Monday, 23 July 2012

high school revisited, part 1: jesus, clip art, the yorkshire moors and the space program

I've written previously (albeit briefly) about the golden age of my childhood. This was a boom time, full of wholesome achievements and natural, innocent curiosity. While other kids were getting busted smoking behind the local Boy Scout hall, I was most likely inside that hall, building model cars or assembling a moisture detector out of a DIY electronics kit. My mother never had to tell me to stop eating Play-Doh—rather, she had to tell me to stop simulating plate tectonics and continental drift with the Play-Doh, lest my dinner get cold.

Likewise, my teacher was equally baffled (but probably relieved at having to do less work) when I insisted on taking over an hour of class time to hold a mock staging of the 1993 federal election. I composed music on my Casio keyboard that was as least as good as all five songs in the keyboard's "demo mode". And as far as athletics were concerned, I won "most improved batsman" at my local cricket club, and picked up a bronze medal at my school swimming championships after the original field of five contestants in the 25-metre backstroke was reduced to three due to illness.

But around age thirteen, all the bubbles burst at once, and the flow of achievements abruptly ceased.

These were my wilderness years, where slackness reigned and not a single notable thing occurred between age thirteen and sixteen.  Take Thursday afternoon sport at school.  You signed up for a sport, you played it, and you went home. I picked golf, not just because table-tennis was full, but mainly because I had got my hands on a book of blank receipts that I could fill out myself as "proof" that I had attended the driving range for my weekly exercise—a receipt book that I may or may not have obtained whilst being forced to volunteer at the local Salvation Army.

In fact, the best achievement I could recall was the day I was attacked by a pony on my grade nine school camp.  This is not very impressive in and of itself, but slightly more impressive when you consider that had I not been there, another, more talented and motivated child would have borne the wrath of "Grommet".

Given all of the above, imagine my delight when I found a small, long-forgotten backup disk of high school essays and assignments saved from the old family computer. My memories of those slack years were confirmed—these assignments were terrible.  Let's revisit a select few. 


Exhibit A: Confirmed sightings of Jesus Christ following His death
(click to enlarge)

At best, this appears to be a handout for some sort of history presentation on the Roman Empire.  At worst, it may actually be (god forbid) a completed assignment in its own right. 

Where to begin with this one?  Possibly with the very first line, which head-scratchingly suggests that Jesus was born "circa 0 AD", a year which does not actually exist.  I'm also not sure whether I understood that the abbreviation "A.D." is wholly correlated with the conception and birth of Christ, or whether I thought that Jesus by sheer stroke of luck happened to be born at the very beginning of the era bearing His name.

Neither do I seem to grasp the concept that the term "Christianity" and everything that comes along with it refers to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.  Jesus did not preach "the Christian message" and become the "first Christian martyr" because he took a shine to the basic tenets of Christianity—he did these things because he WAS JESUS CHRIST.

I also would've liked to have seen more detail regarding Jesus' travels "around the area", such as an account of his dispute with Yaaqob (a local water-skiing operator) over exorbitant ski-hire prices.  It is rumoured that rather than pay the rental fees, Jesus instead decided to go water-skiing without skis, to the delight of the locals.  To further his revenge, Jesus later undercut Yaaqob's bustling bread-and-fish cafe by a substantial margin.  Sadly, none of this is included in my assignment.

But on the topic of historial facts, I do find it hilarious how the last two bullet points are written as a matter of absolute certainty.

"Rose from the dead"—FACT. 
"People saw him after he had risen"—FACT.

Somebody needs to telephone Richard Dawkins immediately, and inform him that he has been wasting his time for the last decade and a half—as atheism was actually convincingly disproven in the late 1990s by the writings of an imbecile.

Grade (if written for history class): D minus.  Only avoided failing by use of sweet clip-art.

Grade (if written for religion class): B plus.  Excellent justification given for resurrection and continuing immortality of Christ.


Exhibit B: "Heathcliff!"

Just a short one here, being the introduction to an English essay:
Wuthering Heights (the novel) is set in a very isolated environment.  It is located in the northern moors of England, far away from any large settlement.  There is a small town nearby, but that supplies not much else other than food and church.
Grade: C plus.  Thankyou for clearing up whether you were writing about the novel or the Kate Bush song of the same name.  Regarding "food and church", I recall there being a doctor and a lawyer in the nearby town, but I suppose ghosts have no need for regular pap smears or trade mark protection.


Exhibit C: The complete history of space exploration

Just as the primary schooler wrongly thinks he/she can fake an illness that can fool even the most suspicious of mothers, so the high schooler thinks he/she can get away with half-arsing an assignment by (a) gratuitous use of clip-art (see above), (b) hopelessly broad statements, or (c) letting a thesaurus do the writing:
“Man Walks On Moon” was the proud headline of the New York Times on July the 21st, 1969.  Neil Armstrong and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin were the first human beings to walk on the Earth’s moon, and for many, this was considered humanity’s finest hour.  But nowadays, our society has transfigured enough to change what was once headline news into a small article on the ninth page.
Hold on a second:
transfigured - past participle, past tense of trans·fig·ure 
1. Transform into something more beautiful or elevated: "the world is made luminous and is transfigured".
2. To give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance.
Sadly, our society has not become more exalted or luminous since 21 July 1969.  I personally blame energy-efficient lightbulbs, which have swapped the warm glow of incandescence for the cold, sterile hum of planet-saving.

But if "many" (being who?) did in fact consider the moonwalk to be "humanity's finest hour", this is for a simple reason—because we WALKED ON THE BLOODY MOON!  We placed human feet on an inhospitable rock separated from our own life-giving planet by the vast reaches of cold, inert space!

In addition, what exactly am I on about with this "ninth page" nonsense?  Am I referring to an actual "small article" on the ninth page of a newspaper?  Unlikely.  This requires work.  If, instead, I'm speaking metaphorically, I can easily explain to my fifteen-year-old self why space news is not on the front of today's newspapers: because we are not walking on any moons or planets right now.

I can guarantee if we landed on Mars tomorrow—front page.  What's that, kid?  You don't believe me that science still gets reported?  How about if we, oh, I don't know, discovered a new sub-atomic particle:

Unfortunately, that's not the end of it.  My space assignment continues onwards, and my use of generalities reaches galactic proportions as I try to cover for the absence of even a single dependable fact.  It's quickly becoming apparent that I have done no research whatsoever:
The human race is finally able to construct space stations, the dream of many early science fiction writers, however these stations, such as Mir, or the International Space Station are not really a talking point or an issue today.  In fact, the only event that got any real publicity recently was the Pathfinder expedition to Mars, and that is probably due to the sheer novelty of a remote controlled car driving around a foreign planet.  Even then, a remote controlled buggy was only interesting for a month or so.
I have a fair bit of gall to suggest that space news now belongs on the ninth page, and then go on to quip how a "remote controlled buggy" remained interesting to the public for only a month.  A month!  Any marketer, politician, do-gooder or ne'er-do-well'er would kill for month-long publicity!

But the (s)hits keep on coming.  The remaining quoted text all comes from a single continuous paragraph, which I've broken up here to allow for ease of commenting:
In space stations such as Mir or Skylab, problems are of great concern and are treated accordingly. 
Okay, makes sens...hang on, Skylab?  Where did that come from?  Am I actually suggesting that Skylab (yes, the same Skylab that was de-orbited in 1979) was actually happily falling around the Earth in the late 1990s with health and safety inspectors on board?
Measures are being taken now to make sure no accidents occur on the multinational International Space Station, for they want to improve on the generally poor space-station standard set by Mir
I take back what I said earlier—I actually did do research for this assignment.  I must've watched a lot of cartoons.  This is the only reason why I would suggest that Mir, the holder of the following records...
  • first modular space station
  • largest space station or artificial satellite (until the ISS)
  • first long-term research outpost in space
  • longest human presence in space (until the ISS)
  • longest single human spaceflight
...was "generally poor" on the overall spectrum of space stations.  But enough about Mir.  In very general terms, let's get my young opinion on how NASA is doing:
After the 1986 Challenger disaster, the Shuttle was redesigned and cleared of many flaws, although there is still a 1 in 145 chance that a disaster may occur again. 
Remember that statistic.  It becomes important about, oh, two sentences later:
Nowadays, spacecraft are built and maintained to extremely high standards, with all the latest equipment needed for space travellers to survive.  Missions are not expected to fail nowadays, as the technology and therefore the safety is a step up from the rickety spaceships of the past.
What the fuck?  How exactly does a 1 in 145 chance of DISASTER lead to the conclusion that missions "are not expected to fail"?  If you offered me a 1 in 145 chance of the lottery jackpot, I would get my hands on a ticket faster than you could say "Yuri Gagarin".  If you offered me a 1 in 145 chance of death should I venture to work tomorrow, I would stay home and play Star Fox 64, thank you very much.

But the oddest and most ludicrously hilarious part of this entire assignment is the last line quoted above. "Rickety spaceships of the past".

Rickety spaceships!!

This is a comment so strange and absurd that it almost borders on the Pilkington-esque.  What exactly was my vision of early space travel?  Surplus Russian aircraft from WWII with rockets and solar panels duct-taped to their wings?  Wooden-hulled balls with extendable sails catapulted into the upper atmosphere by thirty elephants jerking a series of pulleys?

I, frankly, am speechless.

Grade: FAIL.  Many say there is a 1 in 145 chance your secondary education will clearly recover from the utter disaster that is this assignment, the Pioneer 10 mission being an example of such a thing, as society reflects.  The synergy of this is only matched by the "sheer novelty and according presumptions therein", said Neil Amstrong.

Join me next time in part 2, as I answer the question on everyone's lips: can a fifteen-year-old write a definite analysis of the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi without actually reading it?

Author's note: part 3 is now also available!

1 comment:

  1. Hilarious... though don't think I'll be going anywhere near my old assignments after reading this!