Tom Fearon

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Student's Ode to HSC English

Nov. 5, 2002

By Tom Fearon

 The NSW Board of Studies has created a syllabus that has educated students in not only analysing the texts, but appreciating them. Photo: Alamy

The NSW Board of Studies has created a syllabus that has educated students in not only analysing the texts, but appreciating them. Photo: Alamy

I'LL never forget the feeling.

The sun pierced through my blinds waking me for the inevitable.

My head swam and stomach churned. Today was my HSC English exam.

I spoke hardly a word to Mum as I sat down for breakfast.

She encouraged and reassured me. I would do fine, she said.

Last-minute cramming is a terrible thing, endless reading of quotes and techniques, different concepts relating the syllabus.

All this as your mind tries to absorb the creative energy you know has gone into creating your chosen texts.

A quick glance at the time and a last sip of an energy drink that will allow me to remember all that has been learned from classes.

I prepare for the sombre walk to the hall.

The feeling a student experiences before an exam can be likened to the fear of a prisoner on death row. Both are aware they are about to meet their fate.

Walking up the steps towards the exam hall has been affectionately known as `the vertical green mile'.

The exam was formal but the results will be real.

Before the exam I felt this was the be all and end all. Expectations from others such as parents and teachers are tough to deal with at the best of times, although expectations from yourself are the hardest to satisfy.

My personal goal was not so much to achieve a mark in the top 5% or 10% in the state, but just to do my best.

Cliched as it sounds, that's all I want: to fulfill my potential.

Man's relationship with the natural world in William Shakespeare's The Tempest and Tim Flannery's anthology The Explorers may bore you no end but they both possess a sense of fantasy and adventure.

Try talking to your mates about Prospero's dominant control over Caliban or Jan Cartensz's encounter with the Aborigines and you're guaranteed to be met with a look of dazed confusion and mockery, of being a teacher's pet.

Who knows what the future holds, but it’s safe to assume that we will never write essays on powerplay in Nineteen Eighty-Four or compose conversations considering structure, language and ideas of texts, never, ever again.

Who cares that some guy called George Orwell wrote a novel that painted a bleak picture of a totalitarian future?

Teenagers live in an age of surfing, getting your Ps and partying at the weekend.

Ask about "Big Brother" and we'll tell you it's a reality TV show on Channel 10.

Teachers tell us of a metaphysical genius by the name of John Donne but it's hard to give credence to this when you realise your little brother can spell better than a genius could.

Amid all this reluctance to digest such alien texts, there is probably a part of each Year 12 student that will miss it all.

It is the part that acknowledges the journey of 13 years has finally come to an end.

Who knows what the future holds, but it's safe to assume that we will never write essays on powerplay in Nineteen Eighty-Four or compose conversations considering structure, language and ideas of texts, never, ever again.

Walking out of the hall after the English exam I learned something that couldn't be taught from textbooks.

The warm smile of our faithful grounds keeper, Dom, told me there is a life waiting to be lived following the hell in the exam hall.

Perhaps a better analogy of the HSC student, rather than a prisoner, is that of a newborn infant.

The world that awaits us is exciting and wonderful. And yes, there is life after the HSC.

When viewed in hindsight, the NSW Board of Studies has created a syllabus that has educated students in not only analysing the texts, but appreciating them.

Contrary to Joanne McCarthy's belief of `killing' such appreciation ("New English is a study in jargon", 31/10), students have the chance to value the texts.

I know I can't speak on behalf of 63,000 other students doing their HSC and I may be in a minority in my views, but from the perspective of a student who has sometimes despised learning such concepts they will be missed.

Missed because they represent a different and more creative perspective than say, watching a film or reading poetry.

Yes (shock, horror), your teenager may one day read poetry of his own accord.

The handouts from the class teacher may not be issued, but the priceless knowledge gained from the HSC will be ever present.

Compliments to the HSC.


This article was originally published in the Newcastle Herald.