Friday, May 4, 2007

Thoughts on Sheridan Animation's Disappointing Industry Day

I'm the author of this article, which was previously published on a different blog. I expected readership to be light, with a naysayer here or there, and for that to be the end of the matter. However, after unexpectedly recieving some two thousand visits in a few short days and being swamped with feedback; some affirmative, some furious, I made an executive decision to temporarily suspend the original site and create another that'll allow me and others to give this subject the attention I think it deserves. Obviously this assessment is not what some people wanted to see; but judging from the number of 'right on!'s I recieved, I can only guess I struck a nerve.

Reproduced below is the entirety of the original article, as well as the text of many of the replies I recieved, positive and negative. Should the discussion continue into this it's new home, I'll do my best to answer some of the questions and objections initially raised and provide a forum for the issue to be further threshed out. Without further ado...

* * *

I was asked to be one of the representatives of my studio at Sheridan College's Animation Program 'Industry Day'. It was to be a landmark event, since it was also to include final-project screenings of some 68 graduates of Sheridan's new "Bachelors of Animation Arts" degree program. A four-year animation program that - surprise - comes with a bachelor's degree; a rarity in Canada.

Prior to the Bachelor's screening, we sat through roughly 40 other student shorts from graduates of various one-year computer animation, and character animation programs from Sheridan. The results of the one-year programs were mixed, more on that later. However, I expected the outcomes of the four-year program to quantifiably exceed the output of the one-year classes. After all, these students had invested four years of their life and countless thousands of dollars in order to get that elusive BAA. Besides, four years in an average production environment is enough to get most any animator with a hint of talent ready to start entering the big-leagues of the industry. So at the very least, four years of intensive education would be expected to produce passable entry-level talent. Right?


Very, very wrong.

I sat in a daze as the program's administrators ran short after short in an agonizing, head-splitting, intermission-less three hours, as nearly 70 student films unspooled one after another. What I saw upset me, then confused me. I had been sent to keep an eye out for potential talent for the tv series I was working on. I was looking for animation basics. Acting basics. Any basics. And I kept looking in vain for them as short after short played out. Rather than the basics, what we got were orgies of runaway production design, the odd cubist abstraction, a whole lot of half-finished shorts filled with unintelligibly scrawled pencil tests, the occasional bit of incomprehensible 'something or other', and a lot of stuff that was just plain sloppy.

Four years. Tens of thousands of dollars per student. Sixty-eight students and shorts, and three hours of footage.

And I spotted one CG animator worth hiring to work on a TV show.

His short was the antithesis of all the others in every respect. Plainly designed, simply lit. One character interacting with others in an empty room. It was the most competent of the bunch, and also drew the most laughs. He also seemed to be flying in the face of everything his instructors taught him.

Let me clarify; there were only a handful of CG artists in the class of 68, so the pickings were already slim from my perspective.

Yet with only one exception, the four-year program produced CG work that was identical, and on average, even worse than the students that went through the one-year programs.

Even sadder, the one true standout reel was from a student in the one-year program who already had some prior work experience, and had come to Canada to get formal training. I introduced myself to him after the morning-screenings of one-year program graduates, and congratulated him on a job well done. That was, after the salivating crowd of recruiters from rival studios had dispersed.

Of the forty-some graduates of the one-year programs, I made notes such as 'passable' on a total of eight of their reels. A total of twenty percent of their one-year graduates were potentially employable. These were not standouts who had produced terriffic student work; these were merely the ones with potential.

Twenty percent. Somehow I doubt those numbers are being advertised in Sheridan's Animation Program literature.

Saddest of all was the wierd and somewhat shameful lunch-time display that took place after the morning screenings. We were herded to lunch in the classrooms where all the eager students whose work we'd just seen were standing at their computers, showing off their reels to any interested industry person who might wish to chat them up, or even hit them with the holy grail; a business card and a nod and smile. The desparation was thick; it was hard to chat with the students without them barely concealing their pleading hopefulness and blurting out "So are you guys hiring? Got a business card? Think I got a chance?"

This in itself is no big deal. Students are understandably nervous when dealing with prospective employers. But what turned this from a rite of passage into a tragedy, was that the school had not done its job. Maybe out of fear of stifling a students 'creative vision' or whatnot, these kids had simply recieved no guidance to making a sellable reel. The tragedy was that most of those eager, desperate, and now very-indebted young people were now seriously unemployable, and the school had done nothing to reign them in. Or whatever it was; it was obviously not enough since it produced failure so consistently and systemically among young artists with obvious potential.

As expected, the handful of students out of the forty that had produced passable work were drawing crowds. Others looked sullen and miserable, avoiding eye contact that they knew would be hastily broken, unable to get an audience for their thousands of dollars and months of labor. Naturally not everyone is going to succeed in a program like this. Art is hard. Computers are hard. Together, they're extremely hard. But when you have a 20% success rate in your one-year programs, and considerably less in your longer programs, there's something deeply, pathologically wrong going on there.

My advice to art students seeking an animation career: Skip Sheridan for the time being, or until they get their act together. Save your thousands of dollars, skip the BA, and do distance learning through Animation Mentor instead. ( In the past few months, my studio's been hiring AM students based on the strength of unrendered animation exercises they've completed. These are literally students who haven't even started their final projects yet. But AM is strict, no-nonsense, and teaching the fundamentals. Sheridan it would appear, is not. Perhaps it's Sheridan's recent push toward 'academic' animation, and the initiation of the Bachelor's program, that ensures only those with master's degrees can teach animation. Away from the skills, into the beauraucracy. Away from concrete accomplishment, into the useless company of educational beauracrats on the state dole. Teachers with art degrees who can't hold industry jobs are training Sheridan's next generation. And to see Sheridan's student output, the resemblance between student and master is indeed uncanny.

Do you know how many of the best industry animators have masters degrees in animation? I would doubt if the number approached two percent.

Animation Mentor has wisely decided to circumvent educational beauracracies. Degree or no degree, only the world's best working industry artists can teach. Period. The 'student showcase' videos on their website are extraordinary, and the company proudly displays them front and center. Just try and find student work on Sheridan's website. And what's there isn't much to write home about.

Overall, a very disappointing day, but hopefully the word will get out, and spare the world a few more starving artists.

* * *

These are some of the responses that followed.

* * *

Hey, Here are some professionals that seem to disagree with you. Check out the link.

By the way what company were you representing, maybe we bumpted into eachother?

* * *

Hi Tony, I saw that link and see what you mean, but didn't really see any disagreement re: my main points.

I completely agree there was some very interesting filmmaking and design work and conceptual stuff going on; but I was looking for solid CG character animators, not necessarily the next David Fincher. From a character animation perspective, the work just wasn't there. It's fine that they want to teach a strong emphasis on visual storytelling and design, but to trot out a cliche, I saw many 'artists', and few craftsmen.

* * *

Hi Tony,

I didn't see anyone who was an animator on the link you provided. Two of the comments were from prof's at sheridan, so I take their responses with a grain of salt. I understand that the school is pushing story, but is Sheridan forgetting about character animation?

* * *

thanks for the post which I stumbled upon through animationation....well
you nailed it with these few paragraphs....I can say that because I was there few years ago talking to different guys back then! it was like that back in the late 90s and from what I gather it got even worse true about the teachers in their perpetual pathetic state.

In my year 150 of us started out, down to 75 half way through, in the last graduating year it was only 50 of the original 150...than at the industry screening only 25 were industry ready - with potential and reels/portfolios not to be ashamed kidding! Sheridan is less about animation and more about sucking the cash out of the students. It was good if you really know how to use it in your favour. You wont make a lot of friends along the way thought.


a working pro

* * *

On a ratio basis, I would say that Animation Mentor creates roughly the same percentage of hirable students as any other program, Sheirdan included. A 20% hireable ratio for a program is fairly consistent with results I've seen from VFS, Ringling, AASF's Pixar class, AM and others. Where AM is beating Sheridan is the number of students. They have hundreds to Sheridan's 40 or 70. The gross number of hireable's with AM experience is indeed higher than Sheridan, but on a ratio basis I think it's about the same. AM does put their student reels front and center- but only the good ones. There's a lot of chaff in that wheatfield as well- just like every other.

* * *

Extremely enlightening. What you say about 'acedemic animation' is absolutely correct. I'm currently in the animation proram now and yes MANY of the teachers are unprepared, unqualified, and the structure of the curriculum itself is almost embarrasing. Sheridan has indeed in the past produce some great people, but most of them were from about 20 years ago when it was a pre-BA program (in its prime).

I do have to point out, however, that the people that are in the 1yr computer animation programs are generally COMMING from other animation programs such as the 4 year one, so it's not surprising that their work atleast be the same if not better.

* * *

as a potential graduate with one year and a summer left what do you recommend? How can a student come outta this frying pan he or she is already in with out gettin tossed into the fire? This is a serious question that I hope you will answer. I will look out for a comment. In the meantime thank you for your time and honest views and bone chillingly realistic views.

* * *

You have an obvious issue with the Sheridan money-grab. Understandable.

On the other hand, I am one of many Sheridan students who are proud of what they've accomplished. So, on behalf of Sheridan Animation Class of 2007:

You're ignorant. You can't even disclose your identity because "Sheridan's network of influence runs pretty wide." Well, that's right. And don't forget it. It must take some kind of coward to blast Sheridan Animation and then conceal your identity because.. oh.. you may need some Sheridan students to work for you one day. Coward. Hypocrit.

* * *

That's a sad story - But to be honest, as an industry pro who also teaches part-time, I can totally relate to the reaction.

IMHO, the quality often comes from students with the right eye and feel for Animation to begin with, or those with the right passion. I never judge a school by its student examples - Its often not a full reflection on the schools teachings, its the creative talent of those individuals...

With that mindset, some schools will actually pick the talent and avoid anybody that doesn't look like they'll be any good - It raises the profile of the school, and the outcomes are often higher level.

* * *

I suggested the writer submit this piece to encourage students to weigh their options. I believe Sheridan is misleading people and taking years of their life and a lot of their money. I think he has something of a moral obligation to put his thoughts on the table. If you don't like those thoughts, well, don't worry, this probably hasn't done much to drop Sheridan's numbers.

* * *

I have something to say to the person that blasted the author,

"So, on behalf of Sheridan Animation Class of 2007:

You're ignorant."

No, Mr. Anonymous, you're ignorant. I also went to Sheridan and I've worked in animation for years before coming here. And then in live action years before that. The curriculum here is a total joke. Of course, at 24, you're invincible. A few LONG years on the unemployment line should sober you up.

'You can't even disclose your identity because "Sheridan's network of influence runs pretty wide." Well, that's right.'

And how long have you worked in animation again, moron?

"You may need some Sheridan students to work for you one day. Coward. Hypocrit."

Some authority from a person who can't even spell. It's spelled hypocrite. It's also worth pointing out that all the BEST Sheridan grads, for the most part, dropped out. Get a clue, you testosterone-filled, greenhorned dip.

Sorry to be so cruel, but this guy's right. You don't have any experience; you're talking out of your ass because you're afraid that worthless degree you spent $40 000 on will net you NO JOB, notably because most of you in fourth year SUCK. I've seen most of your stuff, there's a reason most of you weren't hired, nor will be, unless you get your act together.

* * *

Admittedly, there have been a number of organizational issues in the program, but I would encourage a little empathy for students who despite these challenges came out with a positive outlook on their work. It's simple to tear something apart, but you really don't have the personal experience of the students. I have an idea for everyone... email Sheridan students and find out who they had interviews with and who already have job offers.. because when most of the 2007 year has jobs by summers end, this thread is going to seem really stupid :-} There are a number of Sheridan blogs I'm sure you're well aware of. Go find out from the students themselves. Or is that a little too close to the facts?

* * *

Sadly from what I've seen online; alumni and professionals are echoing my comments. The vitriol seems to be coming entirely from students willing to blast me for remaining anonymous, while staying so themselves.

And for the record, I've hired sheridan students. ;)

This article was never intended to be a slight against the students or a belittlement of their work. I know they busted their asses, slept under their desks, risked their health and relationships and generally made slaves of themselves to finish the program and complete their film. After graduating from my school, (not sheridan) I labored for years in unemployable obscurity because my reel was unfocused. That was my fault; my instructors tried to reign me in, but obviously didn't go far enough. It was a 'filmmakers' reel rather than an animation reel. It was full of 'big filmmaking' and ostentatious design, and no usable character animation. It took me many tries, some seventy applications, and many stabs at reels and animation tests before I 'made it', and honed my skills to a hireable level. At no point was my wildly unfocused reel looked at in progress, and I told "You have time to do some good work, but this reel as it's progressing will almost certainly not get you a job." I wish they had. Believe me, this is a path I've been down myself.

I take absolutely no issue with the efforts of the students. But when you're a student, you have not developed the critical faculties necessary to objectively judge your own work. That's not a slight; that's the simple reality of being a beginner in any vocation.

This is a difficult reality. What makes it unfortunate is that some schools will be willing to exploit it. Animation, and computer animation in particular, possess two factors that make them ripe for deliberate or accidental exploitation. The fact that:

A) It looks really cool and is a highly desireable career, particularly for the young or creatively minded.

B) (and this is the big one) It's an extremely complex process/skill set that is very poorly understood by outsiders or new people. As a result, they have virtually no way of knowing if they're getting an acceptable education or not. Thus, four years of education can be finished in the blink of an eye, and the student can have virtually no idea if they're useful to a studio or not.

This means that schools eager for attendance have a tendency to promise the moon, and every student regardless of output, is made confident that they'll find something somewhere. How can they be expected to know any better?

To the gentleman who suggested it was just a matter of ratios between Sheridan and a place like AM; it very well may be. I don't know how many total students AM cranks out. But I have seen the work of plenty of sheridan third-year exercises, and there's been no comparison between that and the AM hires we've picked up after being in the program twelve months. That's the only yardstick I have available, so that's how I'm guaging.

Anonymous said...
as a potential graduate with one year and a summer left what do you recommend? How can a student come outta this frying pan he or she is already in with out gettin tossed into the fire? This is a serious question that I hope you will answer. I will look out for a comment. In the meantime thank you for your time and honest views and bone chillingly realistic views.

This is an important question, and I will answer it in more detail shortly.

* * *

Cooked Art said...


As a response to the appraisal, not to mention the comments of a lack of usable character animators at Sheridan, you may be right that there are less animation-focused individuals at the school, particularly that you could use in a 3D production. However, focuses only on teaching 3D animation for the entir eduration of its class (which in my mind is why it seems like they're teaching more in less time), whereas Sheridan teaches life drawing, animation, character design, storyboarding, 3D, layout, and painting. Why? Some argue that it's good to be versatile in this industry. Others argue that it's good to be focused and have a focused reel that shows you are good at only one thing (No one wants a jack of all trades and a master of none). I do, however, think that Sheridan has made a situation where people, if they have chose focuses, are elsewhere besides full blown character animation, and while that makes them less employable for your situation, may not be the case with other studios.

I think more than anything it will be tell-tale to see how much of this graduating class is indeed hired. If it is a majority, then it is clear that Sheridan is creating employable, industry ready artists. If it is not the majority, then the curriculum needs to be questioned. I for one, think it will be the former, but that has yet to be seen.

* * *
Anonymous said...

Why so bitter? Think back to when you were a student. Back to when you were glittery eyed and optimistic, before the industry ground you up, spit you out and mad you believe your own neurosis. Where is all this anger coming from? We have all the time in the world to get beat down by negative people like you, why start so soon? you say you want jump cycles, and wait lift exercises like they do at “AM” well then hire from there and don’t put defenseless students down. We took risks and expressed our self’s. I guess what I’m trying to say is art isn’t something tangible no matter how much you want to package and sell it. After 4 years a lot of us wanted to try this medium out for what its worth. In the end we got what we got learned a lot, and the mistakes we made because of experimentation; don’t you worry we will not make again. So while your hiring more sheep for the grind house, we’ll be making more mistakes, and trying out more ridicules ideas. then one day when you’ll be scratching your head about where that revolutionary new film came from check the credits for all those poor animators you thought to belittle while hiding behind a computer screen.

My good friend told me “there just cartoons” so why get so mean spirited about such a positive medium?

Yours sincerely
I’m not telling these people are cruel.

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Cooked Art said...

As an addendum to my other comment -

As a student going into my fourth year at Sheridan, do I think that I've been gypped of my money and could have gotten better education somewhere else? I'll never really know as it stands now.

Do I think I've become a better -artist and filmmaker- in my years here? Unquestionably. And that, to me, is what it boils down to.

* * *

Anonymous said...

I'm responding to Mr. Cook in regards to his confidence of him getting a job after Sheridan. I went to your site and looked at your work.

As it stands, you have extremely strong life drawings, but that's not what they want to see in the industry. Your character design is way too illustrative and too frou-frou to be animated in both CG and traditional animation. Say what you want Mr. Cook, but in my opinion you have wasted time in Sheridan doing (excuse the expression) "artsy fartsy" garbage. What the industry wants to see is some, SOLID ANIMATION with GOOD BASICS and ACTUAL ACTING.

If you say, you can do all that, you're certainly not demostrating your capabilities at all. Your art blog is just filled with life drawing and Edward Gorey/Robin Joseph knock-off character designs. You've barely started to walk but you're so confident that you try running. I suggest you start at the beginning and learn the basics like structure, shapes, clarity and contrast, not stylish garbage you currently post so much.

Here's a couple of colleagues' site. They're hirable because they can adapt their style to each respective productions and studios that they work for as well as solid stuff:

Johane Matte


Amy Mebberson

Hopefully, you will not froth in the mouth in anger and curse me because "i don't understand your art". Good day Mister Cook.

* * *

Anonymous said...

I have just read your blog entry and your replies to the comments. I must say as a Sheridan graduate I am very upset by what you said.

It isn't that I can't handle the truth that the Sheridan animation program is now substandard to what it used to be, I can see that. As a member of the first BAA animation class, I lived through 4 years of watching the course change into something very different than what it used to be. There were changes made to add the never before offered 3D courses, breadth electives were added so that the course could be considered degree worthy and the whole curriculum had to be rearranged to fit into 4 years, not 3. This resulted in our year being guinea pigs at every turn. We were the ones who had to find out what did and didn't work. And even for the things that did work, there will be much improvement in the years to come that we will not benefit from. A great example of this is the 3 years films. This year's film where highly superior to ours (in my opinion). But that has less to do with the student's skill and more to do with the new found knowledge of what worked and didn't work with our year.
As well, the amount of problems we had to deal with left many of us feeling like we were being cheated of the animation education we were promised. However, these problems had nothing to do with the students, nor the teachers in many cases. We have a very very rough start with 3D animation, which resulted in many of us not even understanding Maya until the end of our 2nd year. 3rd year we worked on films and were told that we probably shouldn't attempt to make them in 3D, so that’s another year of not using Maya. As for this year, anyone who made a film in 3D I feel I can safely say used their spare time to teach Maya to themselves. I won't get into the details as to why the 3D program for our year went so poorly, but it definitely wasn't the students' fault.
As for the teachers, I think it is terrible to bad mouth them. Since the very beginning of our 4 years here they have been fighting madly to try to keep this program looking anything like an animation course. Their fight has been long and thankless as administration tries to cut corners whenever possible. It was made very clear in our first year that administration did not understand animation at all and only wanted a 'good looking' program. I could write a very long list of all the crap that the school has tried to pull on our program, but I think it can be nicely summed up by looking at the new animation wing. The school paid a huge amount of money to make this new wing yet ignored every single suggestion the animation staff made for how to make it something animation students needed. Instead they decided to make it look nice (which it doesn't anyway). So I am personally very grateful for the teachers of the animation program. They are all industry trained, they are all professional and they have all been fighting very hard against the Sheridan administration to give us the education we have been paying for. So it is unfair to pile our lack of animation knowledge on them when the school has made it so difficult for them to do their job (eg. In third year the school only allowed for 3 hours of classical animation training a week).
As a result of all of this, this isn't the fault of the students or teachers, but the school. And your blog entry fails to acknowledge this in anyway. Instead your writing implies that it is our fault, which is offensive, considering all we've been through, and all you obviously don't understand. You made it seem like it was pulling teeth sitting though our work, and then you make us all sound like desperate retards standing around just knowing how unemployable we are. You imply that there was only one good film with any knowledge of animation from our entire year, which just isn't true. You also don't seem to recognize that there are some of us who are not interested in some aspects of filmmaking. Some of us want to be layout artists, so that's what we focused on in our films. Some of us want to be 3D modelers, so we didn't focus on the story or animation. It is also important to mention at this time that throughout our 4 years we were discouraged from focusing on the few subjects we really liked. Instead it was always suggested (even by the industry reps who came throughout the years) that it was better to know a lot of different things and that that was what would get us hired. It was only this last year were we had the freedom to focus on what we loved. As a result, it probably appeared as if we didn't know enough about everything, and we were not skilled enough in the area of our preferred focus.
You then proceed to reply to the comments made by saying

"This article was never intended to be a slight against the students or a belittlement of their work. I know they busted their asses, slept under their desks, risked their health and relationships and generally made slaves of themselves to finish the program and complete their film."

This is CLEARLY not what you expressed in your original entry. I agree with most of the things you said in this reply, but not with the angry, offensive things you said in your first post. As one of the 4th year students, I felt attacked and criticized for something I know I didn't have a lot of control over. If your concern is with how Sheridan college is now digging into the pockets of the students and not providing the education the school is known for, then that's what you should have focused on in your entry, not how miserable the students were. I'm not sure how you can write what you did and not think it could possibly come across as a slap in the students' faces who slept under our desks and risked health problems to get the apparent garbage finished that we did.
If you really felt you had to write this, then at least recognize that you don't really understand all the ups and downs we have gone through in this very experimental year. Your opinion seems to be based on nothing more than one day you spent here. Maybe what you should have done (that would have been much less offensive) is asked the students what they felt about the education they got over our 4 years, not just dig into houw bad our films where.

* * *

Just a word...I feel Mr. Cook has been extremely respectful to people on his site. He posted this piece with little comment and much politeness even though it's evident that he disagrees. I want to make it known that I really respect that and wish him and all his fellow students great success in the future. So if peoples work is going to be critiqued via the comments here, lets keep a friendly tone.

On another note, to the recent-grad who just posted: the writer and I had a long, heart wrenching talk when he came home from industry day last week. Like I said before, I was the one who encouraged him to write this, precisely because he saw that many of the Sheridan grads were obviously talented, hardworking people!

That's why it's troubling when they have yet to develop the skills that would make them hire-able. This is very much a critique of whats going on in the school, not of your own abilities and talents. The message he is trying to send is that whatever may be going on at Sheridan, it is not fair to the students. By your own admission, the school's management was happily pushing students through a highly problematic, underdeveloped, untested curriculum that seems to have been brought into existence so the school can advertise that they offer 'degrees' in their brochures as quickly as possible. In whose interest was this? This is in no way the fault of the student body. Nobody should pay 40 thousand dollars to be any educational administration's guinea pig. What happened to you guys sounds fairly heinous. I suggest you read the article again with less emotion.

* * *

Rob Bursey said...

An article tlike this would certainly be hard to write. I personally feel that yes, we are missing out on alot of animation instruction. the teachers are trying but the course really isnt giving them alot of room to really instruct. a previous poster commented to say that we receive only three hours of instruction a week. divide that three hours by the number of students per class and wow, mere minutes of training. I dont blame the teachers for this.

And if we want to improve then really the onus is on us.

Did this article make me feel good? No. Did i take it personally though? also no.

I see it as a bucket of cold water to wake me up and try to get my act together for next year. as a "mature" student I suppose its even more important to me to improve.

It took guts to write this, and while i may not agree with everything said here, (comments and original post) IMHO the school is just a building with people doing the best they can, the place wont make us better, that leg (or pencil) work is left up to us.

* * *

For the Good of Sheridan said...


This is the best critical article I've seen online about the school.

I'm currently in the animation program now. Now before you say, "Hey, why is this guy bashing his own school/program."??

I'm not. WAKE UP PEOPLE. This is the kind of stuff we need for our school to IMPROVE.

It's not negative criticism, its CONSTRUCTIVE. I find it amusing that so many teachers say you have to be honest about your artwork, it hurts but it will make you better in the end. Well? Whats this then, it's constructive criticism.

It's time for Sheridan to snap out of the illusion that they are one of the best schools for animation. Sheridan has become complacent, I can feel it. I can see it.

Don't take this as an insult my fellow classmates. Before you put up the defence shield, think - maybe there really is something to what this guy has to say.

I for one agree. Sheridan needs to get some GOOD teachers, PASSIONATE teachers, teachers that are friends and mentors, not instructors that simply deal out marks.

I also have to say that Sheridan has diluted its program with too many students. Too many students in this program don't belong here and are simply dragging others down.

Look at our third year films - they were disasters. The creators themselves were afraid to watch them during the screening.

I think this was a great thing for the school. We need to work at it. Don't just take it as an insult.

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