Definition: protection; support: under the imperial aegis.
Etymology: “protection,” 1793, “shield of Zeus,” from L. aegis, from Gk. Aigis, the name of the shield of Zeus, said by Herodotus to be related to aix (gen. aigos) “goat,” from PIE *aig– “goat” (cf. Skt. ajah, Lith. ozys “he-goat”), as the shield was of goatskin. Athene’s aigis was a short goat-skin cloak, covered with scales, set with a gorgon’s head, and fringed with snakes.
Definition: capacity for producing a desired result or effect; effectiveness: a remedy of great efficacy.
Etymology: 1520s, from L. efficacia “efficacy, efficiency,” from efficax (gen. efficacis) “powerful, effective,” from stem of efficere “work out, accomplish” (see effect). Earlier in same sense was efficace (c.1200), from O.Fr. eficace (14c.), from L. efficacia; also efficacite (early 15c.), from L. efficacitatem.
And with that, we’re across the threshold of the AP test. A month remains. It would be pedagogically bankrupt to allow you to waste that time, however, because our course does not rise and set with a three-hour examination. The work we do doesn’t even end in June, when you escape into the sweet embrace of summer apathy; if you want to become a better reader, thinker, or writer, it’s going to take some of that clichéd life-long learning. Life will wait, though. For now, we have two issues to contend with: you as a student and the end of your school year. [Self-plagiarism note: The following is adapted from a post written to last year’s AP kids and, before that, a post written to a Media Studies class in 2010.]
Before you can leave the building physically, you will link together the last of your choices in this class. Remember that this course is really an elective, in that you chose to take it; you may have felt pressure from your parents or your peers or the nebulous specter of COLLEGE ADMISSION, but there was always another path. Choosing this one marks you as a particular kind of student, one working under an aegis of intelligence, honesty, and curiosity, with a sense of self-efficacy and a general respect for the expectations your teachers have.
During the first dozen of these remaining days, you will write an essay. This is the last paper you will write in this course, and you are being asked to take some pride in it; like the portfolio work that will follow, it will be driven by your choices. You will chose the topic, the research, the structure, and the presentation. You have complete agency and—as an inexorable consequence—complete responsibility.
I believe that you understand what this means. If you blow off the end of the year to any extent, you are likely to fail, and it might not matter if that failure is attached to grades. But the more you are told this, the more some part of you rebels against it, and good advice wears out with repetition. Your frustration demands some defense or justification, so you hunker down: the exam is over; it’s already May; you’re a senior; you will be a senior; you’ve earned some half-considered idea of freedom; you’re not going to use this in your real life; your teacher is a soulless monster; none of this really matters, anyway. You choose apathy and disengagement, dress it up in distracting language, and wait for it all to be over.
The ugly parts of us don’t operate on a switch, however. Apathy, disrespect, entitlement—these aren’t sweaters or jackets you can shrug off and cast aside when they’re no longer fashionable. You are breeding future selves, and if that’s too metaphysical for you, think of it this way: You are developing right now the habits that will poison or empower your college and career choices. This is inculcation in its purest form. Every choice you make affects you in some way, and I don’t think we have to ride that slippery slope to scare tactics; most of our lives are a series of small choices that become a chain, and that chain will protect you or (like Jacob Marley) weigh you down forever. You are probably—hopefully—never going to experience the effects of a sudden and obliterating choice, but you should be much more concerned with the small, insidious, and irrevocable ones.
To sum this up with a borrowed Orwellian metaphor: Do you truly believe that disrespect, disengagement, or failure now will pass through you like a grain of corn through the body of a bird, undigested and harmless?