Public school and spelling bees and geography exams and all that.
I was never good at spelling, but I always ended up in the spelling bee at my elementary school and junior high. I read all the time, but I just couldn't absorb spelling like some people do. I could remember spelling rules, and make a darn good stab at things, but I just didn't have every word in my head. So -ibles and -ables, for example, threw me. And I read too much as a kid. I remember I got knocked down in a spelling bee for a "gue" word -- I forget which, dialogue probably -- because the teacher said it should be spelled dialog. And I still don't spell judgment or kidnaped right on the first try. And "axe" should have an e on the end. Also, reading King Arthur at that age was a mistake as far as spelling went.
I always ended up in spelling bees, though, because we did an in-class spelling bee, and then a school-wide one, and the in-class ones tended towards the "tricky" words because those were, they assumed, the people who were really good at spelling. So I spelled yacht and rhythm and weird and picnicking, and I hated it, because I knew I'd end up in the school-wide bee, where they would ask us easy things, and I would be horribly humiliated. (This was, obviously, before I learned to throw contests. Which is a whole 'nother story.) So in the school-wide, I'd tend to go down on the first, easy round -- "mackerel," "susceptible," words like that.
But my real story is from the Department of Energy Regional Science Bowl. In order for this to make sense, I need to explain how the science bowl worked. It was between two teams of four people, and you played different teams every hour all day. The proctor read the question out loud, and you could ring in at any time after he started reading and he'd finish the question before you had to answer, but if you rang in before he read off possible answers (many were multiple choice) he wouldn't read off the options. Also, you rang in as an individual, but if you got the question wrong, the other team got to CONSULT and then answer as a team.
Anyway, we were playing against some team, and the proctor said "What is ninety degrees expressed in radians?" My friend D. hit his buzzer at "expressed in." So the guy finished, looked at him expectantly, and D. said "pi/2." And the proctor said "incorrect." Our whole team and the other team looked baffled. They don't read out the multiple choice option at all, if anyone answers before they get to it, so the other team looked a little confused, consulted among themselves, and said "no answer." The proctor said "the correct answer is 1/2 pi." The other team instantlly said "wait, but that's just what D. said." (They were very nice about it, conceding the point and all.) The proctor said "no, he didn't, he said pi/2." D. said "no, pi/2 is the same as 1/2 pi. It's just a different way of saying the same thing." The proctor said "I'm sorry, but the answer is 1/2 pi. That's what it says here." After much arguing, the proctor agreed to send someone to consult with the fellow in charge of the contest, although he was still positive that we were wrong. We finally got the point at the end of the match, and the incident made us angry at the proctor, and is probably why we won that match.
Later in the day, against Berkeley High, different proctor. Question: "What is the common name for the atomic elements numbered 58 through 71, in the IIIb group of the periodic table?" I rang in after "58 through 71," since I didn't need more than that, and said it was the Lanthanide series. Proctor: No, that's incorrect. Team 2? Team 2 hesitated, consulted, hesitated, consulted, and finally came up with no answer. The proctor: "The correct answer is the 4f elements." Which is another name for the Lanthanide series, but is in no way the common name for them. I said: "the Lanthanide series is another name for the 4f elements." The proctor said "unless you have a book on you that proves it, you don't get the point." Which was really rude, because we weren't allowed reference materials in the building at all, so it was basically like saying "nope, you don't get to argue your case." Annoying. More annoying because this proctor had a tendency to appeal to the only man on our team, even though I was the team leader, and spoke for the team. Grrrrr.
But the most annoying part of all? The fact that after that match was officially over, and the other team won, the teacher in charge of the other team -- not a student, but a science teacher, an adult -- came up to me and said "I saw that you looked angry about the lanthanide series question, and I just wanted to let you know that you were right. Lanthanide series is the common name of the IIIb elements. I was surprised that anyone knew the answer to that question. If I'd thought you had any chance of winning, I'd have spoken up." (Most. Backhanded. Praise. Ever. And also very rude, because the lanthanide series question was one of the first in the match, and really anyone could have won at that point, so he was implying that he thought we were stupid, and also because he implied that the only reason I'd want anyone to know I was right was to get points and win, and also because his tone was intensely condescending. I wanted to hit him. A lot.)
We lost the overall contest, ending up somewhere in the middle, probably because we weren't very competitive-minded. We were, however, the only team to include more women than men, so we could feel good about that. And we beat Logan, although their overall rank was above us, which was nice, as Logan is the San Francisco magnet school.
On the other hand, Berkeley went on to the National level. Sometimes you just want to spit.