A few days ago I was asked to speak at my former high school's graduation. I agreed, because it is a chance to swear in front of old teachers, tell kids to drink, but do it responsibly, and warn them against videotaping themselves having sex and putting it online (employers and law schools don't just look at grades anymore, but judge your Facebook profile and homemade pornography). Other than the obvious lure of having a comedian who has been on television over 24 times speak at your school, it is funny to be asked — considering I graduated high school with a 2.1 GPA and spent 6 years in special education (called Recourse Room in Massachusetts).
When I told my brother that I was speaking this year at our alma mater (holy shit — I know Latin! Now I understand how John Travolta felt in the movie Phenomenon), he immediately reminded me of a story from eighth grade that he thought I should tell.
Here is a question for you: What is the lowest grade you can get? Most would say an F. That is very low. If you tell someone you got an F, they think you are bad at school. In movies, people who get F's are told they will never amount to anything and then their parents force them into the army or they join a gang. Translated numerically, an F can be as high as 59 and as low as 0. That's quite a range.
In eighth grade I had a math teacher (who my mathematician father once wrote a letter to saying he bred in students a "disgust towards math" — the only letter my father ever wrote to any teacher) who had a very exacting way of grading assignments. (On a side note, he was the only teacher who, when I pointed out that he marked something right on a test when it was actually wrong, went, "Thanks for pointing that out," and lowered my grade. That was a big no-no in my 13-year-old eyes and taught me to never ask teachers to explain mistakes. However, that was not a big deal.)
The real story is that we had homework — which I often didn't do — because I hated school — because it hated me (this is before it was cool to be alternative and at the height of Poison's career). Once we did the homework and went over it in class, we were supposed to correct it and keep it in a folder. At the end of the month we handed in a folder full of corrected homework. It's not a bad idea. Some kids did great with it.
However, what happened if you handed it in a day late? Well, very reasonably, your grade was penalized — five points off, maybe 10, I can't remember. What if some homework was missing or not corrected? You got another five or 10 points off per assignment. What if you handed it in seven days late with lots of missing assignments? Well, in my case, when my strict math teacher did the math — I got a -8. I don't know if you have ever come home with a grade that is below zero. It's an interesting feeling — on the one hand — I was clearly a terrible, terrible student; on the other, it is obviously ridiculous to give anyone a grade that is less than zero — less than if I did nothing — less than if I filled my folder with sardines and wrote "fuck you" on each one. I do not believe my math teacher had a rigid way to calculate how many points off you got per sardine that said "fuck you."
Oh well, maybe one day I will have a child, and we will both be holding a magic skull, and maybe we'll be struck by lightning, and I will have the opportunity to relive eighth grade and write "fuck you" on some sardines.