Reach for the Top: trivia, knowledge, and education

I recently spent some time doing something rather unusual: writing trivia questions. It’s a way to put my modest writing ability to some use, and for someone with the right mindset it can also be a lot of fun. Reach for the Top is a Canadian collegiate trivia competition. It used to be a televised game show (hosted at one point by Alex Trebek!), but today it exists as a series of small locally operated leagues through the “Schoolreach” program. Teachers who wish to start a team get their own buzzers and subscribe to Schoolreach, which gets them an annual series of question packets for practices and special packets for tournaments.

During my high school days I was a member of the West Kildonan Collegiate Reach for the Top team. We were surprisingly successful for such a small team at such a—forgive me, Mrs. Mackenzie—third-rate school. At one point we had only three players and needed to find a warm body in order to field a team at the tournament. Other than me, few of our members had very good trivia skills, which meant that most of the time I had to carry the entire team. I got us pretty far—we made a respectable showing in the biggest tournament we ever attended—but in the end without teamwork and equal levels of complementary knowledge, a Reach team can never achieve much.

The experience of writing the questions is fun. You see, I’m a bit of a bore. I’m the kind of person who has a lot of knowledge and is always acquiring more, and always wants to share it with others whether they want it or not. I frequently realize about ten minutes into a conversation that I am coming off as condescending—I often find myself giving impromptu sociology lectures to my dad, who has had a distinguished career of nearly thirty years as a social worker. So it’s great fun for me personally to be given this chance to unobtrusively introduce high school students to, say, Wilkie Collins or the terracotta army of Qin Shihuang.

I and people like me enjoy being introduced to new things in this way. When I come across something interesting I don’t know much about, I make an effort to read at least one book on it. Frequently it becomes a part of me, and in some cases it changes me irrevocably. I don’t know how common such people are—I certainly never met any during my high school career—but I have faith that they are out there and it is comforting to know that I am touching their lives in some small way. Continue reading

An open letter to UMSU and the University of Manitoba student body, re: the closure of the Gallery of Student Art

Update, 5:40 PM: After some exchanges with a few people connected, it has come to light that the situation is more complicated than it appeared at first. The gallery is not closing, but operating on a reduced budget. The announcement that it was closing was a mistake on the part of GoSA staff (I will post their email as soon as I have their permission).

Budget cuts are an unfortunate part of life, so I cannot oppose them on principle the way I would oppose the closing of GoSA or any other thriving arts organization on campus. The cuts may or may not be fairly and intelligently made—it would take someone with more knowledge of the inner workings of UMSU and GoSA to say that. Therefore, assuming the gallery does stay open during the year, I retract the portions of the letter that relate to the gallery’s closure.

Hopefully this can be an object lesson to all of us on the hazards of making announcements (or writing open letters) in haste. Ideally, it will also serve as a warning to exercise extreme caution in making cuts to arts organizations.

Update, 8:40PM: The GoSA coordinator has declined to give permission to reproduce her communication here (which seems odd, given that it says essentially the same thing as the recent Facebook announcement). At present the gallery’s future is not clear beyond the fact that the plan is to keep it open.

Continue reading