Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fear Is Failure

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Today, something a little different.

In order to get a high school diploma in New Jersey, students have to pass a test called the High School Proficiency Assessment. At our school, we teach little but test prep in the subjects that are on the dreaded HSPA ... and career training in the so-called "shops." So basically your average student there fixes cars in the morning and drills for a state test the rest of the day.

Next week I begin a unit of test prep with my Honors class. Because they're Honors, I'm keeping it short, rather than lavishing four weeks on it as I do in CP.

I thought you might like to see a sample HSPA question. Imagine that you have 30 minutes -- no more -- to write an essay based on the following prompt:

"Although fear is a common human emotion, our response to it varies. Using an example from literature, history, science, film, or your own experience or observation, write an essay analyzing a particular response to fear and the effect of that response."

Ready. Set. Go.

Anne's response:

This prompt says that "fear is a common human emotion." That's very true. Fear is so common that it is not easily categorized. There are mild fears, such as those experienced when a credit card goes missing. There are moderate fears, as when the teenager goes out for a night on the town. There are chronic fears, better known as phobias. These can be crippling to those who experience them. Lastly, there is the rational fear of imminent death, to which a vast majority of people respond in the same way: "Oh my God! NOOOOOO!"

Which fear does this prompt want me to address? You see, our response to fear varies as the level of imminent danger increases. So my response to, say, a lost credit card would be one thing, and my response to a knife-wielding assailant quite another. I guess the prompt wants me to pick one kind of fear, dwell on that, and find examples in my own life that correspond to something I've read, seen in a movie, or discovered in a science experiment. The course of easiest resistance in this case is to skip all the surmountable fears and move straight on to imminent fear of death.

Thankfully, I have no personal experience of the fear of imminent death, so I will have to bypass that helpful part of the prompt. However, I also have had no personal, immediate observation of an otherwise healthy human suddenly put in fear of imminent death. Ah, so I suppose I must fall back on movies. Oh my. Wait a minute. I'm afraid of slasher films, and I usually shield my eyes in regular movies when there's any kind of violence. The same for t.v. I can't watch brutality, real or staged.

Is it too late to go back and write about losing my credit card? Oh no! It is! I've already wasted 15 minutes on the fear of imminent death! Let's see ... observation ... personal experience ... history...

One particular response to fear that I have read about at length is a vulture's fear of imminent death. When vultures feel threatened, they projectile vomit. Given that they consume rotten meat to begin with, and then it is digested slowly in biochemicals that can extract and kill the harmful bacteria, their vomit must be disgusting indeed. Therefore, their response to fear is to vomit, and the effect of that response is to remove the fear of imminent death, in the form of the attacker.

History gives us no examples of people projectile vomiting due to the fear of imminent death. Humans have a "fight or flight" mentality, so they either lash out or try to run. Having exhausted those possibilities, however, I surmise that more than a few vomit, due to stress. I feel it is strongly likely that I would regurgitate, or otherwise experience some kind of purge (which I have read is quite common) when faced with the fear of imminent death.

In conclusion, one response to fear is to vomit. Sometimes, as with vultures, this brings the positive effect of repelling attack. Other times, mostly with humans, vomiting doesn't stop the killing and only makes your last moment of life embarrassing as well as terrifying. Thank you for reading my essay, and I hope I passed the HSPA.

I wish I could submit this for a score. My guess is I'd pass -- barely.


Hecate said...

I would fail if I wrote that I use this prayer from Dune almost every day, wouldn't I?

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Lavanah said...

I can only imagine the confusion (and how quick the failing grade) were someone to quote from one of the Israel Regardie books quoting from Golden Dawn ritual, which is actually what I thought you were doing in the title to this post (which confused me greatly!)

Sarita Rucker said...

And of course you find a way to bring vultures into the mix. :)

By the way, have I recommended that you read "Hank the Cowdog" by John Erickson? It's a very fun series, and a couple of lovable buzzards keep popping up.

Anne Johnson said...

I did use the Golden Dawn ritual. Maybe I'll write a few more potential HSPA responses. To answer your question, Hecate, you would actually get major points for knowing that prayer from Dune. It proves you have read at least one book, and the HSPA graders like that.

Aquila ka Hecate said...

I tend you just yell "Oh fuck" when faced with imminent death. Which happens at least once a week, on Joburg roads.
This litany has the effect of making all the non-threatening, potentially helpful bystanders flinch away from me. Not evolutionarily sound, I'd say.

Terri in Joburg