Textbook Example

May 18, 2007

Summer is almost here, but I don’t look forward to it as much as I used to. When I was a kid and in school summer was great because it was at least two months of no school, two months of not having to read those stupid textbooks that would always have those really stupid questions at the end, questions like, "Did the main character die in the story? Explain." or "Do you breathe oxygen? Explain." The one word, "Explain", I realized, was the textbook author’s way of saying, "I was too lazy to come up with anything more complicated than a yes-or-no question, but your teacher needs you to keep working long enough for her to duck out for a smoke."

All this was supposedly preparing us for the standardized tests we had to take at the end of the year, but the standardized tests were always multiple-choice and we never had to Explain anything. The worst part about the tests is that we had to take them right at the end of the school year when it was hot and sunny outside and it was impossible to concentrate on anything because we’d been locked in cold classrooms having to Explain all winter. Since these tests were supposed to find out what we didn’t know anyway we would have been better off if they’d given them to us at the beginning of the year, right after we’d spent the entire summer forgetting everything we learned the previous year.

But I digress. That word "Explain" taught me that those who can’t do teach, and those who can’t teach write textbooks. I think the fear of having to Explain even the simplest questions made us all neurotic and led to the creation of one of the most insidious fads of my childhood: the Rubik’s cube. It was bad enough that we were worried about nuclear annihilation, the tanking economy, children staring in Africa, and the complete lack of anything good on television because cable hadn’t come to our neighborhood yet. We had to go and invent something that would make us feel even more insecure. And the Rubik’s cube wasn’t enough by itself: we had to invent more of those insane puzzles shaped like boxes and barrels and pyramids and snakes and Studebakers because so many people were catching on to the way to solve the Rubik’s cube (hint: don’t take it out of the package it came in) that we had to make ourselves feel dumber. What worries me is that the Rubik’s cube is actually coming back. It’s not just coming back–now there are people solving it blindfolded or with their feet or just by breathing on it. There’s a guy in Bangladesh who can disassemble a Rubik’s cube, swallow the pieces, and vomit it up complete and solved. But I digress. I don’t look forward to summer like I used to because I have to work now, and I’m not going to get two months off from work in the summer unless I move to Norway. Still, it’s warm, it’s sunny, and when I do get away from work I can spend time outside. That’s something to look forward to, right? Explain.

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