Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Heads or Tails #73 -- Bottle

Today's prompt in Heads or Tails is a single word: Bottle. Frankly, dear readers, with two of my kids getting engaged in a week's time (Oldest Son and Older Daughter) the bottle is what I should be hitting. If only I had the strength. I suppose I could send you back to Heads or Tails #37 for a story about Oldest Son demanding his bottle -- something that happened around 23 years before his recent engagement. That's a favorite story of mine. But I won't ask Barb for a pass this week. I may really need it later.

Middle Son, Younger Daughter, and Youngest Son all finished their finals before Christmas. Some of the girls that Youngest Son knows had one final deferred until just after the New Year because a snowstorm just before Christmas necessitated the closing of the local girls' Catholic high school.

My finals in college and, later, in law school were always after Christmas. I think that's one reason why I've never really watched the New Year's bowl games: These games trigger anxious memories.

It doesn't really matter when you schedule first semester finals in Chicago: Weather will complicate things. Most people remember the Blizzard of '79 as the storm that propelled Jane Byrne into office as Mayor of Chicago -- and launched her predecessor, Michael Bilandic, on a judicial career. I remember it as the semester where I barely made it home.

I lived at my parents' home when attending law school. They lived in a distant suburb of Chicago -- a place I've heard described as the place where Christ lost His shoes. (No, I don't know what that means either.) It was a full hour riding on the train at non-peak times. I had to walk a couple of miles from the train station to school. At the other end, I had to get a ride because my parents lived at least five miles out of town.

I had taken a Family Law course that semester. The same instructor had both day and evening sessions of the course. I was signed up for the evening session; the day class was full when I registered. However, since the day section better suited my schedule, that was when I attended.

They don't take attendance in law school. There's homework assigned, but it's never turned in. There are no pop quizzes. There are no 'unit tests.' The instructor may have a class roster from which to call names: That way he or she can grill a kid mercilessly for the entire period about a case the kid has obviously never read. It's great practice for dealing with salary reviews.

In the Family Law class, since I was attending the section in which I was not enrolled, the instructor never called my name. I didn't mind.

In law school, at least when I went, a generation ago, final exams were the only exams. This was actually an improvement over my father's day: My father and his fellow students took one single test for all their classes in a particular semester. It was like a mini-bar exam. (Not to be confused with an examination of a mini-bar, although that costs a lot, too.) The first challenge in any question on the test was to figure out if it was a tort or contract issue. (They used to keep the old exams in the school library; I looked at them in wonder when I was in school.)

My wife, a grammar school teacher, tries to have 40 or more grades in each trimester because she knows that kids have bad days -- the best of them will screw up once or twice. With 40 grades, those inevitable bad days won't screw up anyone's grade.

Woe betide, however, the law student who had a 'bad day' on an exam day. The class 'eager beaver' couldn't even count on an upward 'bump' because of his or her frequent participation: We were given exam numbers. The numbers were put on the exams instead of names in order to reduce the possibility of favoritism. Besides, the class 'eager beavers' were usually annoying twerps. Most of them probably spent their high school years stuffed in a locker.

As the final approached for the Family Law class it occurred to me that I wanted to take the exam with the group I'd been with all semester. Seeing all new faces at an unfamiliar time might cause me to lose my edge. (What? You think it's only athletes who are superstitious?) So I asked the professor if I might sit in on the final with the day school section.

He was surprised at the question. I had to explain. He consulted his night school roster and, sure enough, found my name. No wonder I never answered when he called on me in that class! He agreed to my request.

As a result, I got to take the exam in the afternoon before the Blizzard of '79 really closed in. My mother met the train and we got home. Eventually. I have reason to believe we were the last car to get through on our road for three days. If I'd waited for the evening section exam I would have been stranded on Rush Street instead.

Hey, wait a minute!

But, no, that's not the 'bottle' angle I was going for. I was thinking instead about the method that we believed that some of our professors employed when grading law school exams: Start with a full bottle of whiskey and a stack of papers. It was believed best to be the middle of the pile. We figured that grades would go up as the level of the bottle went down. There would be a point of diminishing returns, though, depending on the ethanol tolerance of the instructor: Papers on the bottom of the pile might simply be marked with a 'C' because, after a certain state of inebriation was achieved, that was the easiest mark to make.

There was another rumored grading method, of course. Step 1: Stand at the top of the stairs with the stack of exam papers (blue books, back in the day). Step 2: Throw the papers down the stairs. Step 3: The papers that go farthest are the A's -- the ones that go the least distance are the failures. Most would wind up somewhere in between -- the C's.


Barb said...

First congrats to both of your children! And deepest sympathy to you and your wife. I think.

If I'd known there was only going to be one test a year, I may have gone to college. Sheesh.

Mom Knows Everything said...

My daughter is almost 15 and we're dealing with "boyfriends" now...I do NOT want to think about her getting married for a long long long time! ;o)

Tumblewords: said...

From the bar to the bottle - I've heard of this. :) Good post!

CJ said...

Congrats on the engagements! And I love the post. I'll have to suggest the bottle method of grading to some of the students I work with. They can use all the help they can get!

You can find my HorT over at http://www.rtmm.blogspot.com