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In Which A College Teacher Tells People Not To Go To College


You poof-haired little snob.


Granted, later in the strip, April Patterson generously gives poor, non-leading Gerald Official Permission to not attend college without, perhaps, suffering eternal damnation. Generous is April, wise as well as kind, in so issuing her approval.


There are a couple of things going on here, and the first one I want to get out of the way is the fact that I've had it with this strip ever since Liz, who was previously juggling a hot cop and a helicopter pilot in the middle of Northern Nowhere, chucked them both in favor of Horribly Creepy Pornstache Anthony, all because he doubly-saved her from a rape she was in the middle of stopping herself simply by twisting the assailant's ear. And no, none of that is exaggeration for humorous effect. That be life in the new-millennium world of For Better or for Worse.


Point Two, and the slightly larger one, was raised yesterday by Terrorist The Teacher of yesterday's post, who switched from reading the American History exam to the European History exam. What I didn't mention, and what hints at a big ol' pumpkin pie's worth of truth, was why she chose to leap across the pond:

This year, Kluge switched from grading U.S. history exams to European history exams because "reading the U.S. history was becoming more and more depressing," she said. "AP U.S. history nationwide has become much more of a push-them-into-it program." She said she hoped the European exams, which like all AP exams have free-response sections graded by expert instructors, might reveal "students who are a little more committed."

Oh, snap, she came very, very close to mentioning The Unmentionable in America: The concept that maybe kids are taking on college-level classes--and college itself--who are really better off not going to college. Yes I said that.

By which I mean: Lookit, if you have real, true intellectual curiosity, if you want a white-collar job, if you're interested in a career which requires a degree, then for frak's sake do a one-second Google search for "financial aid" or "college scholarships" and have at it. But I have seen many freshman come tumbling down the college chute who didn't belong there, because they didn't have the academic do-how and had been shoved in anyway by well-meaning higher ups, or because they didn't care, or because they'd been scare-washed into thinking that this is the only way to not starve in America, or because they were plodding down Diploma Mill Road under parent and social duress, daaaaaaring me to teach them. If that's you, kindly stay out of my classroom. You're harshing my lit-vibe.

This does not necessarily predestine one life of fries. I don't know where this business of no degree = DOOMED, DOOMED FOREVER began, but it's entirely possible to eat well and remain un-Bachelorized (I'm thinking the ill-fated self-esteem movement played a nice, huggy role). My father, a small business owner, has a few college credits he collected at the University of Tampa while in the Air Force, but never graduated; and Daniel The Brother-In-Law, who is an air traffic controller in the Army, doesn't have a degree, either. And yet I'd rather have him telling pilots where to direct their multi-billion dollar taxpayer funded machines than some seniors to whom I've awarded a nice, fat F+ for their craptastic efforts.

I have two majors with my B.A. and its shiny minor in American history, plus a Master's degree, all of which mean precisely jack when my car breaks down or the dishwasher won't start or I'm, like, attacked by bees. I have no idea how to deal with these things, and most of the people who do, people who take home approximately five times my pay, are not going to hear any lip out of me. Matter of fact, some of my best students are my non-trads: The middle aged moms who married right out of high school, the GI Billers, the men who woke up in the middle of a career in sales one morning, all "You know what? I want to program computers and run the world." These are the people who never, ever send me emails along the lines of "What time is are finl? 'K tnks by." They have seen the world beyond the extended adolescence of the college classroom, and they know that curling into a intelligia-ball is warm work.

And walking through this life without scooping up a collection of letters to put on a nameplate is not a signal of low intelligence. Some of the street-dumbest people I've ever met sat beneath a wall of diplomas. As a fan of the seven forms of intelligence theory, there's no way I'm going to announce that I'm smarter than a jockey who hits the track with a sub-GED education, for when it comes to not falling off a 1500-pound animal going 30 miles an hour, he's a freaking genius.

This is also not to say that four years of Latin are wasted on a plumber or that baseball players shouldn't study Renaissance theology. If you like to learn and want to learn, go ahead on. But if you're taking up space and bent on SparkNoting your way to a degree, hie thee to a job fair. You're a consumer, not a student.

I stuck around college because, unlike many, many things, I was pretty good at it; I managed, there in the little cocoon-world of saying things like "But the structure of the piece is at odds with the voice, which contributes to the thematic realities," and having people nod and spout similar bull*#&@ right on back. You don't get away with that anywhere else on the face of the Earth. And for good reason.

And so, graduates, as you step into this new world, I beg of you: Seriously consider not going to college. You'll thank me about $100,000 down the road.

advising her way right out of a job at:


Homeland Security

Greg The Reader passes along this article about a teacher who was booted right out of the European History AP reading for not producing the proper ID credentials for her I-9 form, the lucky bastard.

Her mistake was that she attempted to switch from one subject to another, which made her a new hire, which meant she was regarded as a non-citizen until she produced the proper documentation proving otherwise. Good. However, policies such as this resulted in frantic security guards at our site: "Ma'am? Ma'am, you need to be wearing your nametag at all times while in the facility." Bad.

This extensive security measure consisted of a piece of plastic around the neck and a tiny, entirely copyable square of white paper bearing our names, our school of origin, and--this was the true anti-terrorist stopgap--the word READER in bold type across the top.

Now, I get the need for us to show our credentials. However, what happened was that I started seeing readers wearing their nametags all the time, even while not reading, even while not in in the building. I cannot tell you how much, and why, this pissed me off. Possibly because when I was in grade school, I was that kid.


Fitness room

Hotel pool

Shopping after dinner


Jogging along the Ohio River

Churchill Downs

Downtown bars (It's the pickup line which builds itself!)


You Had to Be There

The Great Stack may be behind me, physically, but mentally and emotionally, it takes a while to recover. A very long while. It's kind of like childbirth, I guess; absolutely horrific while it's happening, and you never want any human being to touch you ever again, but then the baby (stipend check) arrives and you're all, "Yeah, well, it wasn't THAT bad" and go ahead and have sex (teach) again anyway, like the idiot you in fact are. And nine months later you're back on the table (seated in a very large, very cold room), screaming for morphine all over again.


I took no pictures this year, which as you know is a very major thing for the archival dork. I left the camera-- probably because, also like childbirth, some things aren't meant to be viewed by the general public without a great deal of warning. But one of my tablemates, the lovely and talented and patient Barbara H., braver than I, shot her way around Louisville:



This is where the maaaagic happened. The Kentucky International Convention Center was about four blocks from my hotel, which, when elevator delays were taken into account, made for a good twenty-minute walking commute in the mornings. Elevator delays happened a lot; the entire hotel was crammed onto exactly the same schedule, which meant that otherwise stable professionals were wheeling oxygen-tank patients into the river to get at the first car to the eighteenth floor.



Here's a panoramic view of the converted trade show space where we ate. The food was very nearly as appetizing as the ambiance. Normally I'm a carbnivore-- I order my potatoes presented inside a roll, dipped in macaroni, and rolled in rice.


But under these trying circumstances... not so much with the carbs. Carbs lead to food coma, and attempting to coherently score essays scribbled in serial killer handwriting at two in the afternoon often leads to that head-snap thing-- you know, that thing where you're totally concentrating, and completely paying attention to what you're doing, and all of a sudden snap WHOAH why was my head so close to the table? So I tried to back down on the carbs, particularly at lunch, which was a mite difficult when the main entree was Batter-Dipped Noodles.


The caterers then attempted to balance this out by sugaring us up during the breaks--doughnuts, cookies, brownies. By the weekend they were totally done with us, and began heaping marshmallows on every tray, mixing them in with the ice cream and cake samplers: "Screw it, just dump a big vat of sugar on the table and let 'em lick it."


Those of us scoring Question Three spent the week with students attempting to discuss literary foils, sometimes without in fact understanding what a foil actually is. A lot of the students hung the essay on Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, which was admirable at first and downright screamable by the middle of the week, particularly when they'd, for instance, mention the part where the monster danced to "Puttin' on the Ritz."


On Day Three, somebody showed up with a roll of Reynold's Wrap.



You just reach that point, you know? After a while, *&#^ like this even started to make sense:





This is me on in the last hour of the last day, waiting for the much-anticipated signal to return to the highly restful hotel elevator line. My eyes say "Huh?" but my body says "Former Human Being Once Resided Here."


Just beyond my elbow is the cord of the headsets we wore. All the EngLit readers were in the same ballroom, but each question had a different leader, different break times, different model essays to use as rubric calibrators. So the questions were split into three locations, by means of a bunch of poles and blue curtains, which for some reason didn't provide the world's best soundproofing. Sometimes a question leader tried to talk to his group and start a calibration session while another was settling into reading live books, and if you think an adult voice booming over a tinny sound system set against concrete walls is soothing, try concentrating with the backecho of it from half a football field away.


The solution to communicate amongst the readers without disturbing the rest of the room was UN-style headsets, each tuned the frequency of the assigned question. The upshot was the incredible creepiness of four hundred people sitting in utter silence, facing a person speaking into a microphone but producing zero sound. Occasionally we'd smile or break into applause or wail "NOOOOOO, this is NOT a nine!" with apparently no provocation. At first the question leaders attempted to get people to put on their headphones by shouting "HEADSETS!" into the headset mic, before they figured out that we kind of had to be wearing them first for this to be effective. Then we tried waving what looked suspiciously like the Girl Scout Quiet Sign, but that didn't work, either. Finally they'd turn on the general sound system mic and boom "HEADSETS!", which got our attention, as well as the attention of every single other person in the other two questions. And then we'd fumble into 1984 Mode. Other than that, hey, thumbs up on the headsets.



"Next year, I'm bringing the air horn."


very nice erasers, though at:


The Last Week In June

It's been posted more than twice, so that must make it a Blonde Champagne tradition. Here it is: The Last Week In June.

This week was, in my childhood, what kept me alive throughout the other fifty-one. It is what pulled me to Colorado, horses and dust and pine trees and creeks of freezing mountain runoff. Even if I've been conducting my June unconsciously aware of the anniversary, I suddenly will feel a strong rugged pull as the Fourth of July approaches and look at the calendar and realize, "Oh. The Week."

Although it's now priced right out of this world, it wasn't back in those days, and from the year I was six until the year I was thirteen, this was It. I have never known a place I was happier. College comes a close second, but four years are impossible to conduct without at least some semblance of tears and heartbreak. There were no tears in Lost Valley except for the following Sunday, when there was always near-hysteria. One year I sobbed as the plane departed from Colorado Springs at the thought of another twelve months of waiting in Cincinnati: Were we going to Ohio for a funeral? the woman sitting behind me wondered to my mother's horrified humiliation.

A part of me is literally seared there, burned into the walls of the main dining room. Each family creates its own brand as it passes through, adding checkmarks each returning year. Our brand sits high on a far wall overlooking the mountains and the hummingbird feeders. The brand is a boot representing the brief fact that we all rode that first year, even my mother, who bravely lasted until Wednesday, when she gripped the saddle horn of Colt 45 so tightly that tendinitis followed. Our initial stands in the middle of the boot over wavy lines representing the Ohio River. As I was fully lame even at an early age, this was my civically proud suggestion.

When I grew up and went to stay with my then-boyfriend in Colorado Springs for a month, he drove me there along a narrow shelf road I thought wondrous at the time and now, returning as a driver myself, recognized as terrifying. On one side is a drop of many thousands of feet through trees and jagged scenery; on the other, pure mountain. When two cars meet going opposite directions, one driver has to back up, slowly and with much tense cursing.

"This place is kind of cheesy," the ex announced as he got out of the car and looked upon cabins named "Jessie James" and "Diamond Lil." And I knew then, somehow, although the end was yet months away and much sobbed over, that I could never, ever marry this person.

It is kind of cheesy, in a City Slickers sort of fashion, the way the wranglers greet the suburbanites at the cattle guard entrance on horseback and canter away in front of the car to guide these unleathery dudes to the check-in lodge, but when you are six and you are miserable, this is wondrous to behold. It announced horses to me, the very ones I write about today, and it brought seven days of the social acceptance I never found in the classroom. I heard God in the pines and I inhaled; this was where my soul has lived for so long. This was where the kid picked last for the kickball team won rodeo awards for booting her quarter horse around the barrels the fastest.

Terrible fires raged five years ago all around this little green valley I have always thought of as cupped in God's palm. The ranch was evacuated, the horses herded to safety. I was reunited via phone with one of the kiddie supervisors who cared for me twenty years ago and have exchanged Christmas cards with ever since (it is that kind of place) and she described to me what happened.

"The fire got to the cattle guard," she told me, "and it split. Burned everything around it, but the ranch was untouched. The areas in the mountains where you rode as a child are scorched, I'm afraid."

I would be scorched, too, if I returned right now. I know towering pines and thick tangles of wildflowers, and I prefer to keep them alive inside of me rather than replacing them with black and charred reality.

The regeneration has already begun, I am sure. It will be well underway a few years from now, when Jim the Small Child Nephew will be old enough to ride with a plastic cowboy hat on his head and a face full of sunblock. We will go, I think, the last week in June.

this time from DC at:

What, No Cup Holders?

I've never had a pet more complex than a beta fish, which committed suicide on my Spanish homework. So maybe I really don't have a concept of WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY THERE'S A NEED TO PUSH SMALL DOGS AROUND IN A PADDED ROLLING LITTER AS THOUGH THEY ARE SUN-SENSITIVE AND PRECIOUS CHILDREN WITH NO LEGS INSTEAD OF FOUR.

Clearly, as a society, we have achieved the pinnacle of innovation. I mean, it folds compactly.