Slouching Toward Bedlam

A Word to the Wise Guy or “You say Tonto, I say Toronto . . .”

“So now we’re supposed to create a class website that gives daily updates on assignments, grades, and student behavior,” muttered math teacher Jane VanderAsch as she eyed the memo from Bedlam’s principal, Bentley VanderHaar, which contained exactly that directive. “And we are doing this on top of our electronic gradebook that is open to students and parents, PDFs of our syllabi, which are available online to our students and parents, and our use of Google Classroom, which automatically notifies parents of when their students do or don’t do their homework. This is unbelievable!”

Bible teacher Cal VanderMeer snorted derisively and added, “It is getting a bit ridiculous, isn’t it?”

This minor outburst of cynicism was so out of character for Cal that counselor Maxwell Prentiss-Hall choked, spewing his mouthful of coffee all over the table in front of him. His pressed white shirt now had brown splotches all over it.

As he dabbed at them, he said to Cal, “But, Cal, you’ve always said communication with parents and students was critically important. How can you change your tune now?”

Cal smiled, and the turn of his lips again suggested a savage pessimism that no one was accustomed to seeing there. “I have always said that,” he agreed, “but communication is a two-way street, Max. At some point, no matter how much we as teachers shout into the darkness, we will not achieve communication if the parents and students aren’t listening. This isn’t conversation or collaboration; it is a one-way transmission of information. I think we have gone above and beyond our duty.”

“Maybe, Cal, your problem is that you are imagining Bedlam like it was twenty-five years ago,” English teacher Christina Lopez said from the other end of the table.

Cal nodded, took a sip of coffee, then said, “Explain.”

PE teacher Rex Kane stepped through the faculty lounge door just as Christina began her explanation. “Well, our school’s demographics have changed a lot over the last two or three decades. We have a different mix of ethnicities, a different mix of socioeconomic backgrounds, a different set of cultural experiences and touchstones that lead to different expectations. As a result, communication standards may be different than in the past.”

“You are the last person I would expect to say something like that, Christina,” Cal said. “It sounds like a soft racism or prejudice: we shouldn’t expect too much from families who are poorer or who are people of color.”

“That is NOT what I’m saying,” Christina said, but before she could say anymore, Rex spoke up in her defense.

“Whoa, Cal! Rein in your rhinos, my friend, before you find yourself judging a book by the company it keeps! What Christina is trying to say is that communication has become more difficult because we’ve got a bunch of different languages going on here—English, Spanish, Ebonics, and who knows what else. It’s like we’re trying to teach in the tower of Babel.”

As so often happened, stunned silence greeted Rex’s outburst. He leaned into the silence as if it were an invitation to continue, and with one finger thrust up he said, “That’s why I am learning Esper-Tonto. It’s a universal language, and I think we should make it the official language of Bedlam Christian High School.”

“Do you mean Esperanto?” Christina asked.

“No, I don’t mean Esper-Toronto—they only speak that in Canada. I am talking about Esper-Tonto. Did you know that it is named after a famous Native American who recognized that European settlers and Native Americans misunderstood each other because of language barriers. His name was Tonto, and he created a language that he taught to the Lone Ranger, and together they worked to make the West safe for all. And it was all because of better communication, thanks to Esper-Tonto!”

Cal smiled. “As absurd as Rex is, I think he might be illustrating my point. Communication needs to be a two-way street. And maybe the things that parents most need to hear are not grades and missed assignments but stories about how their kid reflects the Creator-Father.” [This is only part of the article. Want to read more? Subscribe to the website by choosing "Register" from the menu above. It's free!]

Jan Karsvlaam is excited to announce he is applying for head-of-school positions in Christian schools throughout the US and Canada. He hastens to point out that the incident at Bad Axe Christian School in Michigan involving the emus and the nacho cheese dispenser occurred when he was acting principal, which is a completely different thing than head-of-school.