03 February 2013
Barf Me Out, Gag Me with a Spoon
Nothing destroys a veteran’s confidence like a community college placement test. Or in my case, the sudden realization that although I was a kid at war, I was now a man in the classroom. Like many of the soldiers I’d served with, I chose the Army to escape home, my hometown, and another four years of school. But it took me five years in the Army—and multiple deployments—to realize that maybe college wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
In fact, college was a great idea, if not also a waste of time. Just like in the Army. I learned this on the very first day, before I had even registered for classes. Community college wanted to assess me. Put me on a chart and analyze whether I knew words, or abstract mathematical formulas. I told them I was good at calculating grid coordinates on a map, and that I was skilled at blowing stuff up.
But these placement tests don’t value the kind of experience I gained while serving my country. They don’t score a combat veteran favorably for reacting to fire, or for setting up a perimeter defense.
They’re not equipped to measure the intensity of his concentration while on dismounted patrol, or the proficiency with which he enters a building and clears a room. This valuable experience is contextually worthless.
I knew this would be the case, but did I really need a placement test to tell me that I was starting over? I was okay with placing my racecar on GO and rolling the dice. Just give me Dummy Math 101.
Didn’t matter. Community college gave me a test date anyway. I showed up with my #2 and stood in line with a bunch of stoner high school kids. One slacker in particular. He was bronzed, and had wavy, sandy hair. He carried a pencil and a skateboard, and talked like Jeff Spicoli. The cute girl in front of him. She was buried in her phone when he asked her, “Hey, what test are you taking?”
And she said, “Uhm, like, just the math one.”
“Oh—no way. Me too.”
“I totally shouldn’t have to be here. I got, like, a C in Algebra 2 last semester.”
“Oh—no way. That totally blows. What school did you go to?”
“Uhm, just like, ________________ High School.”
“Oh—no way, me too! So, like, do you know ___________?”
“I think so. Is she, like, friends with ________________?”
“Oh, yeah, I know that dude. Is he still dating _______________?”
“I dunno. I think they like, broke up.”
“Oh—no way. So, like… what are you doing tonight?”
“Uhm, I dunno, probably, just like, hanging out.”
“Oh… you want to go to a party?”
“Uhm, sure. Okay. Do you drive?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a Wrangler. What’s your number?”
That’s a verbatim conversation. Between two barely-legal adults, and they were going to be my classmates. That continued on for several minutes. All I could think was, Thank god they weren’t going to have my back in combat.