February 1, 2012

I must’ve misunderstood ‘ordinary’ concepts all my life, because it doesn’t take too much effort to recall a high school career spiced with just a dash of Creative Misunderstanding.

It’s one thing when this happens on a paper report: it’s quite another when it seeps into the dreaded Oral Report milieu, there to stew in its own juices, building to a crescendo of false declaration that leaves one’s science teacher heaving shoulders in the back row, stifling what could admittedly be either sobs or laughter (depending on the teacher).                                    

One glaring snafu I’ll readily admit to (now) was my impressive midterm high school oral science report (“counts for HALF your grade, so it BETTER BE GOOD”) whimsically (according to Teacher’s supplementary notes complimentarily provided  with my grade) entitled ‘Trajectory, Velocity and Attitude’.

Especially ‘whimsical’ because I had spent half the semester somehow thinking ‘altitude’ was not part of the equation. (That’s what happens when you get a chalkboard-resistant science teacher who prefers spoken word to written example….)

I mean, it simply made no sense, and was one of science’s many puzzles, to my mind.

Yes, I could have Read the Textbook and picked up on a glaring re-interpretation of word. But I had a definite rule about my study approach, based on the fact that Teacher was already picking his favorite points from the book and droning to class after class on said points. Tests too were based on these favorites. I tended to skim the Text at semester’s end to be sure anything sneaky wasn’t added into the final exam; but the rest of the semester I had trained my hand to take notes whilst my eyes looked out the window and considered the velocity and trajectory of a Bumblebee. (Which actually technically and according to science, can’t fly. But, I digress…)

Definition-wise, things seemed pretty cut-and-dried:

Trajectory: the path that a moving object follows through space as a function of time. 

Velocity:  speed in a given direction.

Attitude: tendency or orientation, especially of the mind: a negative attitude, for example.

I could readily see connections between the first two concepts, but the last idea definitely required some cutting and pasting for proper application. Nonetheless, it was science; and the oral report was IMPORTANT – so no doubt ‘attitude’ could be FORCED to fit the required parameters of this entire interconnected mess.

Teachers love illustration. Even the ones that refuse to embellish on the [free, school-provided] blackboard. And I knew, from years of sad experience as a student, that adding color also helps add excitement to any dry oral report scenario. So I bought a packet of colored chalks, honed my already-seasoned stick-figure drawing capabilities, and arrived in class thoroughly prepared to give an ‘A’-winning Oral Report.

First came my definitive Postulate: “Can Trajectory and Velocity be Influenced by Attitude?”

I wrote this Postulate in BIG letters across the blackboard (ending with an underlined flourish for added emphasis) and capitalizing Trajectory and Velocity and Attitude as the Main Scientific Concepts under discussion.

(I believe I heard a distinctive snort from the back row where Teacher was busily taking notes on my performance.)

“Can Trajectory and Velocity be Influenced by Attitude?” I asked somewhat belligerently (…belligerent because I in truth was TERRIFIED to stand in front of the class and actually SPEAK. I am a writer, NOT an orator.) “One has only to look at the average household’s Flying Plate Scenario to arrive at the certainty that YES: A = T + V (and visa versa).”

(This example employed a number of impressive tools: a bow to my calculus teacher Mrs. Masterson and a bow to my parents, whose kitchen was often plagued by Flying Plates.)

The class looked puzzled. (I had no clue that everyone’s evening dining experience didn’t involve a piece of china landing in the sink on a regular basis, tossed, with accompanying vocal exercises, by an irate father. This was my first clue that my example didn’t exactly stem from preconceived universal experience.)

Luckily for me I had on my person a plate from Goodwill from our latest china acquisition (my mother had by then evolved to refusing to invest in matching dinnerware, so she’d never miss it, I was sure), and I held that up, identifying it with a firm “Exhibit A” in True Scientific Manner.

More snorting from the back row, which I ignored.

Now on a dinner roll, I continued:

“…one must deduce that without Attitude, Trajectory and Velocity would remain stationary. In other words, without Attitude, Trajectory and Velocity would not exist.”

The teacher duly requested evidence, which I was well prepared to supply.

“This plate is dead,” I maintained, holding it up. “I think you will agree visual examination results in conclusive evidence showing it is motionless, and holds neither trajectory or velocity in its current inert state.”

“BUT,” I continued, “ATTITUDE enters into the picture, sparking BOTH Velocity and, ultimately, Trajectory.”

I then proceeded to adopt a fierce countenance, mimicking frequent events at my family dinner table:

“This chipped beef on toast and succotash dinner is CRAP! Do I work hard to bring home Good Meats just to have you RUIN them??”

And without further ado I sailed the plate into the science sink on the side of the lab, where it summarily shattered into a million pieces (I was proud of this re-enactment of the toss piece; particularly for my relatively new and previously untested Sink Aim. My sister and I had attempted the same during The Great Succotash Revolution of 1962 but Mom had halted our efforts, admonishing us that while Dad had worked for those dishes and was thus entitled to dispose of them at will, WE were not to follow in those particular footsteps until we too were earning an income and contributing to the Household Dish Fund.)

The class sat in stunned silence, then broke into cheers. Action dioramas, I had just proven, were WAAY more popular than those boring stationary presentations Teacher had specialized in (and apparently, mistakenly, expected from my Oral Report. OH, I was on a roll with this applause!).

I (professionally) employed a pointer (mentally adding to All My Points for an Outstanding ‘A’ Report) after I chalked out a formula on the blackboard, speaking as I’d seen Teacher do … albeit with a tad more artistic embellishment:

“We see (indeed, we have just, in fact, EXPERIENCED) that without Attitude, there can BE no Trajectory nor Velocity. Thus neatly supporting the premise that A Good Attitude can be VOLATILE.”




My on-board drawing included a ducking stick figure, a flying dish, my impromptu yet unerringly accurate calculus formula, and the word PROOF! in big pink letters (…it’s GOTTA be pink!)  with an explanation mark to emphasize the logical conclusion of a Sound Scientific Theory.

I had NO idea why my desired ‘A’ didn’t materialize: just a ‘B+’ on Teacher’s notes, with his scrawled admonishment ‘Good Try’ alongside. Smudged. (Were those TEARSTAINS??)

I had to corral Teacher after class for the explanation.

Well, shoot. Teacher should return to school for a refresher course in Classroom Lecturing if his best effort only resulted in half a (wasted) semester of me futilely substituting ‘Attitude’ for ALTITUDE. Which sorta changed everything.

I gave him an ‘F’.

AND – I stand behind my report’s validity.

After all: I proved – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that without Attitude, there can be NEITHER Trajectory NOR Velocity.

I thusly give me a well-deserved ‘A’.*


*An Aside: I am still awaiting the publication of my results in the Journal of Scientific Inquiry. Apparently they are very backlogged, as it’s been over forty years’ wait already. BUT – I am nothing but patient.

It just takes a good altitude.

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