(Cross-posted from Aegis Questions’ blog.)
I’ve been writing Illinois Scholastic Bowl questions since my junior year of high school, when Nick and I wrote the first New Trier Varsity tournament. Matt started Aegis with us the next year, and we’ve been writing tons of questions ever since.
It’s sad to see the end of this era, but at the same time, I’m glad it’s ending. Lately, whenever I’m not doing long math problem sets, I’m busy trying to juggle friends and research and side jobs. I spent last summer taking classes and doing math research, so I didn’t really get a chance to write any questions until fall semester. And, as I found out, I simply don’t have time in my fall semester to write hundreds of questions on top of everything else.
It’s partly that our writers have never been as invested in the process as Matt, Nick, and I were. That’s somewhat an effect of our business model–people asynchronously submit questions, as we edit them into packets. I can sympathize that it’s hard to get really excited about writing lots of questions when they just disappear into a black hole. I would write to fill quotas–to finish the science in Masonic State, to write the non-computational math for Kickoffs. It would have been much harder to motivate myself if I wasn’t sure how, or if, my questions were going to get used.
But I think the general lack of enthusiasm is understandable from another perspective. I mean, we were the ones who started a company to write questions. Of course, we were the ones most excited by the prospect. And I don’t mean to say that our writers were apathetic–Brad and Kristin in particular stand out in my memory for all the times they would stay up with us finishing tournaments. Greg and Jonah were given specific assignments and kept well-informed of our time tables, and they performed admirably.
In general, though, I associate Aegis with a recurring frustration that I had to pick up the slack so often. I was responsible for a large amount of the infrastructure in Aegis–not only did I put up our website and write the program we relied on for all our question editing, but I was the only person able to assemble the packets when all was said and done. I’m not whining about it–the technology just happened that way. And Matt and Nick certainly did much more than their fair shares as well. But still, I was just always frustrated at how much needed to be done, and how little our writers were, on average, helping.
I’m much more frustrated, however, at the Illinois Scholastic Bowl community. Aegis was formed at a time when I thought it was becoming clear to everyone that pyramidal questions were clearly the way to go, but there was not enough supply to meet the growing demand.
I was half-right. There is, and continues to be, a dearth of good pyramidal questions in IHSA format. NAQT only creates one IHSA set every year, and HSAPQ refuses to include computational math. With Aegis’s departure, there isn’t really any reliable provider of pyramidal questions. Sure, Jonah is around to edit some tournaments, but as he gets further from the current circuit, it will be difficult for him to keep rounding up high schoolers and recent graduates interested in helping out. Coach Reinstein writes Solo every year, but it isn’t extraordinarily pyramidal, and he doesn’t write any other tournaments himself.
More importantly, Illinois does not even agree that pyramidal questions are best. Not only are many coaches simply unaware of the argument, but many are indifferent or insist that they know what’s best, rather than the players themselves.
Again and again, the players I have talked to, from all over the state, agree that pyramidal questions are more fun to play on. But I have heard coaches argue that they “know the players don’t want that.” Even when we put out a players’ survey, coaches attacked its validity for a number of silly reasons. (For instance, the survey was put up after the season, so only the “dedicated” players responded to it; the others, apparently, had already forgotten all about Scholastic Bowl.)
Collegiate players’ typical contribution to the pyramidal argument is, “You have to think about this logically, and without ad hominem attacks. But you’re stupid if you don’t think pyramidal questions are the best, and I don’t care to explain why again.”
I am happy to speak with people who honestly are unfamiliar with pyramidal questions, or people who have legitimate concerns about the potential adoption of ACF format in Illinois. But frankly, the discourse on the subject is idiotic. It’s entirely idiotic. The organization in charge of Scholastic Bowl is an athletic organization which doesn’t understand Scholastic Bowl and has no reason to. Fair enough. But why are they still in charge?
And the IHSSBCA is bogged down by combative coaches who refuse to let any change happen to the activity they’ve been coaching for 20 years. The new questions are too hard; they’re too long; nobody likes them. The Sterling Kickoff finished their morning–five 16-question rounds–after 2 PM. A tossup went dead on the Revolutionary War, after mentioning Cornwallis and Yorktown. So did another on Avogadro’s number, after mentioning moles and its value.
You know what? I love quizbowl because it is a true test of cultural literacy. To win at quizbowl, you must be well-versed in everything; you must quickly recall all sorts of non-trivial knowledge from ancient history, English poetry, biochemistry…every subject.
Quizbowl is, inherently, an elitist activity. The express purpose is for the more knowledgeable team to win. Coaches complain that it’s unfair that the Chicagoland teams keep winning. It’s unfair that they have AP classes and their students know more.
Yes, it’s unfair. The better students are better at the game. That’s the point. If you want an unpredictable game where unknowledgeable teams can win just as often, play ping pong. It’s just absurd to me that coaches literally object that the better teams always win. It’s just absurd.
I don’t have the energy to continue this debate. I have been pushing against the tide, and the tide has won. Aegis can’t continue; there are, in my mind, no great question providers left in Illinois. Maybe some day, Illinois Scholastic Bowl will catch up to modern quizbowl standards, but I don’t count on it. I’m not even sure that’s what we want. Only a handful of teams truly want that, and they can always travel to college tournaments. The rest would prefer not to lose all the time, and simply aren’t interested in putting in the time and effort required to become culturally literate on top of all of their schoolwork.
I don’t blame them. I don’t have the time, either.