Just two posts in and i’ve already broken promises. That exciting mystery post that was promised for the week beginning 11th June 2012 failed to materialise. Act Two of “London West End Theatre Discounts” has been severely delayed. Then theres my 6 week absence without any posting whatsoever. All I can say is that i’m sorry. Without meaning to make excuses, the only other thing I will say on this matter is that I have been overwhelmed by some difficult circumstances and events… some of which were anticipated, while others were unforeseen.
All this explaining and apologising reminds me of my school days… Back then I had one teacher who would never cease to think up novel ways to punish us… Now i’m not trying to give you any ideas here 😉 …. I just thought this posting could do with a lighter touch… much like me at the moment.
One of the earliest punishments I remember him giving us was to fill in every square on an A4 sheet of graph paper, alternating between a circle and a cross. Tedious…painstaking… nothing seems to adequately describe this “task”. Ironically and perhaps tauntingly, the punishment itself was rather original. Its infliction, however, gave whole new meaning to the concept of dullness… Trust me, I know – having received several sheets of graph paper in my time.
Many a time I would wonder whether the teacher actually checked whether each student had filled the sheet exactly as per his instructions… The times when my mind answered with a “no” I would be tempted to rush through the task as quickly as possible, while a “yes” would cause me to wonder why on earth he would punish himself so severely? I mean, if he gave this punishment to ten students each week then surely he would have to spend a longer duration of time checking the sheets than each student had actually spent on the damn task? Maybe he hadn’t figured this out because all the knots and crosses had killed his brain cells…. After all, the phrase “dying of boredom” must have come from somewhere and coincidentally, even science seems to offer support for the notion that boredom can “kill you” or at least shorten your lifespan: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/curious/201003/science-shows-you-can-die-boredom-literally
NB. Me knows that there are many limitations with the referenced research study (as the article itself points out) and if we are going to get all critical and and even intellectual then we may argue that the experiments weren’t strictly controlled and that there can be any number and type of antecedents for lifespan. Thus, while the study finds a correlation between boredom and years later dying from a heart condition, it fails to consider other contributing factors e.g. someone could suffer a heart attack while being mugged (i.e. scared to death rather than bored to death) which would presumably be unrelated to the individual’s level of boredom preceeding the time of death. Of course, we can stretch this further (in response to the sensational title of the article rather than the specific finding that boredom may be one possible antecedent of heart condition-related deaths) and state that a bolt of lightening striking you or an asteroid landing on your head, would for the most part be completely unrelated to your level of boredom for the time preceeding and up to the time of impact (I could be wrong of course and some wierd working of the universe may mean that there is a connection between such happenings). I can see that I could go on and on on this… Why was the individual bored in the first place? Were they depressed? (perhaps a link between depression and heart condition-related death rather than boredom causing such a death?) Perhaps the bored individuals indulged in other activities (or failed to indulge in certain activities) which increased their risk of developing heart conditions?… I can sense I’m boring you, so for now I will just conclude with… Correlation between any two variables does not indicate cause and effect and it is highly likely that lifespan is determined by a complex interaction of a large number of variables (whereby even the variables involved can vary from individual to individual, as can the nature of interaction between them).
Right, now i’m done with my small bout of being analytically critical and slightly intellectual and so will continue with my account of the punishments I endured. Ok, so I also figured that my digression into factors affecting lifespan was leading to something quite complex… not quite matching the complexity of coming up with a theory of everything in the way string theory attempts… but hey, coming up with an equation for the determinants of lifespan for all humans is hardly a simple matter and certainly not a task I envisioned when I started this post. So I will return to the small and comparatively insignificant and humble topic I have chosen to write about… (Who says that there is even a human lifespan equation? Everything could be completely random or controlled by fate or an act of God…).
Back to my struggles to meet overwhelming demand for knots and crosses-filled graph paper… I tried outsourcing and bribery but no solution was truly effective or sustainable. I guess the job was so undesirable that I struggled to find something of appropriate value to offer in return. Often “my contracted worker” went on strike part-way through the assignment, while attempting to bargain a better deal for his or herself.
It was a relief when enough parents complained that the punishment was ruining their child’s eye sight. I remember the teacher’s announcement vividly, “some parents have complained about the small squares on the graph paper and the knots and crosses ruining their child’s eye sight so I have had to devise a new punishment”. We waited for him to continue. The silence shrivelled with dread, yet our childishly foolish curiosity sat up straight, eagerly waiting, with patience an increasingly limited commodity. Eyes wide…attention undivided…as if awaiting the most wonderful surprise!
He took out a sheet of paper and continued, “this sheet contains little triangles. If you receive a sheet of triangle paper, you will colour each triangle in a different colour and no two triangles of the same colour should be touching each other in any way”. I can confirm that this task was much more time-consuming and i’m not sure how it was any less damaging to eye sight. Nonetheless, it did offer some scope for creativity, which may have increased its desirability factor. Again, I wondered whether the teacher actually checked whether each student had filled the sheet exactly as per his instructions. This question was answered during one class when he suddenly exclaimed, “Simon, you will have to do this again. There are two adjacent triangles that have both been coloured in red”. Suffice to say that any student who was subsequently issued a sheet of triangle paper took extra care to ensure that the completed sheet met specifications exactly.
All these dull punishments seemed like such a waste of time and effort to my inquistive mind that yearned for exploration, discovery, adventure, new experiences, knowledge… Furthermore, it seemed incredulous that a teacher could continuously set such time-consuming tasks that offered absolutely no learning opportunity. The greatest irony of or perhaps the perverse explanation for such “duller then dull” punishments was that the inflicter was in fact an art teacher!
Of course, we can argue that punishments do not exist for the offenders enjoyment or benefit and that they are supposed to punish bad behaviour, act as a deterrent (so that the offender does not misbehave in the future and so that others do not demonstrate similar behaviours) and rehabilitate the offender. The problem is that these dull punishments were not sucessful as deterrents or rehabilitation tools. Inevitably they did punish the offending student (if they were too dumb to get someone else to complete the punishment) but perhaps the core problem is that the student was often not punished for “bad behaviour” e.g. getting a knots and crosses punishment just for a small amount of chatter in class is hardly constructive and nor is it likely to deter chatter the next time that student has to urgently tell their best friend about what seems to be the most important thing in the world (which has probably changed by then). Perhaps the punishments did serve as character building and endurance exercises.
At some point the inflicter of dullness replaced the triangle sheet with a new punishment that offered some public benefit. That benefit, however, did not extend to the offending and rather unfortunate student, who was required to carry out the punishment, in person, after school and during breaks. Firstly, this made it impossible to outsource or deploy other means to “escape” the punishment. Secondly, the punishment was to scrape off bubble and chewing gum from under desks and chairs (yes, thats right, scrape off other peoples chewed gum). Dull had been replaced by ukky.
Fortunately, I figured out how to stay away from trouble by then. Rather, I figured out how to avoid getting caught by then 😉
I’ve enjoyed writing this post and it has really lightened my mood and lifted my spirits. So thank you so much for being a reader. For, if you weren’t there to read my post, who would I write for? Nonetheless since this blog is supposed to be about keeping the glass half full, it seems rather inappropriate to focus unduly on punishments… So staying on the theme of school days, let me provide you with a few chuckles while you await my next post…
While completing a lesson on the effects of gravity, a teacher stood at the front of the class and asked, “if I were to drop a cannonball and a squash ball from the top of the building, which would reach the ground first?”.
I eagerly put up my hand.
I earnestly responded, “the squashed ball because its squashed”.
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