Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Butter over Too Much Bread

This is my tenth year teaching. In an average week, I'd say there are three days that are life-choice validating, one where it's just another job, and one where I seek solace toward the bottom of a Smirnov bottle.

This entry is about that last one.

We were trying a new method of teaching writing in my district, one that involved conferencing with students. This can be valuable if it isn't over-administrated. We had a quota: meet with each writer in your class twice a week.

It was being over-administrated.

Ask any teacher and they'll tell you this is where the sacred calling becomes a job, a shit job at that. There was no need to meet with them each twice a week. It was what Dilbert would've called a "random act of managment."

But like any other job, we have to try to keep our bosses happy, so we jumped from writer to writer to writer. Each conference grew more superficial than the last, but damn if every kid didn't get two piece of shit conferences a week.

Obsessing over it did get me thinking about the future I fear, which puts me in creative mode. What would be the tools of pointless administration in the future? What would that feeling of being pulled from kid to kid look like in a Sci-fi setting?

What would it be like to adapt the point of view of an administrative scumbag? How does the other half live?

In "Lord of the Rings" Bilbo describes feeling thin, like butter spread over too much bread. This is the driving emotion behind "Equality Chair."

Equality Chair

Today was revelation. I simply must tell you about it.   
It occurred in the least likely setting for any epiphany – a school. Not an enclave academy either, one of those red brick monstrosities in the outlands.
My young wife worries when my duties take me beyond the Enclaves. It isn’t her fault. To her it’s just a rational opinion based on limited world experience. We go to Jamaica and we’re behind the walls – tall, beige, tropical. We go home to Pleasant Edge and we’re behind the walls – stoic opaque concrete. My wife is like so many of my old mates from Central Academy: she’s been around the world, but she’s never even wanted to see past her precious walls.
In my duties, I can have no walls. I must venture out to the other America. As I tried to explain that night she was hurling our polished ceramic souvenirs like so much emotional artillery, a man’s work sometimes supersedes his safety. This affords pets and women peace.
Besides that, I’ve always felt the outlands had a certain primal charm. There’s something about knowing I’m out there, exposed, where a Miserable with a sophisticated enough I.E.D. could rip my armored limo in half. It makes me feel so vital, so present and alive from moment to moment.
I should stop. My feelings are immaterial. This document is for the schools.
The Jennie Oakes School – that was the setting. Their front gates are black iron, more of a psychological baby blanket than actual security. The grounds are kept trim and green by standard keepers, rewarded with a life of safety. Or, at the very least, a life free of starvation, a life behind gates.
All of that was pedestrian, tedious.
It was the sign that first piqued my interest: an old world rectangle light bulb with black trim and black letters. It read, “The Jennie Oakes School: Every Child Special as the Next.”
I couldn’t stop laughing. Old Jim, our usual driver, he actually asked me if I was feeling alright, sir.
That only made the laughter worse.
The building itself was nothing remarkable – the same baked brick that contains all the outborn children who would take that “monumental” leap, up to the title “lettered outborn.” In their rather bland atrium, I met the principal, Dolores Harpe, one such example of this leap.
Like so many of the other lettered outborn, she reminded me of a cow placed in charge of chickens. Being in lower management, she thought she was no longer livestock, perhaps even a farmer.
I introduced myself cordially as a gentleman, as a Corporate-national inspector, should. Of course, I had to ask her about the sign. I laughed again.
She frowned. The poor woman didn’t understand why it was funny.
I explained to her, “My dear,” I said, “if every child was special then no child would be special.” She blinked like a micro-fiber of shrapnel was burrowing through her cornea. I proceeded. “To be special means to be unique, apart from average, distinct. If there were no average children, no normal children, there would be no standard with which to judge excellence, to judge who was, in real terms, ‘special.’” 
Her response: “Every child at the Oakes School is as special as the next.”
A man in my position is often prone to this kind of error. Miss Harpe was a product of her institution, as much as my wife and I are products of Enclave parents and Enclave schools. She would respond to criticism of her institutional platitude by repeating it verbatem, as if to do so was to verify its philosophical foundation. I could point to the mud on which such a sentiment rested, and tell her, “This is mud” and she would blink stupidly. I could shove her wide face into it, until I pulled her up muck-faced and slobbering, and she would just look at me like I was some powerful sorcerer, capable of changing the density of substances at will.
It would never occur to her the structure of her beliefs had always been wobbling precariously, on a bedrock of pure shit. 
Then again, look at the institution that molded her. Her happiest memories were probably sitting in a desk in this very building, pleasing the impossibly tall figure at the front of the room with a raised arm, a predictable insight, a sugary grin. She was always going to come back here. I should forgive her. Our society is built with a hundred thousand Dolores Harpes, pledging passionate allegiance to some platitude on a light bulb sign. 
I apologized and told her it was a wonderful slogan. Every child was indeed special and we merely needed to unlock their potential. She smiled a prescribed smile and led me down the main hall.

(End of preview)

No comments:

Post a Comment