Tag Archives: education

Alone: A humor writer’s story

The preferred drink of the clinically insane, champions, and bloggers.

“The humor writer, alone on a Friday night, drinks shoe polish out of an aluminum can that once held baked beans and bacon. The bacon did not come with the baked beans. Rather, one time on Bacon Monday she had used the can instead of a plate because all of her plates were either dirty or broken, lying in the bathtub.

She could not remember an evening with friends or without baked beans.

The inspiration for her stories comes from her own life, the time she kicked a cat because it reminded her of a thin-armed high school crush who tortured her with his indifference, the time she bought a Halloween jack-o-lantern at the supermarket just to talk to the cashier, the time she called up her friend in a different state to tell her everything she ate that day.

That was the last friend she had.

She would volunteer at the soup kitchen if they would have her back. She would go to dance lessons at the community recreational center if her membership hadn’t been permanently and irreversibly revoked after an unfortunate leotard incident at the Springapalooza adult dance recital. Even her mom had said that she should pursue other non-dancing and non-humor writing interests. Maybe you should try grad school, her mother said. Remember when you wanted to be a brain surgeon, her mom said.

Yes, it was a hard life. The humor writer sighed as she put the finishing touches on a piece about the similarities between fingernails and presidential candidates.

One day the world would see her value. One day she would get to meet the man who won the international facial hair competition and eat a large bowl of macaroni and cheese with him. One day she…”

“TIME FOR DINNER!”

“Mom I’m working!”

“What are you writing your little jokes again? Why aren’t you studying for the GRE!”

“I’ll do it later!”

“Well get out of your room and come to dinner! The meatloaf’s getting cold!”

“FINE.”

Okay now back to work. Where was I…ah yes: “….One day she would show them all and they would laugh, and yet she would have the last one. It would taste like peanut butter”

That sounds good.

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One High-Schooler’s Fight Against Brainwashing

The best and brightest. Scowling and/or faceless. 

When I was a senior in high school I became convinced that the administration was brainwashing us.  I don’t recall what I was reading at the time, but 1984 and Brave New World had rocked my world pretty hard in middle school and from then on I knew people wanted to be inside my head.

My conviction began with an assembly that threatened school pride.

It was midmorning on a Thursday the week of the big game against our rival, South Classen.  War drums pounded as all 2000 some high-schoolers of North Memorial slowly poured into the gymnasium and were segregated by class.

The assembly was meant to be forty five minutes of pure adrenaline, incendiary statements pouring into the bleachers and inflating the students’ zeal. At the assembly’s climax, the principal would stand and conduct the entire student body in a war chant, each section rising when indicated and bellowing with all the spite and sincerity we could muster, “NORTH PANTHERS BEAT SOUTH” or something like that, with each class taking a different word.

But this rally was different. While the majority of the student masses was hubbubing energetically, one section remained unimpressed: the seniors. This was not our first rodeo, and we no longer believed the hollow promises of the administration. Nothing had changed in four years, regardless of any game’s outcome. We still had acne, got annoyed with our parents, and didn’t know how to talk to our crushes (some things never change).

The gymnasium was buzzing with excitement, the word “NORTH” still echoing in the rafters. It was our turn to yell, to show our school pride, our communal virility and patriotism. At the same time, an anonymous whisper trickled through the senior section, “Everyone sit down…no one say anything.” As the baton pointed to the senior class, the world held its breath.

Silence roared as the seniors did nothing. No one spoke, moved, or giggled. It was awesome.

Red faced, the administration quickly moved on, but the senior class knew it had scored an incredible victory and impressed the underclassmen with our apathy.

Technically, I did not attend this assembly, choosing to protest against school pride through a furious nap. But I was  inspired by the story when I heard it the next day, especially because of the storm of anger the school administration proceeded to vomit at us.

“You will bow down to the god of school spirit!” they bellowed. “You will be a part of Memorial North and worship your school! We will take away your prom and your grinding should you refuse!”

The outrage buzzing through the administration was electrifying. We had struck a nerve. I finally realized that we had been blinded by petty intra-school rivalry. This was our opiate, meant to keep us calm in the face of gross injustices such as the fact we couldn’t wear bikinis to class. I wanted to mount a resistance, print out pamphlets, hold meetings, and do everything it took to beat the administration and throw off their yoke, whatever that meant.

One day, I began talking excitedly about the uprising with a fellow classmate. I waxed poetic about the need to resist and the false reality we were being spoon fed by the administration. Of course, I sounded completely insane, and classmate told me as much, mocking me every time I saw him for weeks.

I soon forgot my passion for anti-school-spirit—I was graduating soon anyways. Looking back, I still remember how obvious it seemed to me that the administration was distracting us from a greater reality but I think I just wanted my life to be more interesting than it actually was. And that’s when I started vigilante crime fighting.

*some details altered because my memory is bad

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A Nerd Fights Her Destiny

The bane of the science classroom.

I spent most of sixth grade sucking up to my teachers by leaving them anonymous thank you notes along with homemade muffins. My social status suffered accordingly. The day before summer break, as I watched the popular crowd milling in the hallways, I promised myself seventh grade would be different. I would prance with the best of them. My yearbook would be so full of signatures  I would have to buy extra pages. I was going to be gloriously popular and it was going to be awesome.

Summer zoomed by, and all of the sudden I was stepping into my first class of seventh grade. Big changes were afoot. In the back of the classroom sat the cool girls, radiating indifference and social status, already discussing the coming weekend’s social happenings. Next to them was an empty chair. If I could just sit there, I and the cool girls would be BFFs and giggle together until we died. All of my dreams were coming true.

Suddenly I heard, “Emily! Emily! Sit up here!” It might as well have been the call of the grave.  Two friends from my former life as a frumpy nobody sat at the very front of the classroom and beckoned to me, as friends do. They were of my own social class, both of them nerdly and pleasant, but I was completely aware they could not help my popularity level.

Tempted by the familiar faces, I hesitated. I looked again to the vacant seat, longing to be next to the cool girls despite the fact I could almost  taste their animosity and knew I wasn’t welcome there. Overcome with fear, I finally turned towards my geeky and less good looking friends.

I wish I could say this was the deciding moment, that from then on I didn’t want to be popular. But I did, devastatingly so, and it was only my blinding cowardice that kept me from palming my old friends in the face and approaching the preening girls at the back.

I made my way to the front of the classroom where my fellow nobodys eagerly pulled a chair up to the head of the table, which jutted directly into the aisle. Mr. Harrington taught right behind me, and the extent of my back damage due to swiveling and craning is still unknown.

But I made the best of the awkwardness, and used my proximity to the teacher to ask an astonishing amount of ridiculously off topic questions, like “What is color?” in the middle of Ch.8: Rocks. Thankfully, because of my location and intense focus on Mr. Harrington, I never felt the weight of the class’s collective eye rolling.

Despite my initial disappointment, I was actually living out my dream of being the ultimate teacher’s pet as well as beginning my life as an attention monger. Soon this opportunity to nerd out mitigated my desire to chase popularity. Why sit in the back and put on lip gloss when I could lead an entire classroom on rabbit trails and goose chases? Though I still occasionally wished to be popular, I believe this class was the point at which I learned I was probably happier as a nerdy and obnoxious student than a social ladder climber. In the end, I couldn’t resist my destiny. Abercrombie would have to look elsewhere for new customers.*

*Full disclosure: I shopped at Abercrombie until sophomore year of high school. Oh the shame……

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Secret Cookie in my Pocket

Give me a book and the cookie. Spare me the class.

I didn’t read the book for class, but I did have a secret chocolate chip cookie in my pocket. Whereas the rest of the class intended to mire themselves in the angst of post-modernity, I intended to wait for a little bit and then eat my cookie.

Oh it was going to be delicious. It was by far the best cookie in the classroom, possibly the best in Cairo, and a certain contender for the best cookie in all space and time. Its buttery taste, the fluffy yet chewy texture of the crumb, the chocolateyness of the chocolate chips….yes, bringing this cookie to school was likely the best decision I was going to make all week.

The class begins and my eyes instantly glaze over. I am already far from this place, my mind slowly orbiting around three topics: “I have a cookie in my pocket. How will I make it in San Francisco? I need to do laundry today.”

As if through a window, I see the professor in front of me yammering about something, the other students nodding in agreement. I find myself doing the same, compelled by a primal instinct that forces the human to avoid scolding by pretending to listen.

Group work is vicious, dragging me to back to the classroom to offer my own fabricated insights. This is difficult to do because of the cookie distraction. One day the students will turn on me, pointing their fingers at me and saying in unison, “This one sucks.” But that day is not today. The work ends, and we return to our own worlds that are supposed to revolve around the professor and whatever she’s saying. I go back to thinking about the cookie.

My stomach growls and I know the moment has come.

I remove the cookie from my pocket, its tender body protected from my coat pocket by a thick layer of foil. As I unwrap it gently the foil yields forth its precious burden. The student next to me gasps.

I know what she is thinking. Yes, this is a chocolate chip cookie baked fresh from my kitchen. Yes, it is America itself contained in a bit of flour, butter, and sugar, and it is likely the most valuable thing at the university at this time. It is mine, and I’m going to eat it now, and as the crumbs dissolve on my lips, I too will dissolve away from here and from this classroom where words are being said about the novel I didn’t read, the point of which only the author could understand.

This cookie, however, I understand. Why couldn’t the author write something more like it?

P.S. You should try “The Chewy Recipe” for your cookies, courtesy of dude Alton Brown. They are very delicious and better than homework.

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In Theory, I Hate This Class

Education only works if someone cares

Professor —–,

The following is a hypothetical situation, but I think you’ll find it helpful in understanding my performance in class and how we can work together for our mutual benefit.

Let’s say I’m taking a class, the purpose of which is to equip me with a certain skill. For this exercise, let’s call the class “Literary Analysis in Arabic.” This class, like any class, is built upon the relationships between the student, the professor, and the material. In order for the class to successfully equip me to analyze literature in Arabic, one of several scenarios must happen (combinations are also possible):

A) I enjoy the professor and want to excel in order to make her proud.

B) I am passionate about Arabic literature and as such am driven to do well for the love of the material alone.

C) I am a mindless slave to grades and would sacrifice everything in order to get an A, regardless of my relationship to the professor or the material.

However, in this theoretical class, something interesting has (theoretically) happened. Not only do I not enjoy the professor, but I am also not particularly interested in the material, which is made up primarily of reading novels in Arabic, an act that takes grotesque amounts of time. Indeed, in theory, I determined while sitting in the very first session of this theoretical class that my time was better spent elsewhere doing something I enjoy and find useful instead of honing this skill which will likely go unused in the future and wasn’t all that lucrative to begin with, personally and financially.

At this theoretical juncture, it is clear that I’m not motivated to excel by the material itself or the professor, who theoretically I find overbearing yet absent. The only thing left to compel me to do well in this hypothetical course would be the promise of a good grade, a letter on a scrap of future-trash that means nothing to the rest of the world and to me would only signify the hours I wasted earning a clearly meaningless letter. Actually, I have theoretically found grades irrelevant and am no longer motivated by them.

Indeed, the only reason I have to continue attending this theoretical class is the desire to avoid personal embarrassment complete withdrawal might cause in addition to administrative issues that are not related to the subject matter or professor. In short, my theoretical motto for this class is, “I’m here but not interested. Please do not disturb.”

For that reason, the lackluster professor should theoretically avoid doing things like assigning a surprise presentation and then adding with a flourish that it will be done, “for a grade,” because theoretically I would sense a challenge. “What if I just didn’t do it? What if I just sat here and stared? Will you fail me? FAIL ME ALREADY!”

So in theory we should avoid doing that. But there’s nothing to say this theoretical situation could be a positive experience, with each one left with less work to do and more time to do the things she loves. In theory, this could be the best of every world.

Thanks for taking the time to hypothesize with me, Professor —–. If you have any questions please let me know. See you in class tomorrow!

Photo Credit: Grant Cochrane at freedigitalphotos.net

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