A Third Grade Story
One day in the third grade, our teacher, Mrs. Brennaman, announced to the class that we were going to play a game. Now to a classroom full of nine year olds, the prospect of a game was still an exciting one. We were all too young and naive to realize any game that you would play in school was really just a tactical trick to sneak knowledge into your brain. So after the thrilling announcement was made, Mrs. Brennaman divided the class into groups of four and each group rearranged their desks into makeshift tables. Atop each table she placed a single game-board and a handful of little plastic chips that we would be using as game pieces. All of the hustle and bustle of desks being pushed around, game pieces being divvied up, and classmates trying to figure out what we were about to play filled my body with ecstasy. It would soon be game time.
Once the entire classroom had transformed into a table-top paradise, the chatter silenced as Mrs. B approached the front of the class ready to announce the game.
“Ok class. In front of you is a game-board divided into four sections. Before the game starts I will assign each of you to one of these sections and that will be your area for scoring points. Each of you will take a turn tossing a chip into the air and whichever section that chip lands on, that player will get a point. At the end of the game, whoever has the most points will win!”
In retrospect, this was the lamest game I had ever heard of but I was nine and this was a classroom. A place for learning and not for fun. The prospect of doing anything besides drilling cursive handwriting titillated me to no end. We were about to play the simplest game in existence and we could hardly keep still.
But before the game could begin, Mrs. B had one question.
“So now that you all know the rules, does anyone have any questions?”
As all of our eyes darted around the room to see if anyone had a question, my eyes passed by the game-board. I realized I had been so excited about the prospect of playing a game I still had not taken a moment to examine the playing field. The board was divided into four sections just like a pie chart. Four lines starting from the center extended out to the edges of the board creating a scoring section for each player. My attention lingered on the board as I realized something was wrong. My precision focused eyes suddenly widened with astonishment as I realized the sections were not equal. One section was so obviously larger than the other three that any player assigned to that section was sure to win. I felt like I had just uncovered a scandal of school-wide proportions. My hand darted into the air so quickly that if my arm wasn’t attached to my body it would have flown through the ceiling. I was about the whistle-blow the shit out of this game.
“Mrs. Brennaman, this game is unfair! Whoever is assigned to the bigger section has a way better chance of winning!”
The jig was up. I don’t know what sick pleasure Mrs. B was going to get from making her class play this game but I was not about to just sit around and let it happen. She looked back at me as a smile grew on here face.
“You are very right!”
The classroom erupted in gasps.
“By playing this game today you were all going to learn something called probability. The measure of how likely it is that something will happen. It seems Mike was the only one to notice one of the sections on your game-board was larger than the others.”
In seconds I had gone from a vilified classroom whistle-blower to Nobel Prize winning laureate. My feelings of disgust were quickly replaced with feelings of triumph as I had bested my entire class in uncovering the true nature of this so called “game”. At that moment I was a glimmering beacon of pure knowledge that all of my classmates could look up to as an example of supreme excellence. I had hoped to uncover a juicy story of player inequality but this feeling of superiority was intoxicating. But Mrs. B continued.
“Well it looks like we can just skip the game altogether now and continue into our workbook problems.”
Shit. I swear could hear their blood boiling. Under the cover of their innocent smiles my classmates were unfolding their compasses with the sharp and pointy ends facing out. This was my price for the truth. If I had any last words, now as the time to speak them.
I opened my mouth one final time to plea for life but was quickly interrupted.
“But that doesn’t sound like fun so lets just go ahead and play the game!”
My heart leaped back into my chest as the class erupted in cheers. We would still have our game and I would still have my life. After the class had settled back into their seats and I had breathed a sigh of relief, I looked over at Mrs. B with a look of confusion. Was this her plan all along? To push a kid up onto a pedestal just to watch them fall before narrowly saving them at the very last moment? Or was she simply trying to be a creative school teacher who took her time designing creative games to teach students she clearly cared about? I suppose I may never know, but god damn, third grade was way too complicated.