Rich Hymen, merino sweater sleeves drawn just shy of his elbows, is contemplating his forearm hair. This is not, or shouldn’t be, his natural environment; he isn’t a comfortable sage on the stage, but as he imagines the faces of his expectant charges, the sense of responsibility taking hold visibly stimulates each follicle, and his grip on the lectern tightens.
Students are filing into the auditorium. As they do so, he runs a thumb and forefinger down his lanyard. Cotton? No. Vinyl? Maybe. Nylon? Yes. Nylon and the bas relief of a transfer. Nylon and rubber. YES!
Dick! Stand to attention, Dick! For Pete’s sake!
“Hello everyone. The theme of today’s lecture is the learning cycle – empowering students for the 21st Century through helical planning.”
At ‘helical’ the students’ notebooks flutter and crackle: a graphologist would have heard the word ‘helical’ scratched rapidly in graphite.
Dick! (Please. ‘Rich’, Dad!) Bullshit. Dick.
“Picture this: the Victorian Age. An age of agrarian industry. A time of great disparity and yet… of great expectations.”
“The harvest is done; the children, exhausted by their industrial travails, trudge back to the charity school to learn words, numbers and the writing thereof.” Graphite twitches throughout the auditorium. And the graphologist hears “thereof”.
Dick! Do your flies up. You’re exposed.
The lecture follows Rich Hymen’s well-trodden path from A to B, the Roman road from a dark past to an unknown future: a future in which 65.7% of jobs will not be intelligible to either the people that do them, nor (most pertinently) to their parents, who are likely to be sitting now in the auditorium.
Whenever he talks about the future, everyone in the auditorium (including Rich) looks at the glowing green exit sign in the rear, right-hand corner of the room.
The lecture ends. Each forearm hair in turn stands down, like a batallion dismissed. Students file out like a squadron sent to the front line. All but one.
“Mr Hymen, Sir.”
“Yes. Hello. How can I help you? And remind me your name.”
“Arthur Busch, Sir. Arty. I’m struggling with behaviour in my B placement. I wondered if you could help me.”
“Of course, Mr Busch. I assume you’ve already been through the Future-Proof Checklist I’ve given you. Tell me. What have you tried?”
Arty winces. The capital letters on Future-Proof Checklist are audible in his mentor’s speech. He fingers the corner of his reporter’s notebook. He flicks it open to the checklist, reworked in his own handwriting and annotated in three colours.
“I’ve tried ‘know-understand-apply’ learning objectives, no objectives, showing the objectives at the start, revealing them at the end, and asking the students to deduce them from the lesson.”
“None of those worked?”
“No. I don’t think the problem was my objectives.”
Rich scratches his chin: he’s thinking.
“And also..” Arty is breathless, “Also, triple marking has… kind of become, well, just another routine: something I do, the kids do – you know?” Arty’s brow rises, expectant.
Rich works a knot in the lectern as he frames his response. As he does so, he imagines the lectern buckling.
“Have you tried flipping your classroom? It’s maybe a bit advanced for you at this stage.”
“I’ve tried that, Sir, but there were problems of… accessibility. Of varying kinds.”
“Ah, yes. How can we prepare kids for the future when society doesn’t even allow them to live in the present? Tell me that. What about giving them access in class? Have you tried iPads?”
Arty’s parents – could they have observed him at this moment – would have seen an increment of aging that no parent should have to see.
“I did. I now have a few fewer. My feedback stamp quickly became an improvised graffiti tool, my lollipop sticks spawned a number of hilarious games, and the brain gym quickly descended into a bout of Ultimate Fighting.”
Rich nods – thoughtfully (to a casual observer). He nods again. He pauses. He nods again.
Dick! You numbskull.
“I think,” he says without thinking, “I have the solution.”
“But Mr Hyman, you haven’t really asked me what the problem is.”
“Ah yes, of course. I forget myself.”
A pregnant silence follows, during which Richard Hyman hesitates to ask, and Arthur Busch hesitates to tell. The urgency of Arty’s situation wins over, and he speaks first.
“I think the problem is the checklist, Sir.”
Oh Dick! Dick, Dick, Dick! You’ve finally been caught with your pants down.
“You think my checklist is incomplete?”
Arty’s parents – could they have observed him now – would have been so proud.
“Not incomplete. More, dare I say…”
Dick! He hasn’t swallowed your creation. He’s going to spit it back in your face.
“No.” Rich touches a finger to Arty’s lips – much to the disapproval of Arty’s parents, could they have observed him.
“Arty, we are writing the rule book of the Third Millennium, here. The past is a foreign country. The future is our home now.”
“Mr Hymen, do you realise how vacuous that sounds?”
Richard Hymen’s hairs all stand back up to attention, ready to go over the top, lest one be shot as an example.
Ha! Ha! Ha! Dick! Vacuous. Did you hear that?
Rich’s features set. “Arturo.”
“Yes, Arthur. Look, it’s really not as complex as you might think.”
“Well, I am coming around to that way of thinking.” Arty smiles and then, just as quickly, unsmiles.
“Watch.” says Rich, “And learn.”
From his salesman’s bag, an ironic legacy from his father, Richard pulls a black box. He holds it up with precious care between them, then pulls a strap from it, methodically, behind his head and over his ears.
“You can’t hold back the future, Arty. Look. Just look.”
The device descends slowly over Richard Hymen’s now incongruously youthful face, and finally obscures his eyes.
“Can you see?” he says, “Can you see what I see?”
Hymen – unbroken, unbowed – doesn’t hear Arty’s footsteps to the door. He doesn’t see the calm determination now on the young man’s face.
He neither hears nor sees the door that shuts on two careers.
This blog was co-written with my good friend, @dutaut
Please take a look at his excellent blog: full of magical realism and philosophy on the state of education.