Due to an injury I've spent the better part of the summer on my back. Kind of a bummer. But I'm OK. There isn't much to do when you are flat on the sofa or bed. So I've been watching quite a bit of TV (as you might have guessed from some of my recent posts).
Anyway, today I've been watching Ninja Warrior. I've watched it off and on for about 5 years. If you've not seen it, you can find it on G4. I haven't watched it a whole lot recently since I've seen all 20-something seasons of the men's version and four or five of the less frequent women's version. But today it's Ninja Warrior or repeats of crap airing on the other 200 channels of programming Dish Network provides me.
It would have been very surprising to a 10 year younger me that I would actually enjoy such a show. I've never been one for ninjas or Japanese anything. I attribute my fascination with Ninja Warrior to my job actually.
Ninja Warrior is a program which chronicles the failures of 100 contestants on a four stage obstacle course. The obstacle course, I think, is the way my students envision my exams/courses: flippin' impossible. Each stage has 5-10 obstacles including: log rolls, rope ladders, slanted running "walls", lilly pad like jumps spaced 5 feet apart, trampoline assisted 10 foot leaps onto 2 foot wide pillars. They have names like stepping stones, log jam, flying pillar, balance bridge, hop rocket, and angle run. And that's just the first stage for the women. The men have more insane stuff like the jumping spider where two walls are spaced 3 feet apart over water and the competitor must jump over the water and, well, just look at the video yikes. Oh, yeah. And you only have 90 seconds to complete it.
So in stage one you start with 100 competitors. All but three or four will fail in horribly embarrassing ways. The lucky ones only faceplant and fall in the water. The handful who make it to stage two are punished further with even crazier contraptions of torture. I'd say 50% of the time the audience never gets to see stage three since the survivors of stage one all give us more awesome failure.
In the event that someone actually does survive stage two, stage three is ready and waiting for revenge. If swinging balance beams and 2 inch ledges aren't enough to take you out then stage three will probably kill you. Every once in a very great while (perhaps 10 times in the 20-something seasons the show has run) someone makes it to stage four. Stage four, after the exhausting (to watch!) day, is the vertical climb from h-e-double hockey sticks. It's a mere few hundred feet up a pole and swingy rope ladder in a gracious 60 seconds (shorter each time someone beats it). Long story short at the end of the day there are only two outcomes: Ninja Warrior or big fat failure. Very rarely do we ever see a Ninja Warrior.
There is a great amount of pride that these competitors share. It's a pre-requisite. If they fail, they really fail. The competitors understand this. There are no tears of do over (pain and pride -- yes). There are no cries of unfair. You get one chance, if you screw up ... well ... you might be invited back next time. And whether or not someone becomes "Ninja Warrior" you can bet the next course will make this last one look like cuddly, puffy, sleeping kitten begging to be kissed.
I really wish that I could convey this to my students. The idea that there is no first, second, or third. There is only meets expectations or fails. If you don't both learn the material and perform well on the assignments, then you fail regardless (or "irregardless" as many of my students will say) of anyone else's performance. In Ninja Warrior there is no "best" or "top" loser. There are only losers.
The course doesn't care if everyone fails. In some ways, we shouldn't either. If, after repeated practice and guidance, not one student can sloppily perform basic basketweaving tasks 1-5 without help, then they should all fail. But that's not how students understand things. They affirm that if the task was too hard for anyone in the room, then it must have been too hard of a task. It doesn't matter if last year's group could do it or if next year's group won't have a problem doing it. They believe in relativism in which ever epsilon region benefits them the most.
And that, my friends, is why America's degree of suckage increases every year. Watch out Third World! Here we come!