A Semester in Hell, Part One

Never argue with idiots, because they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with their experience.” – Somebody smart.

A fellow teacher once stated – with a straight face, believe it or not – that for a student, filling their scholastic requirements is a moral imperative. Students, she declared, should do their work because “it’s the right thing to do”.

Ignoring the fact that terms like “right” and “wrong” are usually reserved for discussions of war, murder, usury, theft, and adultery, and that there is at present no method that would allow me to write my lesson plans on stone tablets,  I was damn flattered at the implication that my subject matter was proof against the fires of Hell (I briefly imagined St. Peter wading dutifully through stacks of middle school portfolios, complaining about his lack of support staff). And the more I thought about it, the more I started to agree.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the hell of Revelation, or of Dante and Milton. Or even of Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves. I’m talking about the hell I warned one of my notoriously underachieving students about.

“Listen,” I told him. “You’re really smart. I mean, you’re the only person I know who gets my jokes, and that’s saying something, since I don’t always get them myself. And I know you know that I know that all this ‘I can’t find my pencil’ and ‘I need to go to the bathroom” crap is just your way of getting out of actually starting some electrical activity in your frontal lobes. But think about it…” I paused and lowered my voice slightly. “If you don’t live up to your potential, and graduate from high school, you’ll wind up living and working around complete morons all of your life.”

He made a puzzled face.

“You know,” I said. “Morons. Like your friend who chews pencil erasers and blows them out his nose.  Or the one who dyes his hair with Kool-Aid and attracts roaches.”

“Ah…he said with a chuckle. “Poor unfortunate souls…”

“Yeah, unfortunate right….Why do you think they keep doing that dumb stuff, day after day, week after week, on, and on? Because they’re too stupid to know just how stupid they are. Now, you can just get away from them by sitting around on your computer all day, but at some point you’ll have to leave your mom’s house and get a job.”

His face went blank.

“And without an high school diploma, you’ll have to spend most of your waking hours around people just like those two. Oh, it’ll be fun for a while, you know, being the only person at your lunch table who has read something longer than a Mickey D’s drive-thru menu, or knows that “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” isn’t a Greek myth. But after a while the cumulative effect of hearing pointed observations about fingernail clippings, comments on the quality of the lunch room decor and musings on the declining quality of Twinkies  will turn your brain into a huge block of rancid Spam, trapping that great intelligence of yours deep inside it forever. So while your cretinous environment will repulse you, you won’t be able to say or do anything about it. Imagine Steven Hawking, waking up one day to find out that Peter Griffin is his caretaker.

His blank face started to drain of blood.

“After a while, all the inane drivel and idiotic behavior will drive you batty. Even worse, you won’t be able to talk to anyone about anything, since most of what you say will go right over their heads – or through it, when you think about it. You’ll spend your entire life mourning over all the really funny comebacks that no one understood, the jokes that you didn’t bother telling, and all the people you really wanted to tell that asking “are you calling me stupid?” is a sign that you really are. And try as you might, you will not be able to deactivate enough of your brain to be able to communicate with them, So you’ll just sit around and say nothing, and they will eventually start to believe that you are even dumber than they are.”

His bottom lip started to tremble. A hint of moisture appeared in the corner of one eye.

I leaned forward, lowered my voice to a solemn whisper, and slowly, purposefully delivered the coup de grace.

”And when you die, your headstone epitaph will have two plural nouns with apostrophes in them.”

He threw his hands over his ears, as if plagued by swarms of fart-joke telling cherubs. “Okay Mr. Green….really…..I’ll start my essay now….seriously…Oh my God…’One of the Boy’s’…..man.”

“Remember” I said, trying my hardest not to fall over in hysterics. “If you’re smart, you may be an outcast. But remember, when surrounded by inbreds, its good to be an outcast.”

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