Thursday, October 25, 2012

the squeaky wheel gets the smack, or why I won't share your "C"

A few months ago, I went to a conference in a city near the largest repertory theatre company in North America. At the end of the conference (OK, fine, during), I went to see You're a Good Man Charlie Brown with an old friend and their spawn. Not my first choice, but also not my dime. Whatever.
Partway through the show, I knew what was partly to blame for generation snowflake: Peanuts.
As exhibit A, I offer the coathanger sculpture monologue, performed by Ms. Sally Brown, the original Snowflake Sally:
"A 'C'? A 'C'? I got a 'C' on my coathanger sculpture? How could anyone get a 'C' in coathanger sculpture? May I ask a question? Was I judged on the piece of sculpture itself? If so, is it not true that time alone can judge a work of art? Or was I judged on my talent? If so, is it fair that I be judged on a part of my life over which I have no control? If I was judged on my effort, then I was judged unfairly, for I tried as hard as I could! Was I judged on what I had learned about this project? If so, then were not you, my teacher, also being judged on your ability to transmit your knowledge to me? Are you willing to share my 'C'? Perhaps I was being judged on the quality of coathanger itself out of which my creation was is this not also unfair? Am I to be judged by the quality of coathangers that are used by the drycleaning establishment that returns our garments? Is that not the responsibility of my parents? Should they not share my 'C'? (SFX: the teacher's voice is heard offstage
[brief unintelligible squawk voice mixed with electronic static]) Thank you, Miss Othmar. (to
audience) The squeaky wheel gets the grease! (exits)"
Needless to say, I was not amused.
I've thought about that day many times since, and I keep coming back to the parents in the audience, who were laughing at what was clearly a farcical and ridiculous set of arguments...because it wasn't their damn child. If *their* precious Sally had gotten a C in coathanger sculpture, or, y'know, hamster-fur weaving, you can bet that many of them would be backing her, 100%.
I'm thinking about it in this moment because it's the time of year when new undergrads are getting their first university assignments back, and getting smacked upside the head with the realization that, contrary to everything they've been told up until now, the sun does not, in fact, shine from their darling little asses. (Because, if it did, I'd ask them to point them this way. It's been awfully damn rainy lately.) I'm thinking about it because it's the same arguments delivered in the same whiny, entitled tone as the ones I'm hearing right now, albeit with better lighting. I'm thinking about it because I can respond to Sally Brown in a way I could never speak to any of my 'flakes. So here goes...
Yes, Sally, a "C". If you'd read the undergrad handbook you've been provided with, you'd know a "C" basically stands for "competent". Or, if you will, "clue". As in, "you have demonstrated you have somewhat of a fucking clue about what you're supposed to be doing, and have executed the assignment with a basic degree of skill". Congratulations. (Oh, look. Also a "C" word. I win alliteration today. Clearly.)
How could anyone get a "C" in coathanger sculpture? Because it's not, in fact, that fucking easy. Seriously, it requires actual skill and practice to do this stuff. If just anybody could do it, they'd have replaced me with a robot by now. Believe me, they've tried.
Yes, you were judged on the piece of sculpture itself, which you would know if you read the fucking rubric. No, it's not true that only time alone can judge a work of art...and seriously, girl, you need to stop hanging around boys who purposefully dress like 70s dads and say "deep" and "profound" "philosophical" shit when they've only read the Tumblr and not the source material. If you insist on hanging around them, then you *must* stop parroting their stupid. It burns.
Yes, you were judged on your talent, which, again, if you'd read the fucking rubric, you'd know. Exhibiting talent is how you get good grades around here, no matter what else you've heard. It's true talent is, to some degree, something you're born with. It's also true that hard work plays a role, and by the tag still attached to one of these hangers, I know you started your project the night before. You might want to try a little harder next time. And, PS: If your talent is not in coat hanger sculpture, don't major in it!
You might, in time, also come to the realization that you don't have enough talent to get by here, no matter how hard you work. That's cool, because not everyone belongs in university. (See: it's not, in fact, that fucking easy, above.) If that's the case, good luck to you. This is a hard enough road if it's something you love. Believe me, I know.
Sadly, Snowflake, effort doesn't always mean shit here. Some people will basically sneeze out papers it would take others weeks of sweat and toil to write. Some people work really hard in the right ways and see their effort pay off. You should probably know that I'm a cynic, though...and I'm pretty sure that if you'd spent a fraction of the time you're now spending trying to convince me, yourself, your parents, the Dean, whomever of just how very hard you worked on this sculpture ACTUALLY WORKING ON THE FUCKING SCULPTURE, you'd have scraped at least a C+.
Is your "C" a judgment on my ability to transmit knowledge to you? BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH.
Am I willing to share your "C"? Fuck no. Beyotch, I got motherfucking "A"s...and I worked my ass off for them. By the way, I know you're way too stupid and entitled to realize it, but now I essentially share my "A"s with you. (I know, right?! Mind. Blown.)
Perhaps you were judged on the quality of coathanger itself?! OK, seriously, you're really starting to piss me off...and don't even try to make this a class argument. First, you left the tag from the fancy-ass all-Green cleaners on the hanger, so don't even try to go there. Second, the university makes a point of providing access to coat hangers so all students can complete the assignment. (Granted, most of those hangers are still running IE 6 and crash if you try to open multiple browser tabs, but that's another rant.)
Is it not the responsibility of your parents? Believe me, Sally Snowflake, I am holding your parents personally fucking responsible right now for the fact that your whiny ass is in my office, wasting my time, when they should have nipped this kind of behaviour in the fucking bud before you went to motherfucking grade school, you whiny entitled fucksmack.

(And for the record, I would have given Ai Wei Wei a C for this particular sculpture, too.)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. The joke about Sally Brown was that she was silly and not very smart. I recall one episode, sometime in the 1960s, in which the mere mention of "Kindergarten" caused her to jump 30 feet.

    Peppermint Patty was even worse. Lucy was crabby. Charlie Brown was wishy-washy. Pig Pen had hygiene problems. Linus went into withdrawal whenever deprived of his security blanket. Snoopy was clearly not meant to be taken seriously.

    They were all jokes in a comic strip, to be laughed at. If I'd acted like Sally or any of those kids in real life, my Mom would have smacked me, and that would have been the end of it.

    Sally did, however, get in some valid criticism of "the New Math." It was a mathematics curriculum for K-12 designed, God help us, by mathematicians. It was essentially concepts from the course on logic and set theory that sophomore math majors take, such as sets and Venn diagrams, introduced as early as first grade. The universal symptom of its use was students who couldn't calculate any answer, not even a wrong one. Sally Brown's antics in "Peanuts" helped to abolish it, and education was served well by her.

    1. The nuns would have smacked me, too, but they did teach the New Math. Function machines! Clouds!

      CM would be remiss to smack down the New Math without providing a link to Tom Lehrer's classic:

      Sorry, can't see how to embed that in a comment.

  3. "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" was created (at least according to Wikipedia -- yes, I use it, too, dear students, but only in certain circumstances) in 1967, another notoriously snowflakey time (one which, in fact, spawned some of our students' parents, which is probably part of the problem). I haven't compared the two, but my sense is that Peanuts the strip is, while sympathetic to the child-characters' perspective, and sometimes critical of adults, not snowflake-enabling. Maybe the musical is different, though, as Drunk points out, the parents were actually laughing at the character's entitledness -- as long as it wasn't their kid. At the very least, the strip invokes a universe where teachers still give D-s -- and kids, though discouraged, take them. And while Snoopy is silly, he's also a reminder, in his occasional forays into WWI (and II?) fantasies, of what real hardship looks like.

    I'm a survivor of at least parts of the "new math" (thankfully, my small private school didn't endorse it wholeheartedly, which is probably why, to this day, I can actually solve, by hand, equations involving the four basic functions, plus fractions and percents. I could once do much more, and contemplate keeping my brain active in old age by tackling calculus, which I never quite mastered, one more time. Presumably there's a MOOC, or a series of MIT or Khan Academy lectures, for that). Or maybe I'll just learn Greek, or Hebrew, or Chinese). My father taught me some basic concepts, using the "old math," at home, and I famously threw a tantrum in first grade when our teacher insisted on our using a procedure involving "clouds" to carry numbers when adding. "Clouds" actually became a shorthand in our household for "evidence of Cassandra's temper." Looking back, I'm sure that part of the episode had with my desire to please adults, and the confusion of two different sets of authoritative adults asking me to do something two different ways when I wasn't cognitively ready to do that (I'm much better these days as "when in Rome," as long as my core values aren't violated). Also, math was harder for me than reading, which came pretty much effortlessly, so I was more insecure and anxious, and, having figured out one way to do it, didn't want to venture into unfamiliar territory. Hmm. . .maybe I should have more sympathy for the students I have to nudge away from the five-paragraph essay. Except I wish that somebody had nudged them sooner (and perhaps they did, but encountered resistance). And I do try to acknowledge which useful principles the five-paragraph essay incorporates, as well as why it's limiting and incomplete and won't work for a real, grown-up, thoughtful, organically-structured essay with a true argument.

  4. "And while Snoopy is silly, he's also a reminder, in his occasional forays into WWI (and II?) fantasies, of what real hardship looks like."

    Don't forget Beau Geste: "For I have had a tragic past, and have joined the foreign legion to forget!" Upon this, Charlie Brown commented: "Sometimes I wish I just had a 'dog' dog." And yes, WWII too: remember the reunions quaffing root beers with Bill Mauldin. Snoopy of course was also involved in Project Apollo.


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