Friday the 14th of October marked the second day of the HSC exams in NSW. Students have been hard at work preparing for these notoriously intense exams since Year 11, occasionally airing their frustrations and anxieties on the HSC Discussion Group on Facebook. The group, which consists of 60,000 members out of the 77,000 taking the HSC this year, is filled with posts ranging from study notes to memes, and provides students with a support network.
But on Friday the 14th of October, as said students poured out of their second English exam, shit well and truly hit the fan. And it wasn't just because the Board of Studies saved all the visual stimuli for Paper 2.
Rachel Corbett, a 35-year-old lifestyle journalist and former Big Brother contestant, published an article this afternoon criticising the HSC students and how they've chosen to relieve their stress about an exam we've been told for thirteen years is the most important thing we'll ever do.
Corbett acknowledges that she's "completely out of touch with the next generation," – calling into question why she felt at all informed to comment on the psyche of young people. She comments anyway.
As part of her 'research', Rachel lurked on the aforementioned Facebook group and personal pages, because there is obviously nothing wrong with a grown woman trawling through the communications of a group of teenagers.
She proceeded to cherry pick from thousands of posts from an unimaginatively labelled cast of characters – "the whinger," "the failed stuntman," "the pathetic trolls," to prove her point that the pesky youth of today are just meme-ing their way through life.
Most of what is posted in the group is in jest – take the mock essay of one particular girl, cast as the "whinger," whose satire is fairly obvious from her use of the word 'wrath' – a word of biblical proportions and not one most seventeen-year-olds (or anyone, really) use in day-to-day conversation – when referring to how all students deserve free counselling at the hands of the "wrath of the HSC." Or when the student jokingly suggested the teachers take the current HSC to understand its difficulty, to which Corbett responded, "everyone who teaches HSC subjects HAS taken the exam. That's how they ended up in the privileged position of teaching someone who thinks they're the only one who's ever been through it. Lucky them."
This seems an appropriate time to mention that it is common knowledge that the standard of the HSC has become increasingly more difficult. English Paper Two, which was completed today, required students to write three full-length essays on 6 texts, complete with contextual evidence, a sustained argument and minimum twelve quotes per essay, all in the span of 2 hours, responding to extremely difficult stimulus with no planning time. It is somewhat strange for someone who hasn't taken the exam in almost twenty years to have a credible opinion on it.
She proceeds to shame the "failed stuntman," – a student who jokes that he broke his arm in order to avoid his exams – using his photo without his permission and failing to consider a) it could be a joke, or b) the amount of stress someone must be under to inflict that much physical pain on themselves in order to avoid their HSC, when Corbett claims it's not that bad.
She advises students to "grow up" and labels their anxieties as "pathetic" more than once, disregarding the spike in anxiety and depression levels in HSC students during the two years of the course.
Corbett's impression of young people, who apparently spend all their time "posting on snapchat" and "hanging out with mates," suggests a somewhat ignorant belief that the entire populace of the discussion group who dare complain at all must be privileged, free of mental health issues and other disabilities that prohibit them from performing in the exam period. Many HSC students are young carers, come from disadvantaged backgrounds or underrepresented schools, and still show up to do their HSC. For many students, having gotten this far is an enormous achievement that deserves to be commended. Corbett, however, fails to recognize this. She says, "the people who find it most difficult are the ones who didn't spend enough time preparing and are looking for an excuse to blame anyone but themselves for their own lack of discipline." It takes a special kind of hubris to make so many generalisations about 60,000 people.
Corbett had a significant problem with the "pathetic trolls" and posters of memes – which are really just viral jokes. She said of one, "This isn't cool, it's just stupid." The creators – or the "trolls" as Corbett calls them – are just 17-18 year old students, injecting some humour into their experiences in order to cope with the enormous pressure placed on them that dictates an ATAR score will define the rest of their lives. It allows students to cope with unrelenting expectations from parents, teachers and peers with humour. The page itself is private, and contained within itself, ie. It's not bothering anyone.
She fails to consider how discouraging her labels of "pathetic" and needing to "grow up," are to students who are just blowing off steam in the face of cultural pressure and need to do well in these exams. How about we stop putting down the younger generation and start encouraging them?
Of course, the irony cannot be missed. Whether that of having a whinge at people having a whinge, or becoming a meme yourself on the meme group you hate. My parting words – Rachel, perhaps the answer to your question(?) "Is the HSC is a punish (sic)" – yes. But we will go on and have illustrious careers, hopefully some that involve reporting on real news.
Enjoy the memes.