She explains to me slowly, about the math. About how it will be if I don’t take it all the way to HSC.
“Sydney Uni won’t even look at you if you haven’t done math for HSC.”
I tell her that’s all right then. I don’t want to go to Sydney University. She gives me a withering look. She wants the best for me; she wants me to be successful. She wants me to want to go to Sydney University. She thinks I’m going to end up under a bridge.
The year advisor stands at the front of the assembly and looks at us sadly. She’s read out the names of the good ones. There is a shuffle from those who were not listed and she folds her hands in front of her. Her pencil skirt is pulled too tight around her knees, but her hair is perfect.
“A lot of them were borderline,” she addresses the majority, ‘them’ being our half-yearly reports. There is a snap to attention. “If you’re one of those people who think they need development in just a few subjects…” we watch her grimly. “You should start thinking about putting more work towards them.” I wonder if she knows what she has said, what she sounds like. Because she sounds like the ending to her sentence is ‘or else you’re going to end up under a bridge’.
Last week’s question was: do you know what subjects you’re choosing? This week’s question is: what subjects did you choose? It’s the same every time. Did you study for the test? What was your answer to 15a on geometry? Our answers are the same, oh thank god. Everything hinges on every choice. There is nothing that will not decide whether or not you end up under a bridge.
There is fear in the corridors, because we keep getting things wrong, and yet the dramatic effects of these mistakes fail to appear so we keep inching closer and closer to some figurative cliff.
The year advisor purses her lips at us, twisting her fingers in front of her. Someone giggles nervously. There is silence. We look at each other, and I’m waiting for her to offer us some sort of comfort. She’s just delivered the news that most of us are at best borderline. But, no, there is no gift of statistical safety. There is no group average of wealth. There is no mention of the suburban house, and the job with the slowly increasing salary, the few kids, the partner, and the sensible car and the saving for Christmas.
There are equations in the math I need to do. There are immediate and logical answers. If I do this, this and this, if I make this combination of things, then this is where I will end up. This is like math. We have been given the problem, but no formula.
But if we get it wrong, we might end up under the bridge.
There is no mention that most of us will end up just saving for Christmas.