Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Take a position for or against truth.
Prove the validity of your position.

Mr. Stukas was my Pre-Algebra teacher when I was a comb-challenged eighth-grader at Madeira Beach Middle School in Florida.1 We learned about cross-multiplication and the slope formula (y = mx + b), and we received a good grounding in preparation for high school math, where I was fine with trigonometry, geometry and basic algebra but eventually hit the wall — hard — in Pre-Calculus.

Anyway, my recollection of Mr. Stukas is that he was a fine and fair teacher. But as the school year crept to an end and the Florida days got hotter and our attention began to wander more frequently, he kept us on edge during those final weeks of Spring 1985 by warning us that the final exam would be very difficult and would count for a large portion of our final grade.

There was much concern and anxiety.

The day arrived — it might even have been the final day of the semester — and we filed into Mr. Stukas' classroom nervously. We sat at our desks, pencils ready, as he placed a single sheet of paper on all our desks and then returned to his own desk, which was at the back of the classroom. I'm sure had had a slight smile on his face as we sat there, dumbfounded, reading over our exam. After a few minutes, some people started to realize the joke, tentatively rose from their desks and were dismissed, with best wishes for a happy summer.

I've kept that "exam" for more than 30 years. What else would you expect from an ephemeraologist? Here's the text, in full.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Four hour time limit. Begin immediately.

Describe the history of the papacy from its origin to the present day, concentrating especially but not exclusively on its social, political, economic, religious and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America and Africa. Be brief, concise and specific.

You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze, and a bottle of scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have 15 minutes.

2,500 riot-crazed aborigines are storming the classroom. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

Create life. Estimate the difference in subsequent human culture if this form of life had developed 500-million years earlier, with special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system. Prove your thesis.

Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. You will find a piano under your seat.

Based on your knowledge of their works, evaluate the emotional stability, degree of adjustment, and repressed frustrations of each of the following: Alexander of Aphrodisias, Ramses II, Gregory of Nicea, Hammurabi. Support your evaluation with quotations from each man's work, making appropriate references. It is not necessary to translate.

Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world. Construct an experiment to test your theory.

The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas: cubism, the Donatist controversy, the wave theory of light. Outline a method for preventing these affects. Critize [sic] this method from all points of view possible. Point out the deficiencies in your point of view, as demonstrated in your answer to the last question.

There is a red telephone on the desk beside you. Start World War III. Report at length on its socio-political effects, if any.2

Take a position for or against truth. Prove the validity of your position.3

Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics and science.

Sketch the development of human thought; estimate its significance. Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.

I think this amazing Final Exam jibes quite well the absurdist sense of humor that I would development, with some help from Dave Barry, Steven Wright, David Letterman and others, in later years, after I learned how to correctly comb my hair.

The Internet and the magic of Google4 allow me to do a little research regarding where Mr. Stukas might have found this Final Exam. Pieces of it can be found in many places, including many message boards, where it is often cited as Xerox humor (which Wikipedia has under the heading faxlore).

The oldest example I can find cites, as an original [?] source Chemistry, Volume 65, Number 6. April 1972, pg. 3. It includes a question that I see on many of the exams and that there might not have been room for on Mr. Stukas' sheet: "Cosmology: Define the universe. Give three examples."

Some later versions of the exam weave in modern disciplines. One exam has a section for COMPUTER SCIENCE: "You have been provided with several pencils and a stack of blue exam books. You have three hours. Write a smaller, faster version of Windows 95 that includes all current functionality and is the equivalent of the 1988 version of the MacIntosh operating system."

There's a version of the Exam that was copyrighted in 2006 and is titled Naval Reactors Aptitude Test.

And, strangely, a version of the Exam also appears in a 2011 book titled Inside a U.S. Embassy: Diplomacy at Work, All-New, Third Edition of the Essential Guide to the Foreign Service.

1. One of my classmates, a kid named James Rogers, brought a lizard to school what seemed like every other day, but I'm sure was less often than that.
2. Um, that hits a little close to home these days. Red telephones are nothing to joke about.
3. Um, that also hits too close to home in 2017.
4. At Madeira Beach Middle School, we only had TRS-80's with color BASIC and cassette drives.

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