If one every wanted a clear indication of how much school has changed since people our age (don’t ask) were kids, one need look no further than my middle child’s latest school curriculum mandated activity: telling a joke in class.
Yes, my child was actually graded on various aspects of telling a joke to the rest of the class. Not that my child was the only one telling jokes, all the kids had to do it for grades. They were graded on age-old joke telling criteria such as timing, delivery, and build up. Amazingly, they were not graded on whether or not the joke was actually any good or not — too subjective I suppose.
When I was in school, whispering a silly joke like this:
Q. Did you hear about the two peanuts walking down the street in a bad neighborhood?
A. One was assaulted!
to the person sitting next to you would warrant the first punishment on the three-punishment scale at my old elementary school. Namely, you would have to stand in the corner of the classroom with your face to the wall.
This was generally an effective punishment for your basic wall-flower type personality, but if you were inclined to being a bit of a jokester, you might have been tempted to amuse the rest of the class from your corner by holding one splayed hand out on top of your head, the other splayed hand out from your bottom, thereby doing a pretty decent imitation of a rooster.
This would get you the second punishment on the three-punishment scale where you would be sent outside the classroom to stand in the hallway and stare at the wall next to the classroom door. If you decided to behave yourself, you were invited back in to the class when the teacher came out to check on you. If, when the teacher came out to check on you, she found out that there was nobody to check on because you got bored and wandered off, this got you the third level of punishment on the three-punishment scale, being sent to the principal’s office.
Being sent to the principal’s office was a fearsome prospect because we had never ever seen anybody again after having been sent there; at least until the next day anyway. Rumors were rampant about what transpired when one was sent to the principal’s office, but the most reliable scuttlebutt about the playground was that the principal called your Mom at home. Enough said. Once when I was sent to the office, I was so afraid, that I never actually went!; I just sort of wandered about and went back to class after a little while.
So telling a joke in class way back when I was in school was a serious matter. And this didn’t change when I got to high school. I can remember as if it was yesterday how my buddy Gord got himself into some major serious trouble by joking around in French class one day.
Remember the McDonald’s Restaurant Big Mac Hamburger Song from the 70’s? Everybody sing along:
“Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”
In an ideal world, there would be little musical notes randomly placed around the previous sentence.
Anyway, Gord and I were sitting in our French class listening to Mr. White, who happened to be an Englishman, from England, teaching us how to speak French, although Mr. White also taught people how to speak Russian, but we weren’t in his Russian class, so he was teaching us French, in his English accent. So Mr. White asked the class a question in French like, “Quelle heure est-il?” which is roughly translated (to us anyway) as, “what’s in that sandwich?”
So Gord answered the sandwich question, without being called on, by singing the Big Mac Hamburger song. Mr. White smiled and said that that was quite enough.
Not to be discouraged by this downgraded first-level punishment, Gord went on to sing the Big Mac Hamburger song over and over again, first in a low, barely audible voice, then growing louder and louder, until Mr. White could no longer ignore it. Mr. White sent Gord out into the hall (the classic second punishment maneuver). As Gord approached the threshold between the classroom and the hall, he paused, and waited until he was sure that he had the attention of the entire class, including Mr. White, before he sang the Big Mac Hamburger song one last time in his loudest voice in a rapid fire staccato that lasted about a half a second before he exited the classroom and headed directly for the principal’s office, thereby denying Mr. White the opportunity to send him there himself, to complete the level three mode of school punishment.
In today’s classroom, Gord would have received an A-plus in timing and delivery.
But in my day, telling a silly little joke to a classmate was a major faux pas which is roughly translated as “false pause” — a classic joke telling device.
In case you were wondering, my son received the highest grade possible for his joke; a “four” in today’s latest mutation of giving your children grades that parents cannot understand. His grade only serves to prove the adage that Newton coined when he invented gravity: “Yon apple fallest not far from yonder tree.”
Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.