Friday, May 28, 2010

How an "ABBA CD" got me out of Remedial Reading

"What are words worth?"

There is an extremely obscure hip-hop song from the 80's with that same title (a genuine "no-prize" to anyone who can tell me the name of that group!). It was awesome because it was an all-female group rapping (not wrapping) about word context. It played with semantics, duality of meaning, and metaphors. To hammer their point home, one girl even screams out "It's ok, I've overstood..." when stating she understands the song. Brilliant.

The power of words has played a great role in my life. Often, the greatest influence can come from words I don't use (i.e. knowing when to keep my mouth shut, etc.). My favorite example of the power of words, though, actually doesn't come from words at all, but a random acronym that came to save my ass when I least expected. Let me elaborate.

For those that know me, it won't be hard to envision, if not remember, that I was quite the class clown in middle school. I was discovering a latent ability to entertain, at least my friends, during 7th and 8th grade. I was the funny jokester and my grades paid the price. Since I was spending plenty of class time (and subsequently the inevitable follow-up detention time) trying to impress girls, make my buddies laugh and develop a rather lame, awkward sense of personality, my grades were left to bear the brunt of my tomfoolery (love that word!). Anyway, after my dismal grade performance in 7th grade I was downgraded to a class called Remedial Reading, which was where the kids who just couldn't read were sent (sent to the corner again!).

Now as enthralling as it was to be in 8th grade and slowly sound out the universal quandaries behind why the red-hat-wearing "Tommy" needed to board the bright yellow bus, it was evident, even to my dim-witted 14-year old mind, that I didn't belong here. My challenges were motivational not remedial. It was a living torture. I remember distinctly thinking "good lord, I am NOT this stupid!!" Through semster after agonizing semester I would pronounce "God, I am so sorry, if you get me out of here I will NEVER take my education for granted again!"

The answer to my request came one month before the end of 8th grade.

For students who were able to show an even marginally increased aptitude in reading mechanics, we were given the opportunity to test out of RR and enter 9th grade English with some semblance of dignity. I was on a quest, determined to prove I was smart enough to read and write about MUCH more than the zany mishaps of "Dick" riding shiny red bicycles, etc.

I studied, reviewed, read and steeled my mind for the grueling task of testing out of what most of the kids affectionately called "the dummy class". The night before, I ate a good healthy dinner, studied one last time the content which was given to the testers a month previous and even said a little prayer. I was ready to atone for my year of 7th grade goofiness.

Life, however, it seems had its own way of resolving my challenges.

As circumstances would have it, the bus, which I took daily more than 20+ miles, each way, from in-town Boston to the small, well-to-do town in Massachusetts' metro-west corridor broke down and got me to school that day 10-minutes late to the test. Being both multiple choice and written, each question was about two paragraphs in length and required a thorough read-through. Testers were to complete as many of the 66 questions as possible in 46 minutes. After about nine questions or so I realized I was screwed. The material was easy to grasp but I wasn't that fast a reader (reading about little boys with their brightly colored clothing had clearly dulled my senses). With roughly 20 minutes left, I had to decide to either end the test with only about 20 answers done, or employ ABBACD.

That's right, the ABBA-CD method.

Sometime long ago, some schmoe (probably looking for a way to pull a fast one, just like I was) figured out that depending on where you started, the code A-B-B-A-C-D (or ABBA CD) had mathematically the highest likelihood (theoretically) of hitting the most correct answers on a four-answer multiple choice test. With nothing to loose and the future of my career in English studies on the line, I started filling out the remaining answers using ABBA-CD.

Now, I don't want to in any way appear to condone this method, especially as a Dad of three pre-teens and a 14 year old, but as I live and breathe... it worked!! I don't know if it was a function of where I started using it, if it was a one-of-a-kind super lucky accident or if it was destiny. I would like to believe my prayers had simply been answered.

I scored an 86.

Along with acing the essay portion of the exam, I not only tested out of Remedial Reading, I tested into Honors English. I would have to say my butt would have been cooked if it were not for the application of a random alphabetic code I chose to employ for the sake of circumstance. While preparation was a factor, all praise due to whomever above was watching over me that day, and thanks for inspiring the use of the ABBA-CD. Glad you decided to (sorry for this)... "Take A Chance On Me", leaving my insanity intact.

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