Baccalaureate exam: what urban legends tell us about school

Baccalaureate exam: what urban legends tell us about school
On the occasion of the high school exams, we remember some student legends in the world and their meaning. From Einstein donkey to the bad luck of the undergraduates, from the cursed picture to the diffusion of the tracks (photo: Michele Lapini / Getty Images) The Covid-19 has forced us to question many things. One of these is the state exam, or high school exam. Should this year have been organized differently? Such as? And if we had discovered that it was not fundamental, wouldn't it have been an opportunity to abolish it? We know how it turned out. Didactic value or not, it is a rite of passage that most consider right for students.

Thus, with many differences, 2020 also has its maturity, and as per tradition the event was accompanied by the Safe schooling campaign. The police are watching over "urban legends, hoaxes and fake news" that students may encounter in this particular period. In reality, this year's campaign seems to be aimed above all at the new examination methods, that is, to inform / reassure the children about the anti-Covid precautions put in place.

sure, the urban legends are another thing. And without a doubt, it is at school that many of us have their baptism , that is, feel for the first time these “ improbable stories told as true “ . Those connected with the school in particular, which often involve a trial to overcome, we can say a lot about that world. In his book Transplantation, sex, anguish. Urban legends in Italy (1998), the anthropologist Laura Bonato, for example, writes about than academic ones: “the building of the university and its environment restrict the individuals that belong to it into a microcosm where the voices of the corridor are held in high esteem, and the tam tam student it works wonders. From these narratives, we perceive also a sense of belonging and sharing, in addition that the mutual solidarity among the students.”

The framework damned

Edwin Henry Landseer: Man proposes to, God Disposes, 1864 (Public domain) Imagine having to conduct the examination in a classroom where you hung this picture. Man proposes, God disposes was painted in 1864 by Edwin Henry Landseer and refers to an ill-fated polar expedition . In 1845 Sir John Franklin set out with the ships Erebus and Terror looking for the northwest Passage, not to return. No one knows what happened exactly to the crew, but the assumptions you hold. Including the one that had eaten each other.

The painting is hanging in a classroom at the Royal Holloway College (London), but when there are exams, is covered by a british flag . The reason, according to the legend of a student, is that the picture made her mad a guy. After being attached to long, began to mutter. It became more and more restless, until she grabbed a pencil and you killed infilandosela in the eye. On his task, there was written everywhere “bears!”

That suicide is never the case, but it is true that in that college, it is tradition to cover the painting. Just thought to bring bad luck, and the students have the right to avoid bad luck. As written CeRaVolc it is likely that the story about the boy mad came later, offering an explanation more concrete, and only the bad luck.


Difficult that you have not felt. A dreaded task in the classroom the theme to be developed is “courage” . Legend has it that a student without a stain and without fear has delivered almost white by taking the maximum of the votes. He had written “for me the courage is this” or something similar. Like many legends, this is also "globalized", that is, is told by students from all over the world.

According to Snopes the task on the courage is a part of a family of legends that have in common the answer is simple, bold and brilliant proof of the outcome. Another example is the writing of philosophy where the professor has put a single question: “why?” That a hero would respond with “why not?”.

What do we tell these stories? According to folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand discharge the tensions of student life, and, at the same time convey the fame of certain professors. In this case, the student takes the professor on his own ground, and the professor loyally recognizes this by assigning the maximum score.

Genes misunderstood

In a popular strip Calvin & Hobbes Calvin has with Susie to have the votes even worse than those that had Einstein , an obvious indication of genius. Calvin refers of course to the story that we all loved, if even Einstein had bad grades in mathematics , the hope is the last to die.

But Einstein has always been excellent in math since I was a child. It seems that the story about the bad marks was born in 1935, when she spoke of the popular magazine, Ripley's believe it or not . Also, the affected person fired, but it was no use. One hypothesis is that everything is born from a simple error of interpretation. The high school he attended in Switzerland at some point reversed the scale of the scores . If we want to find a truth in it, when Einstein tried to enter the Zurich Polytechnic (two years early) was not allowed. But the shortcomings of the test of the entrance were in matters not scientific.

And that of the whiteboard with the problem cannot be resolved by a student, there's good Will Hunting ? Based on a true story: in 1939, the then-student George Bernard Dantzig solved two famous problems of statistics. Arrived late to a lecture of Jerzy Neyman at Berkeley, he had found on the board and exchanged for a homework assignment. He admitted that they were a bit difficult, and in fact gave the task of apologizing for the delay. Over time the reality became legend. The identity of the brilliant young (who became a famous mathematician) disappeared, while similar stories began popping up in college campuses, with all the embellishments in the case.

The cousin of the australian

what would you have to help in the examination of maturity? If only you could know in advance the tracks ... This year will not be a problem, because the examination does not provide written. But in the past, help could arrive, according to the legend, from the antipodes .

The tam tam student left no doubt. In the Italian schools abroad, the maturity exam is based on the same tracks. Thanks to the magic of the rotation it would take a mole in Australia to know you here, with advance, what will be the tracks.

Nothing real, as explained well in 2010 . Legends such as this encourage traffic to sites that they say they have received in some way for the tracks. But the bureaucratic machine is related to the exams makes it very difficult, even in a hyper-connected world, the dissemination in advance of these contents.

The statues in the know

While in the world, fall of the idols of racism , it is worth remembering that not all old (or not so old ) statues are equally revolting. In the book Campus Legends: A Handbook (2004) the folklorist Elizabeth Tucker tells the story of those who are at the forefront of the campus american university.

the Statue of Andrew Dickson White at Cornell University. Are visible the imprints designed by the students (Xtreambar at the English language Wikipedia / CC BY-SA ) At Cornell, for example, two statues pay homage to the founders: Ezra Cornell and Andrew White . Students each year draw among these monuments, two series of fingerprints. Legend has it that when a student, virgin, bachelor, the two were to meet and shake hands. Many campus legends are very similar. If they are not illustrious to underline the unlikely event that taking life, we think the roars of the lions carved in the wood, as in Tufts and in Cincinnati.

we seem to outweigh the good luck. “Those who pass between the lions, did not graduate from Bocconi university” , says the proverb. And Wisdom is a good rule to never fix the Goddess Minerva in the eyes, if you want to become.

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