The first year of college was a disappointment for me intellectually. School teachers had been repeating two facts to me for as long as I could remember: 1. You need college to make something out of your life, 2. College is hard. The hidden message behind point #1 was that if you didn't go to college you would somehow be a failure. The message behind #2 was that you were expected to study hard because the work was difficult and if you didn't study almost all the time, you would fail.
I bought both points, hook line and sinker.
In my defense I was young and didn't know any better.
There were certain subjects that I loved. There were other subjects that I was very interested in learning about. Part of my motivation was arrogant. I had been told that a knowledge of certain things made you a "cultured" or "classy" person. This was nothing more than a form of, "I'm better than you". That didn't matter to me, I wanted to take those classes.
My desire for educational snobbery helped me to chose some of the "advanced or honors" classes. History was one of those courses. I loved history. I read the assigned text and the supplemental readings. I chose Josephus's Antiquities as the basis for my original material term paper. I loved history. I read and reread and took long pages of notes. I got a "C" on my first test.
I had done everything to prepare for that test that could be done. I got a "C". I went to the professor. "What else could I have done?" I didn't get a coherent answer. I had scored a perfect 100% on the multiple guess section of the test but he marked me down for my essay and short answers.
We had another test in two weeks. I studied harder. I studied longer. I got another "C". Same reason as before. I felt like the 11 year-old Chinese kid that offed himself because he got a 98% on a calculus test. This was one of my best subjects and I was getting a "C". Maybe I wasn't college material. Maybe I should just get a job changing oil or making parts in the factory.
A upperclassman came to my aid. "The trick" he said, to getting an "A" on the essay portion is to write a lot of stuff. I didn't buy it. I refused to believe it. My previous answers were correct and complete. There must be some sort of intellectual nuance that I missed. Yet the guy telling me this was the TA. He graded the tests. At least he graded the multiple guess section, the essays were graded by Dr. Hensley. The good Dr. wasn't about to actually read them. He had been teaching for over 30 years and had no interest in the reflections of college freshman.
There were 3 tests, the final and my term paper left. If the TA was right, I could save my grade for the semester, if he was wrong I could seriously endanger my scholarship. I rolled the dice.
Test day came. I aced the multiple guess section in less than 15 minutes. I made sure my short answers were 3 to 5 sentences long and a bit redundant. Still I had 45 minutes for the essay. I wrote complete and accurate material. Then to bulk it up a bit I started off on a creative writing exercise. I don't remember exactly but I think I went off on what kinds of songs the Roman Legions might have sung when marching. I know that one of them started out; M I C, K E Y, why? because we like you, M O U S E. I may have gotten the entire lyrics for Black Sabbath's War Pigs in there along with some other filler. I closed it out with a summarizing paragraph to legitimize my essay and handed it in last.
Monday I got my test back. There was a big A + on the top and a note from the TA. It was in red ink and said, "This Rocked". Unknown to me at the time, I had learned the first rule of higher education, pretend that you are doing what they want, its more important to get along than to do good work.