What follows is the most complete reconstruction we have to date of Gardner’s long-lost Course Overview (c. 1996). The manuscript was discovered in 2017, folded up inside a copy of The Oxford Guide to Oppressive English Teaching in a library in Shizuoka. Until that time, the Overview was thought lost sometime during the Great Syllabus Shift of 2009. Unfortunately, the manuscript had fallen victim to decomposition (mostly from coffee stains), and parts of it were unreadable (in terms of both legibility and logic). Furthermore, several pages had apparently been removed and repurposed as a medium for page-flip animation exercises (there are two small, slightly varying pencil drawings of Pikachu in the lower-right corners of pages 1 and 2, not reproduced here).
(To be memorized and recited at the beginning of each class)
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in this class?
Answer. That I, with body, mind, and soul understand the infallible nature of my teacher’s knowledge of American English vocabulary, phonology, grammar, and usage.
Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know in order for thee to gain credit for this class?
Answer. Three: the first, how ignorant I am upon entering the classroom each day; the second, how I will obtain answers to questions I had no inclination to ask; and the third, how I shall best display my class attentiveness on a written exam at some specified (or unspecified “pop-quiz”) time in the future.
Question 3. Whence knowest thou thy misery?
Answer. From the great number of older classmates who failed this course before me.
Question 4. What does thy teacher require of thee?
Answer. Three things: that I am promptly present for each and every class; that I fill my notebooks with copious transcriptions; that I disgorge random facts from said notes when called upon.
Question 5. Whence proceeds the depravity of thy teacher?
Answer. From the depravity of my teacher’s teacher, and so on proceeding back in time beyond measure.
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Question 37. Canst thou obtain a perfect grade?
Answer. In no wise, for it is in the nature of my teacher to employ the duplicitous query—or trick question—as a test of my faith and patience.
Question 38. Is this class then constituted so perversely that thou art wholly incapable of obtaining a passing grade?
Answer. Indeed it is, unless I am convinced by cynicism and despair to surrender all sense of self-worth and rationality to the petty, vacillating whims of my teacher for the duration of the semester.
Question 39. Does not thy teacher then do injustice to thee by requiring from thee that which thou cannot rationally perform?
Answer. Yes and no, for it is the firm belief of my teacher that forcing me to do the impossible stands as a character-building exercise of the highest order—that failing grades and academic shaming ultimately produce the human attributes necessary for success in the real world, a world with which my ivory-tower-entrapped teacher has never personally grappled.
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...on the day that pigs are beheld to fly from the treetops. Amen.
Here endeth the overview.