Michigan History

I grew up in Michigan, and at the time, there was a statewide graduation requirement that every student must pass a semester “Michigan History” course. This was conventionally taken in the 9th grade, and consisted of not only history, but geography and other social studies topics, all centered on the beautiful peninsula. In other words, it was a trivia course. We learned lots and lots and lots of trivia. Which, if there was ever a “Michigan” category on trivia night at the local bar, would be extremely useful. Otherwise, not so much.

3,177: How many miles of great lakes shoreline are there in MI?

1,979: What is the highest MI elevation in feet?

83: How many counties are there in MI?

450: How many hours of my life am I going to waste in this fucking class?

You can only fill so much time with trivia memorization, so naturally, the teacher assigned craft projects as well. As a parent, you may know how I feel about craft projects:

However, as a child, I saw them as a bit of an engineering challenge. One project in particular sticks in my mind. We were required to draw a map of the state on poster board, and color code each county according a metric of our choosing. I chose number of ghost towns, because I liked the bleak nature of the subject.

So the challenge was how to draw an accurate map at a large scale like that. For this, I invented a technique that I have passed along to my children, as you can see in the following picture. Look at the pic, and I bet you can figure out how we do it:

My Image Scaling Technique

First we trace the map onto graph paper.

Then we figure out what the scale needs to be. We mark along each edge of the poster board at regular intervals, according to this scale. For example, in the picture above, the height was 40 boxes, and the poster board was 30 inches, so we marked every 3/4″ along every edge.

Next, we identify any inflection points on the original map. Those are the little dots you see on the graph paper.

After that, we find the corresponding place for each dot on the poster board, and put a dot there.

Finally, you connect the dots, using the original as a guide.

So that’s how I made my map of the State of Michigan, and it was amazing. Everyone else in the class just free-handed it. So I totally rocked that assignment.

At this point in my story, it’s relevant to point out that I graduated with almost a 4.0 GPA from high school. That was achieved through a combination of figuring out how to not take courses that were notoriously hard to ace, and which I figured I could live without (biology, advanced english literature); and finding every other subject (calculus, physics, etc.) trivially easy.

Side note: My high school guidance counsellor was stunned when I pointed out the loophole that got me out of taking biology. Nobody had ever not taken biology. Everyone just assumed it was a required course. However, the curriculum requirements were actually based on numbers of science courses, and biology was not a prerequisite for anything else, so I just skipped it and took extra advanced courses at the end. Since everyone assumed biology was required, that’s where they taught sex ed. And, hence, I never had a sex ed class in high school. Nor did I have to dissect a fetal pig or a frog.

So, here I am in 9th grade, first semester of high school, and I don’t know at this point that I’m going to get an A in every class I take. It came time for the Michigan History final exam, and I slogged through the page after page of trivia questions, and I ended up on the final page. It was a word search. On a final exam. Of a 9th grade academic subject. A word search. Locate these Native American words: tomato, potato, etc.

I raised my hand. The teacher came back.

“Are you serious?”

“About?”

“Do you seriously think that having us do a word search is an appropriate assessment on a final exam?”

“Well…”

“You know we are are not 7 years old, right?”

“Uh…”

“Yeah. I’m done. I did the serious part of the exam. But I’m not going to do this.”

And I handed my stunned teacher my blue book and left.

B+

I aced the rest of the exam, but my defiance cost me, and that was the only high school grade I received that was less than A. With maturity came the understanding that, in fact, that particular bullshit was really just a local maximum in the continuum of bullshit which is the educational system. That, in fact, almost all of the questions on my exams were absurd in one way or another, and the key was to just bear down and ignore that fact and do the nonsense, so they can give you the A they really want to give you.

Your final exam:

M I C H I G A N
H I S T O R Y A
W A S A T O U T
A Q E S A W P I
F U C K I N G V
W A S T E U U I
O F P H G P F S
T I M E O S F M
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