we all benefit from one another’s invention. Twisting the names or making absurd statements isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged.

For example: The capital of The Republic of Moldova is Kishinev, and one girl comes up with the mnemonic, “Don’t Kishinev a boy with Moldova on his lips.” (Don’t kiss a boy with mold on his lips.) It’s silly, but it works. Someday I’ll forget the name of this girl, the class, the room number, and the book we used but I’ll still remember that the capital of Moldova is Kishinev.

Although, at the time of this writing, the city is more correctly spelled “ChiÅŸinău”, and I’m sure Americans butcher the pronunciation either way.

He’s not simply teaching us the capitals of Europe. He’s teaching us how to learn, and he’s using the capitals of Europe to do it. Years later I’ll remember this lesson and use similar mnemonic tricks to help me memorize loose facts.


From The Archives:

121 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 22: UFOs and Moldova

  1. Sid Davis says:

    As a person who is studying to be a teacher, these stories are a really nice way to see a lot of the things that work, and a lot that don’t.

    Thanks for that.

    1. Steve C says:

      Take note: Assign homework at the start of class. Not the end. Both Shamus and I could have made semi-productive use of gossipy-ufo-lady’s class even though we learn in very different ways.

      1. ENC says:

        You assign homework at the start of class then they start doing it during the lesson.

        These are all things someone aspiring to be a teacher clearly knows from growing up so I don’t understand how Shamus’s stories are relevant to it.

        Not to mention the majority of his classes the teachers are useless anyway regardless of what teaching method they use.

    2. Mthecheddar knight says:

      My sixth grade social studies teacher, mr. Sims is my favorite teacher ever. He got sidetracked alot, but he made learning interesting, and for once I actuAlly cared about what i learned( Greece, Rome, China and egypt) And he actually taught us important things about culture.

  2. noahpocalypse says:

    My history teacher is similar; it’s really easy to sidetrack her. Fortunately, I’ve had her for two years in a row, and she is committed to teaching why things are the way they are. She absolutely loves history of all sorts. She doesn’t learn facts (or even make us remember mundane facts): she learns actual history, and imparts it upon us.

    1. Mathias says:

      ^ I, too, have a teacher like this. It’s a mixture of dates that are important to remember and why they happened in the first place.

      She does deliberately “derail” us, though. She usually has the first two lessons on Monday, so instead of starting up with history, she has one student prepare a 5-minute presentation of something, and that’s used as a sort of wake-up call.

    2. Chuck Henebry says:

      What IS it about history teachers that makes them so susceptible to distraction? I remember the same thing in my American History teacher in high school.

      1. Deoxy says:

        Perhaps because history is inherently like this? That is, almost every conceivable useful fact in history has dozens of tangents and derailments built right into it – the things that happened both before and after, from several perspectives, often with at least some level of debate over factual accuracies of the other points of view.

        1. LunarShadow says:

          You pretty much hit the nail on the head. When I am discussing history I usually end up derailed as all hell because I latch onto important tangents that are needed to understand an event and basically do the discussion version of a Wiki Walk.

    3. RichVR says:

      I graduated High School in 1976. But one of my history teachers was this way as well. He was a rabid NY Rangers hockey fan. Many classes were consumed with the discussion of hockey. Which was fine with me as I was usually stoned.

    4. Tzar says:

      Yeah, I had a french teacher, who could be taken completely off topic anytime someone wanted, just by mentioning something negative about Napoleon (especially claiming he died of Syphilis.)

    5. Jarenth says:

      I had a teacher for ‘Philosophy’ class (essentially Religion class with a more PC name), who was notorious for being sidetracked into allowing us to watch the Lion King.

      Just the Lion King. Over and over.

      Years later my little brother went to the same school, got the same teacher, and watched the same Lion King tape.

  3. Zombie Pete says:

    Mrs. Sidetrackable reminds me of a social studies teacher in junior high, only he would only digress from the lesson plan for certain hot-button issues. Especially memorable was his ramble on the Vietnam War. Some smartass must’ve been coached about this and raised his hand the first minute of class and asked, “Why did we lose in Vietnam?” His short answer was, “Because we weren’t allowed to win.” And then spent the remaining 49 minutes explaining that and telling us war stories, some of which I’m pretty sure including the term “gook.” Well, better than Amerika, but still…

    1. Deoxy says:

      That’s a interesting and fairly accurate assessment of Vietnam, I think – though I would change that to “We wouldn’t allow ourselves to win.”

      Militarily, we did win. Then we decided that it hopeless (thanks Walter!), declared victory (that we didn’t believe we had, even though we did), and abandoned the enterprise entirely (leaving our allies to be wiped out).

      Why we did that and how it affected us as a country (especially people like your teacher, who suffered through it) are worth entire classes unto themselves.

      1. Shamus says:

        This is also an interesting lesson in politics:

        A: We should fight this war with all our might!

        B: We shouldn’t fight this war at all!

        C: Let’s compromise! In the spirit of bipartisanship, we’ll fight the war half-assed.

      2. krellen says:

        We actually spent a long time losing. Then an Iraqi brought us (via Israel) a MiG to study, and we started winning.

      3. Frank says:

        I hate to be the history guy to derail the conversation. But I just have to weigh in on this Vietnam discussion. First of all, I would like to say that you’re right, but at the same time oh so very wrong. The Myth of American victory is just that, a myth. Yes, the American military did win on a tactical level throughout Vietnam, the Tet offensive being a prime example of this, but on the other hand, this really doesn’t matter. Despite the fact that the Tet offensive saw massive losses for the Viet-Cong,Guerilla warfare is never that simple, especially as events in Iraq and Afghanistan prove in this modern age.

        To take it back even further, The war in Vietnam was mostly about decolonization. Not about the American will to continue the fight. To provide a brief lesson, starting waaay back around the switch from B.C. to A.D. (Was a big deal at the time, everyone had to get new sundials ;-) ) Vietnam was first conquered by the chinese. Chinese political domination would last about a thousand years give or take, and the story is redolent with revolts, rebellions, and Martyrs for the cause, like Trung Tac and Trung Nhi, sisters who kicked out the Chinese in 39 AD, and were stomped three years later. Providing one of many examples that later communist propagandists would use to tie the 20th century wars to Vietnamese history (fight the imperialist oppresors!). Then Vietnam is mostly independent until the late 1800s, at which point the French show up. From 1858 to 1893 the French gradually consolidate their control over southeast Asia, and we know this colonial entity as French Indo-China. The French then proceeded to exploit the living snot out of the Vietnamese.

        And now the history gets ugly, The peasants were forced onto giant estates which suited french control. These estates turned Vietnam into one of the world’s top rice exporters, regardless of the fact that famine repeatedly sweat through the country, culminating in 1944-45 when at least one million Vietnamese starved to death. And yes we can still blame the French, they still ran the place as the new Japansese overlords were busy losing their war in the pacific to change the governing staff. Needless to say, the French turned a subsistence level agricultural economy into one warped and deformed by colonial pressures that did not in any way benefit the Vietnamese people.

        So what did the Vietnamese do? Well mainly they took it, as the vast majority of any people do when faced with an oppressive and authoritarian regime. But there were a few flickering lights of revolution. All failed ultimately, due to a number of factors, examples include police crackdowns, a lack of support(most revolutionaries were middle class, while about 90% of the population were still peasant farmers), ideological naivete, and all the other reasons why utopian plans never work.

        But then we get to Ho Chi Minh, for the first half of the twentieth century he pops up intermittently. For example, he was at the Paris peace accords in 1918, where he asked for President Wilson’s promise of self determination to be upheld for Vietnam, but like all other colonial delegations, he was ignored. So surprisingly enough, he got fed up with the hypocrisy of the European nations (you get to self determine! unless its inconvenient, or y’know were’e busy making sure those rubber plantations keep producing, Or we’re still kinda racist at his point in history, and therefore don’t think you’re capable of self-government) and went Communist. Which I might add is practically the only ideology at this time that embraced an anti-colonial policy. So Ho Chi Minh tries to get Communism off the ground in Vietnam, and fails. Absolutely face-plants. He’s hampered by several factors, one of the biggest being a lack of Russian/Communist support as by 1927 Stalin was getting control, and didn’t like the psuedo nationalist-communist combined doctrine the Ho espoused. So anyway Ho putters along until ww2, at which point France gets smashed and its colonial empire becomes a lot more shaky. Ho raises support, gets a small army going in the mountains, and waits. Japan surrenders in August 1945, and in the same month, Ho’s revolution sweeps the country and fills the power vacuum left by the Japanese. On September 2nd, 1945 Ho declares Independence for Vietnam, and starts his speech like this. “All men are created equal, They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights: among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I’m willing to bet that this sounds familiar.

        And after that rousing speech, the US looks on as the French re-establish colonial control of Vietnam. After all, we need the French to fight Communism, some rice farmers in southeast Asia? not so much. especially as they were communist themselves. The french would last until 1954 and the famous battle of Dien Bien Phu. This battle is a classic example of why the Vietnamese won. Dien was muddy little fort in a valley out in the jungle. By itself it had no strategic significance. The French still controlled the cities, the ports, and any bit of countryside they happened to be standing on. When the Vietnamese won, which y’know was cool and all, but what did they gain? A muddy fort in a jungle valley, except now it had a bunch of dead people and shell craters in it, which just does wonders for the property values. But then the French left, except not really, they just retreated south, but whatever, historical semantics.

        Dien Bien Phu broke the French “will” to fight. But I don’t like that term, as it implies there was a choice. So therefore a more proper way of saying it would be, Dien Bien Phu proved that any outside power trying to establish imperial control would face fanatical resistance, an extended guerrilla war, and whenever you let your guard down whether through incompetence or just plain stupidity (at Dien, the french “allowed” the Vietnamese to claim the heights around the valley fort, cover those buggers in artillery and then blast Dien’s airfield into craters, not so good for the supply situation) See, its not about the French will or the American will, but about Vietnamese will (except remember that term is dumb and inaccurate).

        Now this is not about defending communism, or justifying the acts of cruelty and repression that happened under Ho Chi Minh. Those things totally happened and were just as nasty as any other atrocities committed by an authoritarian power. For example, when people opposed the new government’s plans for land reform and increased agricultural yield, Ho’s government responded with a wave of executions that claimed as many as 15,000. So not a nice guy. But not the point. The question is why did America lose?

        The answer to that in the conventional sense is this. The Americans won militarily but were defeated by growing opposition at home. This argument is so Ameri-centric as to be completely painful (remember takes at least two to fight a war), furthermore, its wrong. The Americans faced several military problems that were never solved and led directly to the withdrawal. And secondly, withdrawing aka retreating means that the Americans did lose strategically. And since accomplishing war aims is just as important as the killing of dudes, I would say its safe to say that, no matter how you slice it, Vietnam was lost on a lot of levels. clinging to fact that we killed more people that the other side is kinda weird, and creepy.

        So onto the actual problems. First, guerrilla warfare, the american army from top to bottom, was designed and trained to fight a gigantic tank battle with the Russians in the middle of Germany. Not to fight snipers and booby traps in tropical jungle. Basic, basic doctrinal issues. A further point of this was the training received by the “grunts,” they were taught to shoot, to obey orders, to dehumanize the enemy (especially in basic training, racial epithets were often used so as to desensitize people to killing other people). No training in Vietnamese language, customs or history. And further no training on how to deal with guerrilla situations (snipers, booby traps, the mixing of civilian and military targets etc.) And then you have a constant turnover of military personnel, which played havoc on any attempt to maintain an institutional memory. Needless to say, these factors, while not decisive in and of themselves, provide valuable input on why the war was not going as well as hoped on a platoon level.

        So we have an army of Americans in a weird country, that most only have cursory knowledge of. Fighting a determined enemy that saw Americans as part of a long continuity of foreign imperial oppressors,and furthermore, was prepared and trained for the fighting style of the war, and we wonder how on earth they managed to have more “will?”

        However, this is not to denigrate the American military. While it may have failed utterly in many areas, one thing the American’s could do was put their vast military resources to work. And work it did, whenever the Vietnamese opposed the Americans in a conventional fashion, such as the Tet offensive, the Vietnamese got smashed. It helps to be able to apply absolutely crushing force, and when your enemy provides such an opportunity, you take it. But needless to say, most of the war WAS NOT conventional. And this ability often proved a hindrance, napalm does not distinguish between guerrilla and farmer. As we well know from today’s conflict in Iraq, civilian casualties merely exacerbate the problems of irregular warfare.
        In any event, this brief (hahahaha, i bet you wish it was brief :-) ) essay should point you in the direction of answers. By all means do your own reading and form your own conclusions, and tell me why Im wrong, that’s what makes history interesting and fun! But remember, in my history, only facts are allowed, not what your uncle Jerry said, or what you heard, or what you read on wikipedia, do some research (its really not hard) and come back armed with facts, statistics and historical events. It makes you smarter, and will make me smarter, Everyone wins! love you guys on the blog.


        1. MichaelG says:

          I was taught that America got into war there for stupid reasons (we’ll show the Soviets how tough we are!), lied to ourselves constantly during the war, left our allies to certain death when we got tired of it, and accomplished nothing.

          The death toll was in the millions, although who knows how much of that was due to us vs. a civil war that would have happened anyway.

          I haven’t read enough history to know if what I just said has any connection to reality, but that’s what I was taught.

          1. Frank says:

            It’s close, but like most history one learns in school (primary and high I mean, most colleges do a stellar job), is far closer to propaganda and half-truths than an actual discussion of historical events. Not to say this is anyone’s fault really, its endemic in a system that sees the history department as a dumping ground for football coaches. And furthermore lets Texas decide what goes in most textbooks. (unlike every other state, Texas buys its textbooks with a central committee for every single school in its borders. Which means that textbook manufacturers have to present history according to the ideological viewpoint of a small committee with a vastly disproportionate market share)

            Not that I’m bitter or anything about how my profession is taught to the average American, ;-).

            1. krellen says:

              History from 1950 to 1990 should be taught by learning about the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.

              1. jwwzeke says:

                Okay, hands up, how many people started singing that song in their heads just now. I’m pretty sure I could “ace” history if it was taught using that idea. :)

                1. Caffiene says:

                  Not me!

                  … I did start humming it out loud, though.

            2. Deoxy says:

              Militarily, we did win.

              Vietcong internal documents after Tet show that THEY viewed us as having won. They were deciding between asking for peace/ceasefire and just outright surrender.

              Then the media decided we lost, and told everyone so. And popular support in America (commonly referred to as “will”, as it analogizes fairly well to that at a national level) dried up and died…etc etc etc.

              We fought half-assed, with all the ridiculous, self-imposed handicaps you mentioned above, and still kicked their butt. (Body count is one way of viewing that, but territorial control is another – we did not attempt to take theirs, and we COULD not take ours (southern Vietnam), though they tried mightily – what else would you call that?).

              I actually read your huge wall of text, and I would still say that my concise summary is as accurate as short summary of all that can be.

        2. Tuck says:

          Thanks! I enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed the blog entry! (sorry Shamus)

          I grew up in Laos, the little communist country next door to Vietnam, and I was always amazed the way American expatriate kids had this idea that their country had “won” the Vietnam War.

        3. BlusterBlaster says:

          Wow, that was VERY well thought-out for a rant. *claps* And I’m a (European) historian specializing in American foreign policy, too.

    2. Steve C says:

      USA won every battle in Vietnam and lost the war. Want to know the reason… watch Red Dawn. Just imagine the Russians as the US army and highschoolers as Vietnam and you’ll get what I mean.

      It’s not just Americans that will take up arms if invaded. Most countries will do the same. It’s a simple truth that if you have nowhere to go your only option left is to defend yourself and your family.

      1. Deoxy says:

        Actually, that doesn’t have just a whole lot to do with it.

        The part that analogizes best to that is the Viet Cong (the guerilla fighters from the south) – Tet was their high-point, and it failed miserably (from every perspective but PR – thanks again, media morons). After Tet, the Viet Cong essentially ceased to exist as a military asset, in large part because they WEREN’T “local” and didn’t have the support of the people.

        The military force was essentially from north Vietnam (supported by China).

  4. Xythe says:

    I had one of those teachers. Bring up either Bob Dylan or Tennis and suddenly the lesson would be consumed by randomly meandering conversation.

  5. Meredith says:

    I think there must be a teacher like this at every school. I even had a couple of professors in college that could be easily sidetracked. It still makes no sense why students thought this was a good way to spend the time; you still have to take the test on material they never managed to teach.

  6. JPH says:

    Argh. I hate teachers like that. (The history teacher, that is.) It’s abundantly clear that those people don’t actually want to be teachers, or at least they don’t want to be good teachers.

    1. noahpocalypse says:

      Not necessarily true. See my comment above- my AP Euro History teacher LOVES teaching and history, she just loves every part of history and wants to teach us all of it. She talks about motives and teaches us about them, but generally stays unbiased unlike many teachers. My class’s motives for going off-topic is generally because when we set her off and she flies all over the place in her lesson, it becomes a lot more interesting than what the lesson already was. And it was interesting to begin with!

    2. Klay F. says:

      In my AP History classes in high school there were always a group of students that were especially adept at sidetracking our history teachers (in our high school, anyone who wanted to be in an AP class just had to sign up, no restrictions). Eventually me and a group of my friends in the same class (those of us who actually wanted to learn) got sick of not learning anything so we decided to play the game of those other students in an effort to bring our teachers back on topic. We succeeded often (and just as often earned the loathing of the other students…totally worth it).

  7. anaphysik says:

    I don’t know, a teacher that rambles on subjects can be fun – and lead to learning lots of cool interesting things rather than a list of context-less facts. Of course, it sounds more like that teacher in particular was more gossip than tidbits and wasn’t open to any sort of challenging discussion. But in theory…

    Sometimes it’s what goes on in the spaces between things that ends up being more personally important. Can’t recall where I’m paraphrasing that idea from; maybe it’s from a chat I had with one of my former high school teachers (still remember cool discussions and info from 3 minutes of chatting between classes, whereas 45min classes scarcely even appear in my memory).

  8. Zukhramm says:

    Personally, I hate mnemonics. I don’t know why, I just never seem to be able to remember them and it only seems to make it harder to remember.

    1. CTrees says:

      I usually end up remembering the fact first, then working backwards to the mnemonic. It was highly annoying in school in instances where we were expecting to remember mnemonics.

      1. I’ve generally never needed mnemonics–my memory tool is writing things down. If I write it down, I don’t forget it (until years later, anyway). It takes a lot of repetition for a mnemonic to become associated with a fact in my mind, so I only remember mnemonics for very few things (like Roy G. Biv and My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles).

        I had the first 20 elements on the periodic table memorized without need for any mnemonic. I find it interesting that the three things I found most worth remembering were a.) the colors in the visible spectrum, b.) the planets, and c.) the periodic table. And here’s the thing–I’m NOT A SCIENCE NERD. I’m a literature nerd.

        1. Otakun says:

          Your very eager mother just served you nine, actually. No pickles, anymore.

          1. krellen says:

            I hate pickles anyway.

            1. Zukhramm says:

              Who doesn’t?

              1. krellen says:

                Third graders.

                1. Jarenth says:

                  And pregnant women.

          2. jwwzeke says:

            Thanks for the hint. Have never heard that mnemonic before and had NO idea what it was for. Pickles going missed clued me in.

          3. Syal says:

            My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nutrisweet.

  9. Lalaland says:

    I had a hippy Irish teacher like that, he actually came to work in his brown 70’s VW hippy van and could be easily distracted by pleas of how overworked we were or how much we’d like to meditate. He would put on his whale sounds tape and we would rejoice as we worked on other topics we liked.

    The annoying part was I was relatively good at Irish until I hit this guys class thank to a prior passionate teacher. After only a year with this guy I had to drop out of the honours class and take the ordinary level class. It was probably one of the better lessons in life, just because you can slack doesn’t mean you should, but it’s left me seriously annoyed at a system that allows such extremes to co-exist in the same place. Surely there should be an element of peer review or continuous assessment amongst teacher’s to weed out eejits like my Irish teacher (or the physics teacher who believed in divining and ‘cleansing your aura’)

    1. asterismW says:

      Wait, so was your teacher Irish, or was he (ostensibly) teaching the Irish language? And if the latter, wow, I wish we’d had that option in high school…

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        He might be from Irland.

        1. asterismW says:

          Or that, yeah. Still wish I’d had that option.

          1. Zukhramm says:

            I wish I did as well. As you all know, the one who knows the most languages when he dies, wins.

  10. Zak McKracken says:

    The “ch” is pronounced as a “k”, the “i”s as in English “mist”. The “ÅŸ” character corresponds to “sh” in English, and “ău” is pronounced like “ow” in … somewhere between “now” and “bow”. If I write that, it looks kinda stupid: Kishinow… If you manage that, everyone from Moldova (or Romania) is going to be flattered. Just don’t turn it into “Kishinov”, Moldavians will probably not like a Russian ending on their capital.

    Also, I did not know that city’s name before reading your article, and I live in Europe, so well done!

    And third: “Learning to learn stuff” _is_ one of the main targets in school. Only many students don’t get that, and some teachers don’t either. That and learning to deal with having to do stuff, and being expected to do it well, too. Ideally that would have led to you writing a program for solving those stupid repetitive math problems for you. Too bad that OCR wasn’t developed enough back then, not to speak of the necessary hardware…

  11. Hitch says:

    I never had problem with easily sidetracked teachers. I’m not saying I approved, I just don’t remember encountering any. But every History class I ever had fit the mold of temporarily stored and quickly forgotten useless and irrelevant trivia. It was only much later after I finished school that I discovered that interesting things happened in the past.

    1. Only History teachers could turn the endless passion play of wars, plagues, murders, revolts, births, deaths, invention, and deceit into something boring.

  12. Mrs. Peel says:

    Ugghhhh!!!! I had a teacher like that, too, for economics. He taught us nthing – just assigned homework. If we didn’t understand the homework, we could ask in class. Plus, he preferred to spend class chatting. So the other kids quickly learned to keep him talking for a while, then, one by one, claim that they hadn’t understood a homework problem, so that he ended up giving them the answers to all of the problems. Naturally, none of them had actually done the homework, and simply copied down his answers as he spoke. Then they turned in their copied work at the end of the class.

    So, since he was wasting the class’s time with pointless chitchat, I and the guy next to me and the guy behind me would ask each other for help on the problems we hadn’t understood (we actually did our homework beforehand). The guy next to me was also in my calculus class, so he and I often exchanged notes discussing how to relate what we were learning in economics to what we were learning in calculus. Meanwhile, the rest of the class continued to waste everyone’s time and pass notes about cute boys and whatnot.

    Guess who got in trouble.

    (I also really hated that teacher because he had a huuuuuge chip on his shoulder about me. He had a space on the first test to write down anything you wanted to discuss with him, so I wrote that I was having a little difficulty understanding him [I am profoundly deaf] and suggested a few things he could do to help me. He replied with a page-long screed all about how he used to teach deaf students and knew full well how to accommodate them and blah blah blah. It was really defensive. Then he decided that *I* was the one with the chip on my shoulder, and acted all nasty to me for the rest of the year. The next year, in his economics II class, he not only allowed the class to discuss what an awful person I was and all the horrible things I had supposedly done to them [none of which, it goes without saying, I had ever heard of, much less done], but actually participated in the conversation. Ugh, what a jackass.)

    1. MisteR says:

      My eyes popped out for a second at that last bit. That’s just awful.

    2. Syal says:

      That sounds pretty bad. However, I have to wonder how that discussion began in the first place, and how many people were involved.

  13. RariowunIrskand says:

    I had two teacher’s that would just go off topic for a large amount of time, but these two would do on purpose. Both of them taught English. They would actually help us by rambling on: Whilst they were going down completely unpredictable paths in their lectures, they still always managed to relate it to the topic at hand, and make comparisons between it and the subject. For instance, we had to write an essay about William Blake’s poem “The Tyger”, and our teacher, from the subject of this poem, ended up speaking about the impact of nuclear physics on life (Nuclear power is more efficient Vs. The Atom Bomb and so on). He tied it in with the poem because in Tyger, Blake is making a comment on the duality of the world. It made a lot more sense when you heard him talk about it.

    Both of these teachers were considered crazy by students, but I considered them geniuses. By managing to weave in stuff that interested me into English, they made me a lot more interested in literature, and I actually improved my English grades by a whole lot when they were teaching me. Eventually, indepentently from these teachers, but thanks to them, my respect for language became so great I started to write a book. Still a long way to finishing it, but I’m still adding a page or two in my (Very scarce) spare time.

    So I don’t think teachers that ramble on are too bad a deal… As long as they both A)Tie it in to the subject at hand and B)Teach a subject requiring more creativity than logic/knowledge (As in English or Art, as opposed to History or Maths)

    1. decius says:

      How can you read

      And when the stars cast down their spears,
      And water’d heaven with their tears,
      Did He smile His work to see?
      Did He who made the lamb make thee?

      and not see a parallel with nuclear weaponry?

  14. SolkaTruesilver says:

    In case you want to know more about context, Moldova happens to be a border-state between Romania and Ukraine in order to avoid border sparks between the two countries in the past.

    Since Russia’s national safety depends on their use of Ukraine as a useful buffer state, Ukraine has to be protected as well. So at the moment, you see a lot of money sent by Ukraine-Russian organisations to support Pro-Ukrainian movements in the eastern fring of the country, while the general (Romanian) population/establishment is trying to balance the need to preserve Romania’s support and preserve their independance.

    Overall, it’s mostly been a trading chip/pawn on the Great Geopolitical Board, going as far back as the Ottoman and back when Romania was a major power in Europe. The tragedy of being a trading chip or a pawn is that you usually suffer the brunt of the conflicts and civil striffe, because you are used as a battleground by higher powers.

    Back in the 80’s, it was simply one of the Soviet Republic. Right now, it’s the rope of the tug of war between Romania and Ukraine, both of them respectively acting as proxy for the Poland/Russia rivalry developping in Eastern Europe.

  15. klasbo says:

    If they’re gonna misspell it, why not make it “MURRIKA” while they’re at it?

    I’ve had a few sidetracking teachers, some of whom have went all meta-sidetracking, thus sidetracking us back on topic. The others were just good at going “Anyway, we were talking about X”.

    I learned most of my history from a fellow student that was actually interested in history to the point of reading extracurricular books. History is only interesting and learn-able to me when presented in a backwards linear causality chain (ie staring in the present day and working backward). Because to me, history is about the present day situation as explained by past events, not the past events themselves.

    1. Methermeneus says:

      Apropos of both your first and third points, I was just thinking about autonyms vs. exonyms yesterday (that’s names people give themselves vs. names other people give them), and how you need to trace not just the words, but the histories of the people who used the words back through history to understand them. The first example that came to mind was why we call Germans “German” instead of “Deutsch” (short version: it’s Rome’s fault). Other examples that could provide some interesting history lessons include why we call Greece “Greece” instead of “Ellas” or “Hellas” (Rome’s fault again), why the French word for “German” is “Allemand” (Rome yet again… sort of), why the Welsh word for “English” is “Saesneg” (short version: Saxon), and why the English word for Netherlanders is “Dutch” (short version: same reason Germans call themselves “Deutsch,” although why we chose to use it for people who had a different autonym I don’t know).

      1. Shamus says:

        Trivia, about an autonym becoming an exonym: The “Pennsylvania Dutch” are Germans. They arrived, said they were Deutsch, and the locals thought that “Deutsch” meant “Dutch”.

        1. Mom says:

          Also, the phrase ” O, you’re Dutch”! This meant you weren’t making sense, derived from the fact that for a time there was a fairly large German speaking population in Pennsylvania.

  16. Mom says:

    I notice this was taken at Easter. I remember buying those similar spring color shirts for you and Pat. Ruth is holding a marshmallow or stuffed rabbit and Gma is visiting. (: How old were you here? Was this before or after you wrecked the station wagon?

    1. Hitch says:

      Wrecked the station wagon? Spoilers for a future Autoblography?

    2. Shamus says:

      Way before the wreck. Remember I didn’t get my license until after graduation.

      1. noahpocalypse says:

        OH! Some untold history we have here? Very interesting…


        Oho! Now we see the violence inherent in the system!

  17. nawyria says:

    Is it just me, or does young Shamus look a little like Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter with his head tilted like so?

  18. Methermeneus says:

    Somehow, all of my high school History teachers were easily sidetracked. Worse, most of the sidetracking was done by this one girl who spent about a third of her time talking to the teachers about off-topic stuff, about a third trying to get the teachers to explain something she didn’t understand (which I don’t mind in the abstract, but it was usually something so simple that she was most likely just not paying attention), and about a third of the time arguing with the teachers. And somehow she was in all of my History classes. I’d actually had a crush on her from back when we were in church choir together, but once I had a chance to spend time in her presence when her mouth wasn’t occupied with singing, well, let’s just say that once I resigned myself to not learning anything from those classes, I was content just to sit in the back and chat with a different girl (who wound up going to MIT, if you want some contrast).

    In contrast, a lot of my college professors got sidetracked a lot, but they tended to wander down the path of more background on what we were studying, amusing examples, and trivia related to what we were studying. (My favorite example comes from Greek 101: “ὁδός [‘hodos’] means ‘road,’ and it’s the root of the word ‘odometer.’ So, I guess it should really be pronounced ‘hodometer…’ But that sounds more like something you’d use walking through downtown New Brunswick at night.”)

    Also, I did eventually learn to use mnemonics for everything, but it was mostly math teachers that got me into it. (Another favorite example, in spite of how cumbersome it may seem at first: “Listen because I’m only going to say this 2ce. Andrew Jackson was the 7th president, and he was elected in 1828. That’s 1828. Now, he was a bad president, so we cross out his portrait, which leaves us with a pair of 45/90/45 triangles.” Thus, e (to the 15th decimal place) is 2.718281828459045. A much simpler mnemonic, to remember derivatives of position, is “You’re such a third derivative!” (The first derivative is velocity, the second is acceleration, and the third is jerk.) I also want a chance to teach someone to remember that by saying, “Dat’s some good t’ird derivative an’ Ting, mon!”)

  19. coolgingerkid says:

    You remind me of a few kids I taught this summer when I worked at a scout camp. I taught Citizenship in the World, and I would go in depth in some of the information to make everything click and be interesting (occasionally I would go off-topic too, but still.) In each class, there was always one kid who would pester me to shut up and go to the next requirement, interrupting the flow of the class. Later I found out that the kids were all in the same troop.

  20. krellen says:

    On the UFO subject, I’m currently in the middle of reading a book about Area 51; turns out almost all UFO sightings (at least in the 40s through 60s, as I haven’t gotten any more recent than that in my reading yet) can be traced to spy plane test flights. The U-2 and A-12 spy planes were both decades ahead of their times; the A-12 (developed in the early 60s) held speed and height records until the 2000s. When people saw things flying that high and that fast, they simply assumed they had to be extraterrestrial.

    1. SolkaTruesilver says:

      Thing is, EVEN if the UFO sighting are signs of a superior civilisation coming to visit us, it is still a thousand time more likely they are Earth’s precursor which survived than an actual extra-solar life form, just if you play the odds.

      1. asterismW says:

        Wait, so you’re saying it’s more likely that Earth once had a space-capable race who left, than that at least one of the billions of stars in our galaxy has at least one planet that has an advanced civilization?

        1. It is actually not possible to know what the odds are in either of those cases, so pick whichever “explanation” you like most. Me, I don’t believe in “explanations” that come in advance of facts, so when I’m asked what the mysterious lights in the sky are, I just tell the truth: no clue. Next question.

          1. Tizzy says:


            In particular, I don’t buy that much the “these spy planes were so advanced” as an explanation to why people jumped to the UFO conclusion, since it’s not as if the typical witnesses were aerospace engineers, and would have known awesome high-tech from everyday awesome flying tech.

            I find it much more likely that they experienced confirmation bias: whatever they really saw, they explained it as UFO because that’s what they wanted to see.

            1. krellen says:

              The people making the sightings reported them as UFOs; the people that knew about the spy planes corresponded the reported sightings with test flights.

              IE, Farmer Bob reports “I saw this thing zipping around overhead last night, ’round about midnight”. Spy guy says (in classified reports only made public decades later), “Yeah, we were doing a test flight over Farmer Bob’s field that night.”

              1. Tizzy says:

                My bad: I meant, “some witnesses interpret it as Alien sightings.”

        2. krellen says:

          He’s saying it’s more likely that Atlantis would come back to check in on Earth than Vulcan would discover Earth and stop by for a visit.

          1. SolkaTruesilver says:

            Pretty much. Just the scale required to be able to find us, little miserable Earth, in the Grand Cosmos.. And actually care about us. It’s pretty staggering.

            Just the likelihood that another specie evolved and developped technology, managed to leave their planet, their solar system, and go about a systematical exploration of every starts likely to have life in order to find one with life?

            And have all of that occur in a time frame relatively simultaneous to us (cosmology-timeframe wise, +- 20,000 years) without having their civ collapse or them just not caring anymore.

            1. MichaelG says:

              Easy… just build a self-replicating probe and let it do its thing. Galaxy mapped, problem solved… :-)

              Here’s my writeup on this stuff:


              If you’ve never read anything serious about this, you could start there. I’ve included some links.

              1. BlackBloc says:

                Any technological species not burdened by something so quaint as a conscience should be sending such probes over the galaxy to preemptively eradicate any life before it even gets to the technological stage. Since technological advancement has shown itself to evolve at exponential rates, an intelligent species ought not to take the risk that a rival civilization might arise between the time of detection and that of first contact.

                So I say we ought be very thankful we haven’t yet found evidence of anyone else out there. And we should be hoping they didn’t get evidence of ours, either. ;)

                1. Bryan says:

                  Stupid radio, and its spherical propagation (well… omnidirectional, at least; the exact shape depends on the antenna characteristics). :-)

                  Though we are using a lot less radio now than about 100 years ago, so that helps. (More being done with fiber, etc.)

                  I’ve also heard reports that the US’s official policy in case of a visiting probe is to play dumb and try not to let it know anyone is here, just on the off chance that it’ll destroy everything if it notices. No firsthand knowledge of this, though.

            2. asterismW says:

              Ok, I can understand that. But have you heard about the planets Kepler has found already? Imagine if our telescopes were even a little more advanced: we could find Earth-size planets around Sol-like stars. Now, granted there’s still an immensely vast amount of space to check, and finding lil’ ol’ us by chance would be staggeringly unlikely, but not nearly as unlikely as just visiting solar systems at random.

              1. SolkaTruesilver says:

                They would be getting images dating thousand, if not million of years ago. There wasn’t much to look for back then.

                If you go by light-year speed only, the place in the Universe that can see Earth developping into something worthwhile is very, very, very small. And even then, they’d get outdated news.

    2. Kdansky says:

      On the other hand, she actually made one very solid point about statistics: The cosmos is unbelievably vast, and chances are very good that there are some aliens somewhere. But since Einstein (whose theories have been experimentally proven time and time again, for example with GPS which uses relativistic mathematics, or else it would not work) we are pretty sure that Faster Than Light travel is impossible. Which means those aliens have pretty much zero chance of ever coming here (and we of going there), and in addition, they can’t find us to begin with. Our civilisation’s light cone of radio waves only extends outwards a hundred light years or so, which is an insignificant distance compared to the size of the universe.

      Aliens: Probably yes.
      Contact: Only if Einstein was wrong. And that is highly unlikely (but not impossible!)

      1. asterismW says:

        Still, there’s the idea of wormholes, or subspace, or what have you, that circumvents the whole light speed wall. There is, of course, no solid evidence for any of that, but I for one am not discounting it yet.

          1. Bryan says:

            My money there is that somebody missed something critically important. Like the distance actually traveled by the neutrinos.

            (Or, going in the direction that some other discussion was going: maybe they measured the distance across the surface of the earth, but the neutrinos went in a straight line through it. Not likely, and I’d expect they thought of this first, but no idea.)

            I mean, Maxwell’s equations are a pretty hard limit for the speed of light. We know the permeability of free space (a constant) and the permittivity of free space (another constant). Maxwell’s equations can be combined into a pair of second-order differential equations (one for the electric field and the other for the magnetic field), which can each be solved to find the speed of waves of an electric or a magnetic field (both of which cause each other, if they’re sine-wave-shaped). You get c back out, without *any* particular reference frame.

            See here for a nice explanation.

            I wonder what the Planck constant is, compared to the claimed time differential as a fraction of what it should have been. I wonder if the Uncertainty Principle is coming into play.

            (Not that measurements are, though this is another small physics rant. The Uncertainty Principle is a characteristic of the mathematics used, *NOT* anything having to do with measurement. Position in QM is a wave function; momentum is the Fourier transform of that wave function. If one function is “narrowed”, in the sense that it is changed to have a nonzero value over a smaller range of inputs, its Fourier transform is “widened” (it gets a nonzero value over a larger range of inputs); there’s no choice in this matter. If QM is a correct way to model the world, inasmuch as position and momentum are each others’ Fourier transforms, then this uncertainty is an inherent part of it.)

            1. Shamus says:

              I remember an experiment from a decade or so ago where someone sent “information” faster than light. The idea is that you have a big block of mass. (A lead or iron bar was used.) You pump some electrons into it, and electrons pop out the other side instantly. It’s like having a pool table covered in balls. If I push a ball on one side, a ball will pop out the other side right away, without waiting for any particular ball to traverse the distance. The idea was that they were sending an electrical signal (an audio recording) through this bar, but the signal was crossing the room faster than the speed of light.

              This led to a lot of semantic arguments about what “going faster than the speed of light” really entails. After all, the electrons that arrived at the receiver were different than the electrons that left the transmitter. This also cause some questions about how movement “propagates” instantly in a universe with a speed limit.

              I’ve been expecting that someone doing the neutrino work would come to a similar conclusion: This “faster than light” result came about due to mass between the start and end points, and if performed in a vacuum the experiment would adhere to the speed of light.

              No, I don’t remember the nature of that original experiment, who performed it, where I saw it, or when it happened. I’ve likely gotten details wrong. Sorry.

              1. Nick says:

                I’m no physicist, but it is generally accepted that “the speed of light” is the speed that light travels in a vacuum.

                If it is traveling through another medium then it is not breaking that speed.


                The speed of light in other mediums is broken all the time, especially in nuclear reactors:


              2. Bryan says:

                Well, electrons in a copper wire do travel very very slowly. ( But if you set up a circuit with a meter of 1mm-diameter wire, a switch, and three amps of current, then after you turn on the switch, the light still turns on *far* faster than an hour later. It’s basically the time it takes light to travel from the switch through the wires to the bulb.

                Same deal. The extra electrons being pushed into one end of the wire are causing others to pop out the other end — but it’s not instantaneous, it’s still limited by the speed of light.

                The neutrino thing is weird because neutrinos don’t really interact with matter (or, the probability is extremely low). So it *should* be true that they travel through normal matter at the same speed as photons travel through a vacuum. (Any matter interactions that do happen should slow them down, though, not speed them up.) The fact that this (seems to have) gone faster than that is what’s causing everyone to scratch their heads, and is what’s causing the original people to ask everyone else to go look at their data and methods.

                My money is still on someone miscalculated the distance. :-)

                1. Shamus says:

                  “Same deal. The extra electrons being pushed into one end of the wire are causing others to pop out the other end “” but it's not instantaneous, it's still limited by the speed of light.”

                  The entire point of the story was that it WAS instant. The entire presentation would have been pointless if it was otherwise.

                  Shrug. I can’t find the source, so I can’t discuss it further.

                  1. Swimon says:

                    I can’t find a source either so grain of salt and all that but I’m pretty sure I remember the experiment Shamus mentioned at least the results of the experiment (information traveling faster than the speed of light). But in the one I remember they eventually found that it was just an optical illusion. The data made it look like information was traveling faster than the speed of light but nothing of the sort was actually happening. Also that’s my new excuse if I get caught speeding “no officer I swear I was going the speed limit it’s just an optical illusion.”

                  2. Drew says:

                    This I actually know thanks to my electrical engineering classes. What was happening is that there is a wave pulse that atenuates through the medium. The ‘leading edge’ of the pulse seems to arrive faster than the speed of light. It still takes time to travel and is not instantaneous since the various electrons have to bump into each other which does take time. It is similar to sound in that sense. In the end a new theory about the “speed of information” came about which is the same as the speed of light (so far).

                    Unfortunealy this isn’t well documented since the result wasn’t very interesting… but
                    kind of helps.

                    You can also google information velocity or speed of information to get a bunch of university stuff to read.

                    *Edit* Here we go…
                    and according to this even Einstein had addressed these questions.

              3. SolkaTruesilver says:

                Next thing you know, people are going to mention stupid things like Philotic Rays :-P

      2. krellen says:

        Some form of life? Maybe (and that’s a big maybe). Intelligent life on our scale? Probably not.

        There are so many variables involved, many of them not even yet understood by us, that any calculations would simply be impossible. As we have not yet begun interstellar exploration, any estimation of the rarity of our solar system and the existence of life are pure conjecture, and unfounded conjecture at that.

        Most discussions on the matter assume that Earth is “typical”. However, evidence of the planets we have, thus far, actually found seems to imply that it is not.

        1. TSED says:

          Evidence seems to imply that it is.* Maybe not the compositional make up of the Earth (I have no idea on that front), but oh man, are you kidding? NASA’s up to their ears in Earth-sized planets around Sol-like stars in the theorized habitable zone.

          Oh, and there’s evidence (but no actual proof, yet) of life on… one of the moons of the gas giants in the solar system. I forget which one – Titan? It was methane based, anyway.

          *Or at least that Earth is typical in this area of the galaxy. Other galaxies and the stuff on the other side of the galactic core are kind of, you know, not feasibly studied?

          1. krellen says:

            Titan has organic molecules, not life.

        2. Kdansky says:

          Why not? There are literally hundreds of billions of galaxies, which each sport about a hundred billion stars. I would have to look up the names for numbers that big. See and read Criticism. There are 570 planets like earth already found in just our closest vicinity, such as the (unconfirmed) which is just 20 ly out. The argument “we’re a super-rare occurrence” really loses weight if you find two “impossibly rare planets” in 20 ly from each other.

          And as we clearly know, life can exist in this universe. And as soon as there is life, it is only a question of time until it gets clever. Chimpanzees and us share 95% of our DNA. Figure out tools (easy!), then figure out speech (not quite so easy!), and off you go creating civilisation in a million years or ten.

          Oh, a third problem: Assuming there are aliens somewhere else, it might be completely possible that our tech levels are vastly out of sync. It is perfectly reasonable to assume multiple millions of years in difference. So they could either be a million years ahead of us (and look at the last century to get a feeling of what that could entail) or the other way.

          1. krellen says:

            Gilese 581g is “the most Earth-like planet” we have ever found – and it’s still 3-4 times the size of earth. Earth-like life would not exist in a 3-4G environment. A Nitrogen-Oxygen atmosphere probably wouldn’t exist in a 3-4G environment, for that matter.

  21. swimon1 says:

    I thought a post about how useless stupid trivia knowledge is would be a great place for stupid trivia knowledge so here goes (also a fair warning: this might not be entirely accurate, I can’t really remember where I heard it so my sources are not perhaps the best).

    Sweden stole the meatball from Moldova. In the something century one of our kings was over there trying to get help from the Ottoman empire in a war against… someone, probably Denmark. While he was over there he fell in love with the Moldavian meatball (I think it was actually a sort of turkish kebab) so he brought the recipe home with him and it turned into such a hit in Sweden that it’s now associated with Sweden instead of Turkey or whoever invented it. Moral of the story: suck it Moldova! ^^

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      You are ptobably refering to Charles something, after Peter The Great beat the shit out of him, and to spite him, built his new capitol on formerly Sweedish land (St. Petersburg).

      1. Swimon says:

        Very possible was never really any good at swedish history I just like that meatball story of questionable authenticity ^^

  22. TheAngryMongoose says:

    I had a science teacher who would try his hardest to derail himself (as any good science teacher does), but because he was a Biology student (degree in Marine Biology) rather than talking about the LHC and Superconductors, he’d talk about things like Cat Penises. And because he was Mr Hodgson, he’d end it with a joke (and that’s why you hear cats meowing at night).

    He must have gotten onto the syllabus at some point because I aced all those lessons, and I certainly never did any work outside of class.

    Rutskarns rant a few weeks ago on Lizard Penises brought back fond memories.

  23. Trilobite says:

    Is there a typo in the title?

  24. Tizzy says:

    Let’s hear it for teachers who actually teach good study skills! If only there were more!

  25. Grampy_Bone says:

    In my highschool history classes all we talked about was major wars, political events, cultural differences, etc. Never had to arbitrarily memorize a single date or capital.

  26. Benny says:

    Why aren’t you talking about how your political ideas developed? Wasn’t this around the time it happened?

    1. Shamus says:

      Not so much. My political upheaval took place in the 90’s, and again over the past few years.

      1. Kdansky says:

        That will be interesting.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          It would have been… if Shamus felt like he wasn’t punished enough already for bringing up his religious views. Maybe if we ask him really nicely he’ll write a book about it, but I doubt he’s going to intentionally make it a topic of public discussion.

  27. SteveDJ says:

    I can't read the pages in class, because and I don't know what pages she'll assign, and it's too noisy for studious reading with all the chatter.

    Maybe it is just an extra ‘and’ typo, but it sounds like there is another reason you left out. (because …???… and it’s too noisy, etc.)

  28. Falco Rusticula says:

    Hoo boy, does Europe have a lot of languages. One thing about Europe? There were several…groups, if you like, of tribes that settled different areas. Slavic tribes, Balts, Nordics, Fenno-Uralic…anyway. Each of these groups had very different languages, and over time those gave rise to multiple related languages in each group. How many are there? The Fennic language group -Finnish and Estonian are the two commonest languages there -contains about a dozen different languages. Granted that many of them have only a hundred or so native speakers today, mostly located in Latvia and Estonia, but even so…

    Yeah. I think one major difference between Europe and America is that European countries grew ‘organically’, making compromises and adjustments all over the place, whereas America set down from the start what they wanted their country to be and stuck to it. Both viable methods, but very different.

    1. TSED says:

      I’m pretty sure the indigenous population of America had an awful lot of languages, too…

  29. Destrustor says:

    I had many sidetrackerizing teachers too, but most of them seemed fully capable of pulling us back to the subject at hand whenever needed. I think they let the class yap around just to release the pressure so that we wouldn’t talk as much during the actual lesson. It also made them more friendly so we’d obey them more, and made us interested in actually listening. Plus, sometimes the debate was about the exact subject we were supposed to learn about, so win-win for everyone.
    Yep, charisma is an important stat for teachers.

  30. Antwon says:

    I really like mnemonic devices. I know I was tasked with memorizing the countries and capitals of South America somewhere along the way in school, so I penned a little ditty covering them all in clockwise order, using similar free-association Cockney-rhyming-slang moon-bat logic. “The pizza will believe ya; beans will purr to you” = “La Paz, Bolivia; Lima, Peru”, obviously. The lyrics are almost aggressively stupid… but to this day, I can still rattle off the countries and capitals of South America, in the unlikely event that someone asks that information from me whilst I’m devoid of internet.

    Of course, this means that it’s a linear search for me to recall these pairings. So if you ask me about, say, Suriname, I have to mentally fast-forward the lyrics along to the relevant bit to recall that morsel of information. But hey, nobody said this was a *perfect* memorization system. :)

    1. Jarenth says:

      I have similar issues with American state capitals and presidents, both of which I’ve memorized through Animaniacs song.

  31. HeadHunter says:

    In defense if the UFO conspiracy theorists like your teacher, there, I’ll say only this:

    If we discovered intelligent life elsewhere in “nearby” space, would we do any better in being discreet about further study? We’d likely send unmanned, robotic craft to study further – and in my experience, our current level of robotics technology is neither subtle nor discreet. Consider how the checkout robot at Giant Eagle announces every damn thing you bought, and its price… and then imagine something like that in control of a survey craft.

    If we got to the point where we considered an alien culture of significant military interest, well, then we’d send in the manned “stealth” craft. There would be no reported sightings of those, but people of another world would already have their theories based on our previous clumsy, remote craft.

    In short, I’m with the people who believe that the best proof of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is that they haven’t attempted to contact us yet.

  32. Ruthie says:

    I took a geography class in college that was amazing. The professor had actually been to nearly every country or region we studied. She taught us through slides shows of pictures she had taken while there. She went during off season times [monsoon season!] and stayed with native people. She intimately learned their customs and traditions. I never missed a class. In fact I took her class again on a different region even though I didn’t need it. That is some awesome teaching.
    The thing that drove me bananas were the other students. They complained that the class was too hard.
    It’s true she was challenging, and expected you to retain a lot of information… information you could only get during her lecture time. You couldn’t skip and count on reading the book to keep you abreast to what was being taught.
    You did have to memorize maps, with borders, mountain ranges and rivers and capitols. But doing so helped you understand the people and their customs that much more. I loved it. I’d take it again just for the heck of it.

  33. Mersadeon says:

    Oh, I remember History class (well, it was acutally a fusion of History, Geography and Politics all in one class – “Gesellschaftslehre”). I had it in english, because I was part of a bilingual class. We mostly learned about three nations – Germany, America and Britain. And I’ve gotta say, we were pretty positive and optimistic. Then, we entered the “Oberstufe”, the last three years of education before University, and we learned a lot about America, Britain and many other countries. And suddenly, things stopped being hopeful and optimistic. We learned to be sceptic of any source, learned to questions everyones intentions. It was very… interesting to see the difference between GL for the lower classes and the components of GL for the higher classes.

  34. Peter says:

    The scientific version of the reasoning made by your teacher on UFO’s is actually called the “Drake equation” (you kan look it up on Wikipedia if you like, I was surprised nobody had mentioned it yet).

    The current scientific viewpoint as I have experience it sides with her: given the number of stars in a galaxy and the number of galaxies in the universe, the chance that we are the only intelligent lifeform in this universe is very slim. That doesn’t mean any of them have found us yet, nor that they abduct cows.

  35. Leah says:

    I think games are fun .

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