The Medieval Experiment

It was the winter of his sophomore year at High School when a very young, chunky, pimply, and philosophically-pretentious student named Ian was handed a fistful of paper slips and told to be a king.

The experiment in the Social Studies class was as follows: out of about thirty students, three would be chosen as kings, and the rest as knights for each king—let’s say nine knights for every king. To illustrate the prevailing ideas of medieval Europe in a classroom setting, to go beyond mere lecturing and questioning and answering, the kings would then distribute the slips of paper to their knights, with each slip of paper representing a ‘fiefdom’, i.e, a large plot of land consisting of farms, towns, and peasants. In exchange for these fiefs, which granted the knights near total control over the lives of their peasants, the knights would send the king taxes every year and soldiers (peasants) whenever he needed them, and also fight in his wars.

In its ideal state, this system would guarantee the preservation of the medieval social hierarchy, and ensure that peace and harmony prevailed everywhere in Europe, as every person worked to fulfill the position selected for him by God.

Thus!, I got the slips of paper, I turned to my nine knights, and I decided I would do my best to be even-handed; everyone would get the same number of papers; this was the philosophical and idealistic and democratic thing to do. Our only task was to hand out the papers; there were no pressing social problems to deal with, no famines, no wars, no nothing—the idea was to hand out your papers and call it a day. Simple enough. And so as I was counting out the fistful of fiefs, a task which could not have taken more than three or four seconds, one of my knights walked up and snatched all of them—every one—out of my hand, and ran off.

“You can’t do that!” I shouted, and I chased her all over the classroom, even crawling under one of the tables, to no avail; the other knights looked on in bemused hopelessness for a few minutes, the activity ended, and all the efforts of the philosopher-king came to nothing in that medieval world. The pettiness of human greed is truly a force to be reckoned with; if I had gone back in time and tried the same thing I’m sure the same sort of chaos would have resulted.


As most of the classroom activities throughout the endlessly long course of my public school years consisted of mixing glue and glitter on paper, I have to say that this was probably the best of all of them; also, that I am nothing without my teachers. From the beginning of my life I was gifted with an unusual slew of competent or talented teachers, and cannot recall ever questioning their abilities until I got to college, when I was stuck with a rather (typically) neurotic psychology professor for my first semester.

I’m pretty sure the woman left and never came back to Hampshire after those few months of agony, where I used up every absence from the class granted to me to read books in the library, and remember learning a thing or two about fonts, typesets, and the origins of the ampersand while browsing the now long-since defunct Abecadaria blog as she babbled on about the psychology of leadership and working for the CIA and how she had been molested as a child—subjects which she could have successfully covered together in about ten or twenty minutes of awkward conversation, which she instead chose to stretch out to an entire semester.

But as for the rest of my teachers—they were pretty damn good, if not outstanding, characters.

So thank you to Mrs. Queylin (whose name I don’t know how to spell; it was pronounced “Kyoolin”) for always encouraging me to learn how to read in the first grade (Google says you have to be an advanced reader to even have the patience to read through this self-indulgent website); thanks to Ms./Mrs. Moody, Trip, and Graves, for always trying to push me forward; thanks to Ms., now Mrs., King, who tutored me for a bit in the second grade, was forced to read my short stories about “Clingons”, and made the discovery that while I was perfectly capable of doing well in school, I just didn’t give a shit; thanks Ms. Binda, for inspiring me with your love of science; in High School, thanks Mr. Schaefer, for loving history and philosophy and for loving to talk about them both; thanks Mr. Puglisi, for being so passionate about American history and for pushing me to develop my analytical abilities; the same to Mr. West, with regard to politics and media studies (thanks a lot! sorry I didn’t do my best in your classes!); the same to Mr. Dacorte, whose love of physics is currently a great annoyance to my fiance; the same to Mrs. Leamon, without whose help I never would have learned to write a halfway decent essay; thanks Maestra Gatz for always being such a fun and effective Spanish teacher, I still think of your drawings when I’m trying to remember random Spanish verbs; in college, thanks Polina, thanks Jim, thanks Norm, you were both such monstrous influences on me that I think I spend most of my days still thinking about the ideas you gave me, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Without these people I would have been just another loser, the typical cog-in-the-machine; thanks to the immense luck I had in being blessed with their company for so long, I became me.

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