Friday, March 11, 2011

College Wars, Episode I: How Not To Get Started

So, last year, I finally finished my undergraduate degree (leading to my current job search situation). While attending school, I realized something: I LOVE SCHOOL. Boy howdy, do I love school. Learning things is rad.

(Kids: Rad is one of those words that old people say. It's short for radical. In this case, I am using it synonymously with 'good and/or enjoyable.' Don't say it at your school. Someone will accuse you of being old. Unless that's cool these days. In which case, feel free to say it at your school. You will become the most popular kid in the whole place, and you have my permission to use 'rad' as some sort of Bart Simpson catch phrase. ...Bart Simpson is still relevant, right? Right?!)

I started my return to school while I was still working full-time, so I took the vast majority of my classes online, so while I didn't really get the full experience of college life, I did have a few interesting little episodes. You know, those experiences that textbooks just can't capture or convey. Usually, these are conveyed instead in facepalm-inducing photographs or snippets of conversations posted to a blog that is dedicated to a certain sort of schadenfreude.

In this case, I will attempt to retell some of my more memorable college stories. If you're getting excited and hoping that they will be stories of debauchery, or touching commentaries on the human condition, or something else that they make top-grossing films based on best selling novels out of, you're in for a major disappointment. But, try and keep an open mind, alright? Some of these are better than others, some of them might have morals, most of them have me in it.

Unlike George Lucas, I have no idea how many of these I can come up with, so I'm going to just start with the first one. As for the prequels, where I tell stories from grade school and I start including ridiculous computer generated characters, I'll just number those with negative integers. Also, I might not post those for 20 years or so.

College Wars
Episode I: How Not To Get Started

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away.. wait, no. Okay, Portland, there was.. me. And something something.. anyway, I was probably wearing normal clothes, and I was a (relatively) normal teenage boy, and I went to a normal community college to take a placement test. Now, if you've never done this dance before, the first thing that the college wants you to do is to show them how awesome you are. I mean, they want to know at what level your basic education is. Reading comprehension, writing, vocabulary, math, flying, and how much damage your psychic fireballs can do.

So, I sat down with a booklet (yes, I'm that old, we used pencils and paper and Scantron forms at that point. They still use them now, if your teacher is over the age of nine thousand.) Now, I've got a booklet of questions and a timer and a form to put my answers into. All multiple choice. Probably for ease of grading and not for accuracy.

Blah, blah, read a paragraph, this word in this context means this. Yawn. Math problems. In this equation, x equals this. Double yawn. I've only been through a year of high school and this stuff is making me doze.

Oh. What's this math problem? Hell, I don't even know what that symbol means. Well, I've always been told it's better to guess in a multiple choice test than to leave it blank because at least you've got a solid percentage chance of it being wrong.


I ran into all sorts of problems that I totally didn't even understand, but was able to make good, solid educated guesses on. I felt a little stupid, not actually understanding some of the stuff, but hey, I'm 16 years old, and this is college stuff, right?

So, I have them grade my tests. Long story short, they say I don't need to take any reading classes, I should start with WR 121 (as if I were a regular ol' college student and not a high school dropout with a GED), and I start with Math 95. 95, huh? Aren't college classes starting with 100? Hmm. Well, okay, I can live with that. I did, after all, drop out of high school and get my GED.

Fast forward a little: I register for classes, there's math 95, there's a fascinating Hindu Mythology course, there's writing 121, and there's a computer class of some sort -- whatever class I could take without prior instructor approval. Turns out that class is dumb, and the teacher suggests I drop it and take something more my speed, since I have been tinkering with computers for years. Okay.

Fast forward a little more: Math 95 isn't so bad. I took some algebra in high school, and destroyed geometry. But one day, I ride my ten-speed to school at the-sun-isn't-even-up-yet-A.M., I sit down dutifully in the desk I always sit in, surrounded by people who are all several years older than I am, and the teacher starts up with her lecture. Blah blah, math, blah blah, this thing, blah whatever, she's explaining things very meticulously and going over special cases and why we do it this way and not that way, and it all makes sense, and I'm getting very good grades.

And then, this happens:

Teacher: "And then, we factor this out. Everybody knows how to do factoring, right?"

Everybody: *generally bored nods and grunts of agreement*

[The lights in the room shut off, and the teacher swivels the overhead projector around so it points directly at me like a makeshift spotlight. The entire class vanishes and the walls -- which now have giant dusty, spider-covered spikes which are clearly tipped with deadly poison manufactured by the ancient Mayans -- start to close in like I've either been caught in a space trash compactor or an Indiana Jones movie. Not sure which, but this totally happened exactly like I am describing it. EXACTLY.]

I stared at the board and the teacher awkwardly as my stomach tied itself into one of those knots that your headphone cords turn into every time you put them into a pocket or container for longer than six seconds, and raised my hand. Probably imperceptibly. Thanks, however, to the spotlight and the shrinking room and the fact that I was now the ONLY student in the classroom, or maybe just because she could smell my fear, my terrified gesticulation was noticed immediately.

Bloodthirsty scaly monster with ten inch blood-dripping claws: "Oh, dear. Let's talk after class."

Me: "Okay."

I spent the rest of the class alternately trying to will myself to spontaneously combust and dredging every conversation I had ever heard in my entire life in the vain hope that I had even heard someone say 'factoring' in the context of math before. Neither scheme worked. I was doomed.

The students filtered out of the classroom after all the talking that I didn't hear a word of was done with, and the monster approached like the queen from Alien, or maybe like I was that dude in the outhouse in Jurassic Park, right before he was chewed into mulch.

Monster: "Okay, so, you're sure you don't remember how to do factoring?"

Me: "I don't even know what that means."

The monster demonstrated quickly on a piece of paper for me in the hopes that I could rescue myself from embarrassment by going "OH! Oh, ha ha, I was just kidding! Silly me. Of course, who doesn't know how to do THAT?" Nothing of the sort happened, of course, so she then gave me A Choice.

If you have ever been given A Choice by an authority figure or a slavering bloodthirsty monster or a serial killer, or have ever at least overheard a discussion where a person must make a choice, you are aware that it often involves two things that are both horrible.

In this case, my things were as follows:

  1. Go to the bookstore, and purchase a $100+ textbook for Math 65, then review two chapters of it that cover factoring in depth, do the exercises for those chapters, and then do the week's Math 95 homework before the next class session in two days.
  2. Drop the class with a "W."

When the phrase "textbook for Math 65" escaped the monster's lips, my ego, which had already been severely battered by a golf-club-to-the-temple in the form of me not understanding a concept that was clearly simple to all of the other students, started bleeding from its eyes. If I chose option 1, the bookstore staff would certainly notice that I Was A Moron. Also, the bleeding eyes probably would have sent me to the emergency room or the Vatican, depending on how I dressed that day. So, I chose option 2. I quit.

In fact, I didn't just quit. I really, really quit. I dropped everything but writing, which I only didn't drop because the teacher said I was doing fine. End of term? My grades in four classes amounted to: Nothing from that class I dropped right off, a W from that class that I dropped out of terror, an I from the Hindu Mythology class because I refused to go out to eat at an Indian restaurant and write a paper about it (nope, not kidding, I consciously decided to suck at the class because they wanted me to go eat dinner out somewhere and I didn't want to do it at all) and the crown jewel of my collection, a C in writing. WIC. Isn't that a government cheese program? I, the boy who was too smart for high school, was doomed.

I went to school for one more term after that, but I was demoralized. College was a horrible place, full of giant monsters hungry for my blood and/or soul, and college kids. I think I got some more grades that term, but had lost my appetite for it, and that was as far as I went.

Fred Savage: "Wow, Grandpa. You've babbled an awful lot and I don't even know what you were getting at there. What's the point? Does the princess get married or not?"

Old Me: "Now, now, don't get ahead of yourself. The point I was trying to make is that when you are taking a placement exam for college, you should just leave the damned answer blank if you really don't know how to do the math problem. Otherwise, they put you in the wrong class, where you are impaled on poisoned spikes and fed to a slavering velociraptor wearing a very conservative dress."

Fred Savage: "That's pretty fucked up."

Old Me: "Tell me about it."


  1. By the way, I was thinking. This stuff totally needs illustration. I mean, I could frame by frame that conversation between me and Fred Savage. Maybe I'll figure out how to do that later. I can at least fill in talkin' bubbles, even if I can't draw.

  2. The least the velociraptor could do is show a little cleavage.

  3. I know, right? It's not like I was learning the math at that point.

  4. that was pretty much my experience. except -scantrons, +OSU tuition, +calculus. still haven't gotten that degree.

  5. Oh, I got a degree, finally. Graduated summa from OIT last year, outstanding scholar, blah blah blah. This is how you make starving bloggers these days. Undergrad degrees. ;)

  6. Fred Savage : "that's pretty fucked up." HAHAHAHAHA
    You are a rediculous brother. I love it.