More fiction. As in a few other efforts of late, certain images might disturb some people. Perhaps including those that are amplified reflections of everyday events a century ago or so in America.
I read this list with an increasing sense of unease. For example. Cold calling (where you ask a question, then call a student’s name and demand an answer) is listed as a mistake. Because (it says here) it stresses out the student called, and lets the rest stop thinking. But if this is a military classroom – hell, if it’s a class on the playbook for the university’s football team – you don’t get to stop thinking. You’d better be ready when the instructor calls. Or you’ve lost the veteran’s benefits. Or the scholarship.
So. We can infer from the relative levels of standards applied to students that performance in, say, chemistry, is far less important to society than performance in the defensive backfield. Why is that? Oh. Wait. Duh. Unlike the football coach, the chemistry prof can’t throw anyone out. In fact, the chemistry prof needs to put as many bum$ in seats as possible, and keep them there. The competence of his students is far less important than the number on the Accounts Receivable ledger in his university’s accounting office.
This is the role and function of the Ten Worst Mistakes – to help the prof keep those bums in those seats. A task that he’s being forced to spend time and energy on while his institution is simultaneously chopping his salary, firing his assistants, restricting his work hours, and doubling his class sizes.
Good thing we don’t run the army along these lines. Oh, wait, I forgot about Abu Ghraib…
Aren’t We the People of these Untied States lucky, with Our per-capita wealth and our technologies, to have the luxury of allowing our young people to fritter away four, five, six years of their lives, at $30K and more a year, on an education that even its providers don’t value? To say nothing of the workplace?
Hasn’t always been that way, of course. In plenty of times and places throughout the world, the resources were scarcer, and the educational stakes much higher. What, I thought, if such times were to return …? And with that thought, this story popped out.
Keisha willed out of her mind both the pouring rain and her rising tide of panic. She jammed the bicycle, as neatly and as near to code as the situation permitted, into the rack at the head of the driveway, and she walked, as fast as regulations allowed, to the front door of the schoolhouse. She pounded her right palm on the lock, opened the door and strode into the hall, unlit except for three phosphorescent signs that read “Exit” and one that read “Timeclock”. She marched a straight line to the timeclock, her heart trying to crawl up her windpipe, and slammed her left thumb on the touchpad.
The timeclock’s battery-powered display panel flashed into gray-on-gray life. “INSTRUCTSPEC KEISHA WILLIMSEN. IN. 05:59:59.”
Ten demerits – a day’s pay – avoided by a single second. Keisha would have collapsed on the floor in relief, but there was no time. She would probably get a demerit for the way she parked her bicycle, but she didn’t have time to worry about that either. Too much to do before Assembly at 07:00, too much to lose if she didn’t do all on her list, and to code, by then.
“Damn that Kevn”, she grumbled to her inner ear as she headed to the “Exit” sign that led to the furnace room. She and Kevn had spent all last evening poring over their credit and behavior accounts, calculating how much longer it would be before they could apply for a cohabitation license, how much longer still before they could be granted permission to take the tests needed to get one of the few, incalculably precious, procreation licenses. As usual, it looked like it would take forever to get the one, and beyond forever for the other.
They had fought about it right up until curfew, and it was only by luck that they didn’t set their futures back still more by not making it to their sleeping cubicles before lights out. She had sacked angry, slept poorly, and almost didn’t wake up in time to arrive at her duty station.
The furnace room was pitch black except for phosphorescent strips in the floor that led her to the stationary bicycle in the middle. She stepped on and started pedaling. Slowly the room lights brightened. Two minutes of this, she knew, and she would be able to see well enough to complete the next task. Her body, slim and straight from genes, sparse diet, and constant exercise, and already wet from the rain, slickened anew with the effort.
When she could see the furnace and the coal bin beside it, she dismounted. She shoveled the day’s ration of coal – precisely measured by weight – into the scuttle, and heaved the scuttle to the furnace. Apprehensively, she opened the grate – and sighed with relief. The instructspec on duty the previous evening had known what she was doing. Keisha heaped the prescribed starting coal ration onto the live remnants of yesterday’s fire, and closed the grate.
Now, the hard part. Keisha got back on the bicycle and pedaled as hard as she could, to fan the fire into life and activate the blowers to distribute the heat through the building. Twenty-five minutes of hard riding before the town’s electricity grid was activated at 06:45 and could take over the task. That left her fifteen minutes to ditch her fatigues and dress for Assembly at 07:00 – formal dress, with no sweat or coal dust allowed to show, and hard prayer that her efforts had brought the building temperature to the February regulation 10 degrees Centigrade.
At 06:59, Keisha marched into the Assembly hall with the five other members of her instructional cohort, and stood at attention in front of the central podium. InstructCap Lira Ligle, a hard-faced veteran, white chocolate to Keisha’s milk, received their salute.
“Bicycle not parked in accordance with regulations. One demerit.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Coal smudge over the right eyebrow. Half a demerit.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Wet spot on the toe of the left shoe. One demerit.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Commence your instructional duties.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
After nearly five years in this instructional session, all day every day for those five years, Keisha knew better than to even think about the rain and sweat being responsible for that wet spot. It was another demerit, and her own fault; she didn’t police herself well enough. At least it wasn’t two demerits. It could easily have been two. Kevn’s image flashed in her mind for a moment.
Her instructional duties waited for her in the back of the hall, standing at attention in column of twos. Twenty eleven-year-olds. “Two over quota”, a placard flashed in Keisha’s head, “and with thirteen weeks left in this fifth year of the session. Not much time.” Well, Keisha thought, they have a major algebra test today. That usually helps.
The classroom into which Keisha marched her class was cold. “Not regulation”, she thought, wondering how her superiors could have missed a chance to demerit her. The students marched in perfect order to their desks and stood at attention besides them, silently.
“Sit and prepare!” Keisha barked the order.
With one smooth motion, the students sat, reached into their satchels, brought out notebooks and pencil, and laid them out on their desks, their hands outstretched besides them.
Only one boy – Hedrik – was slightly out of step. Either from the cold, or anxiety over the upcoming test, or both, the pencil under Hedrik’s left hand chattered as he laid both upon his desk’s platform.
Instantly, Keisha was upon him, a steel rod in her left hand. She brought it down with a sharp, sinister smack upon the offending hand.
Fragments of pencil flew in all directions from underneath the unnaturally splayed fingers. Blood welled up from under the palm. Hedrik tensed as if to scream … and then sat straight, eyes front, in perfect “seated attention” posture, moving nothing.
“Please”, urged Keisha silently, “just one little move. A snivel, even.”
It was not forthcoming. Hedrik’s posture and composure were identical to those of his classmates, except for the pool under his left palm. Without the provocation that so much as a tear could have provided, Keisha had no grounds for action. Her class would remain two over quota – and if she didn’t fix that soon, the demerits that would earn her would dash forever her hopes for that procreation license, and probably lose her Kevn too.
“Why”, she asked the silence, “do I always get the overachievers?” Slowly, she flicked the setting on the maser in her right hand from kill to safety, lowered the weapon, holstered it.
“Five demerits for conduct unbecoming a student, and five demerits for making that mess under your left palm.”
“Thank you, Teacher!”
“At the first take five, you will clean that up and file a report.”
“Thank you, Teacher!”
When Hedrik filed that report, Keisha thought, he might get the hand looked at. Or maybe not. Medical staff usually resisted treating wounds related to discipline. Unless a priest happened to be visiting the school, treatment of discipline-related injuries was left to the parents. They may not have cared for that, but they knew better than to let the school know about their concerns. They understood that school staff would give them no sympathy whatsoever. After all, they had acquired the wealth to obtain a procreation license, and there were always nasty questions to be asked about just how the parents had attained that wealth. Uncovering secrets was a great way to meet quotas.
“In five minutes, your algebra test will begin. You know the rewards for success, and the penalties for failure. In preparation for this examination, we will recite the creed.”
“Thank you, Teacher!”
“Why are we here?”
“To learn, Teacher!”
“What shall we learn?”
“To waste nothing, Teacher! Not time, not energy, not talent.”
“From whom shall we learn?”
“From the holy Ezra the Redeemer, Teacher!”
“What is his message?”
“Greed and waste nearly destroyed the world, Teacher! To save the world, we must reject greed and waste.”
“How shall we reject greed and waste?”
“Through controlling ourselves, Teacher!”
“How shall we control ourselves?”
“We shall know the rules, love the rules, and obey the rules, Teacher, that we may be saved!”
“So shall it be, class. Prepare in meditation.”
And the classroom fell silent. No movement, no sound … except for the occasional drip, drip of Hedrik’s blood.
– O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.