The Game

The Game:

  • There were five classes a year.
  • Grades were given every semester.
  • Goal was to get the highest average.
  • Regular classes counted for four points, Honors for five, AP for six.
    (Those were for A’s, of course. B’s were an integer lower, C’s lower than that. But if you had to worry about B’s or C’s you were already out of the running for top score.)  

The Parameters:

  • You couldn’t get into an Honors or AP class without prerequisites, which were usually a Regular class with a teacher recommendation.
  • Everybody had to take one art and one music class. Both were Regular classes.

You would think that if you took the most challenging classes and got A’s, then you’d be tied for top score at least. In fact, you might think there would be a lot of people tied for the top spot.

But you would be assuming the system was fair.

Moore Magnet High had an Accelerated Program. These students started taking high school classes in 7th grade with specialized instruction and support. Every year, the entire city showed up to take the entrance exam and around 100 students were accepted. When people said that it was harder to get into Moore Magnet than into Harvard, they were talking about the Accelerated Program. We were the ones who would prove that city kids could leave the ‘burbies in the dust if we only had as much money and opportunities. And the city was going to make sure we did.

Not everyone lasted after they got in, of course. There were lots of tears, lots of competition. A few kids had to drop out because of the stress. There was cheating too, but if you had to cheat off someone, you’ve already acknowledged they were better than you.

For 9th grade, Moore Magnet accepted 200 more students and it started to feel like a normal high school instead of some simmering incubator. By then the Accelerated Program students (or Ackies as we were called) had already finished our prerequisites and were taking Honors and AP classes. These 200 new students had no hope of making the top spot unless none of the Ackies had straight A’s. Of course that was not possible because there was me.

But okay, let’s say you were one of the 100 Ackies. There could still be a tie for the top score, right? I got straight A’s. Janet got straight A’s. Why was my GPA still higher? (No, nobody else got straight A’s. Moore Magnet was hard, after all.)

I never liked sharing. But I did like challenging the boundaries.

In 7th grade, I tested out of the Algebra math class everyone else was taking and got placed in Honors Geometry with the sophomores. The teacher once told the class to copy my answers if they had to, instead of the ones in the back of the book. By junior year the school had run out of math classes for me. That cleared out my schedule for study hall, which did not count as a class and so would not affect my GPA. At this point, my GPA was so high that anything lower than an AP would bring it down. And Moore Magnet was out of AP’s for me too, except one.

Remember when I said everyone had to take a Regular level music class and art class? That is because of some law that said all Chicago Public School students had to take a music and an art class in high school. But the law did not actually specify the level for those classes. It was the school that said you had to complete a Regular level prerequisite if you wanted to take Honors Music or Art.

So I talked myself out of Regular Music and into AP Music Theory instead.

The music teacher was not amenable, but I went straight to the principal. This was senior year, and the principal already knew me. Or actually, knew of me. I had carried the school’s math team for five years, was the youngest member of the debate team in 8th grade, and was a star member of the school’s national level academic decathlon team. Plus, I was a concert level pianist. AP courses were worth six points. Janet was stuck taking a regular level music course worth four points.

At graduation, she had to introduce me and then sit onstage blinking at the bright lights while I gave my valedictory speech.

Poor Janet was one of the most unimaginative people I knew. She probably still hasn’t figured out how I did it. I bet she thinks the system was rigged against her or something when actually, her locker partner and only friend was a spoiled brat who was used to being the exception and did not like to share. I never asked her what she thought.

Anyway, she went to Harvard and then Columbia Law, so there was really no harm done. It was just a six-year-long game that nobody really cared about except her and me.

I don’t even think about it at all anymore.


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