Half of Nothing Passes or The New New Math.

Stupid should, I think, hurt a bit.

I, myself, was a bit of the touch the stove kind of kid. My parents always picked me up, dusted me off, checked to see if I was okay, and then promptly laughed at me. The term ‘dumb-ass’ never really had to be explained to me. I had an inherent knowledge of that nomenclature.

In sixth grade in the scholastic Mecca of St. Cloud, Florida I was instructed, along with my classmates, to create a utopian society, replete with laundry soap based, three dimensional, topographical representations. Utopian impossibilities aside, my society was based on an underwater, dome-based city. I had no intention of making a soap map of Logan 5’s city under the sea. I refused in my portly pert manner. I got my first C in that class, having received an F on that assignment for not completing the task as presented.

I didn’t much care for that teacher and I’ve a sneaking suspicion that she didn’t ever really feel the need to put me on her Christmas card list as I furthered towards adulthood. That’s cool. She did, however, have every right to blast me on that assignment. I told her to go to hell in my way and she responded in kind. I’ll fault that old bat a few things from those prepubescent memories, but she’ll never receive recrimination from me for that grade. I deserved what I got on that dumb-ass assignment. Today, I respect her now more for that F than I ever did previously.

Do you have kids? Are they in school? Are they missing a bit in English or composition or in math, but still showing promise? C average, maybe? Are they doing their homework? They may not need to.

Here’s a lovely bit of something: certain schools have started the policy (and it’s sadly nothing new) of instituting the minimum grade of 50 for nothing at all. Let’s restate that: your child, in many systems, can get fifty points out of a hundred for doing precisely fuck-all. In simple mathematics a child turning in work of a hundred questions at a single point apiece can miss forty of them for a grade of 60%. A child turning in nothing at all (not even their name signed to a piece of paper, mind you) can (again, in certain systems) get a score of 50%.

Now, I didn’t play T-Ball, but I did participate in some Boy’s Club activities and those cats never gave me a medal for coming in last. When I heard of kids getting trophies simply for playing I balked accordingly to my generational understanding. Benchwarmers didn’t get congratulated. They got to hope to play in the next game.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, am I writing about this?

How about some parameters? I don’t exalt humanity without reason. Pythagoras worked some shit out. Socrates got a whole method named after him. Einstein looked at an elevator and stood the world on its ear. Stephen Hawking always found more routes into the house than his sister, admitted he was wrong about black holes, and wheeled himself soundly into the position of man not to be trifled with (preposition, I know, but that teacher balked me, too). Humanity’s all too prone to that weakness of character. The reason I don’t list famous failures here is that there are damn few worth noting. Failing is its own demise. Fucking up is only worth noting if you’re on Jersey Shore or some equally nefarious setting. We applaud it in the present, but rarely remember it for long. Stupidity tries, yes, but it’s built only for the short term (unless you’re Custer, of course; certain things linger).

Even Edison sang: I didn’t find a way to make a light bulb; I found a hundred ways to denigrate Tesla.

I’m drifting.

Rewarding our children is no mark of sophistication. Do you know that schools overseas will often pull the child to the front of the class to the chalkboard who don’t know how to solve the problem? Do you get that? The kid with the trouble seeing gets up and the kids who do know help out from the back. Something so intrinsically, so seemingly, simple to get the lesson across. (That’s a sentence fragment, should you be wondering, with a comma splice.) Damn it. 50% for being lazy…and an idiot. (Did you see it that time?)

My problems with public schools previously have always been a measure of art or of extrapolation as opposed to rote memorization. My problems have been related to the fear of the word “fucking” in Slaughterhouse 5 or of “Goddam” in Catcher in the Rye, or of Zeffirelli showing Juliet’s breasts. “Fuck all,” I thought, “are we all some kind of goddamned puritanical heathens?” Never did it occur to me, even as I did it, mind you, that not turning in my work would result in a partial grade, up to and even beyond the halfway point of effort. Back in my day we didn’t fail with an above average grade. In my day, we failed with aplomb. We failed with a measure of self-interest and defeat. By gods, we failed with a certain style. We didn’t fail half-assed and masted for warm weather. We stood the storm, argued, lost, and found measures of extra credit that would keep our argumentative asses out the same grade forever. We did what was required and our teachers mocked us in their haven of a smoke-filled, coffee-riddled teacher’s lounge.They did this, I like to think, so we wouldn’t continue to be the continual fuck-ups that plagued them in class and become the sort of people that they wouldn’t mind standing in line behind at the suddenly ubiquitous Wal-Mart. To borrow a phrase: I’m just sayin’.

Here’s my deal: if your child is lazy, then that’s cool. If your child has the ability to function while being lazy, then that’s super cool. Lots of smart people are lazy (it’s the draw of being really, really smart). If your child is both not smart and lazy simultaneously, then, maybe, they should be outed and ousted, pranced to the front of the room and pushed to raise not even to the cream, but, at least, to the passable portion of the crop. Kids have problems, they do. I’m hip to that, but if we don’t hold them to some standards they may well just become that jam in the society that holds up the lines at Wal-Mart. They are sponges, you know. Kids soak up far more than we give them credit for. Quit giving them credit for shit that we expect of each other every day. Bosses rarely give an A for effort. Again, just sayin’.

Your love of your daughter or your son is not in question…well, actually it is. Awarding children in any manner for not learning is no way to lead them to water or any form of intellectual pursuits. Feeling good about yourself at fourteen is important, no argument; but being an idiot at twenty-eight is a travesty. Making any child feel worthwhile for doing precisely dick is a tragedy. Typing just such a statement, while appealing to my philosophy of the infinite, saddens me terribly.

In my life, I try to be as kind and polite to any aberrations of decency and/or logic, questions of taste, intelligence, or any substance of qualifications of being, but I will never endorse a teacher allowing a student to slide simply because their ass is in a chair. If you do so, feel free to ignore me or to respond with any vociferousness you might conjure up with any hatred and/or vehemence that may or may not apply. I’d like to hear your argument for a half-assed free ride in the modes of thought and learning. I really would, but forgive me if I don’t respond. Idiocy, I can only hope, is its own isolation.

Idiots Rule

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4 Responses to Half of Nothing Passes or The New New Math.

  1. Aplomb, had to look that one up. I dig. Great rant. I am with you on the whole no child left behind…we need to get back to smacking these lazy fuckers with a paddle in the hallway. The fear of such from a gym coach was always enough to curb my tendencies ( at least for a moment ).

    Love this line “Feeling good about yourself at fourteen is important, no argument; but being an idiot at twenty-eight is a travesty.”

  2. The whole system is fucked. As a parent, as a teacher, as a practical poet- it just doesn’t function. All I know to do is make it real. Be real in my classroom, in my expectations and relationships, and do good. It’s really just an economic system and big business wants people to continue to feed the monkey. If we created a society of free thinking, creative, kind, responsible, independent, community-focused intellectuals then where would oil, chemical, drug, and insurance companies be? The system will continue to function as it does as long as the general public continues to be placated by lite beer and blue jeans.

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