The entire faculty gathered in the staff room immediately after school. It was rare for Bentley VanderHaar, the principal of Bedlam Christian, to call a meeting like this, and when he did it often involved news about misbehaving students being expelled or news about a parent or staff member going suddenly into the hospital or, occasionally, news that faculty insurance was going up or pensions were going down—so the faculty gathered with grim expressions that matched the late winter weather.
It wasn’t until twenty after three that Principal VanderHaar strode into the room. Everyone quieted down and he began.
“Now, I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I have been looking at the projections from our feeder schools. Our matrices for next year’s enrollment reveal a disruption in our trend line that’s causing concern about a potential degradation in our budgetary projections.” At this, several of Bedlam’s younger teachers looked at each other quizzically.
Seeing the confusion, PE teacher Rex Kane, who promoted himself as a clear thinker and communicator, jumped into the breach and rephrased. “Bentley means to say that, well, our numbers could use a little goose in the keister. That is, the numbers could stand a kick in the ribs in order for us to be riding high in the saddle, bottom-line-wise.” Now all the faculty looked confused. “That is, we need to put a tiger in our tank in order to get pole position in the race for enrollment. That is, we’ve got to step it up—you know, walk the talk and let actions speak louder than words—because we’ve got a tough row to hoe, enrollment-wise. So even if . . .”
Bible teacher Cal Vandermeer stepped in front of Rex and said to Bentley, “So enrollment is low for next fall and we need to find some ways to bring it up a bit.”
“Exactly,” said VanderHaar, “couldn’t have said it better.”
“I could’ve,” Rex muttered beneath his breath.
“Now, I don’t usually do this,” VanderHaar continued, “but I was reading my Mooseman’s Management Memo this morning, and Don Mooseman (a very well-known management expert) was saying that sometimes when you are up against a wall, it’s a good strategy to ask your employees for suggestions. So I called this meeting to hear what ideas you have.”
There was a silence that stretched just a little bit into awkward territory. The faculty had just finished a long day of teaching and were not exactly brimming with brainstorming energy. In fact, shop teacher Gord Winkle had such a busy day that he had not been able to eat his leftover triple burger until his sixth-hour free period and was now feeling the effects as his body diverted almost all of his blood flow to his stomach. He sluggishly raised his head, sat forward in his chair and said, loudly and clearly, “Fudgsicles!” Everyone turned to look at him. “See, we could give everyone a fudgsicle, or even a choco-taco, and then . . .” Belatedly, Winkle realized he had been dreaming. He sheepishly said, “I withdraw the suggestion.”
After another awkward pause, librarian Jon Kleinhut spoke up. “What about getting more international students? There is a lot of money in some of those countries and they are looking for a good American education. The public school down the street has a dozen of them. No reason why we shouldn’t be tapping into that revenue stream.”
Jane VanderAsch cleared her throat and raised her hand. She looked pained.
“I hate to admit it,” she said, “but I think Jon may have a good idea. My cousin teaches at a Christian school in New Jersey. Her school takes as many international students as they can find host families for. The families of these students tend to be wealthy. They pay full tuition, and they pay it up front—no muss, no fuss trying to collect tuition during the year.”
VanderHaar’s cheeks began to glow a slight pink, and his blue eyes danced with mirth. “Now we’re talking!” he said.
Jane continued, “And my cousin said that because they have so many international students, the school can keep up its full programming. They were in danger of having to shut down their robotics classes, for example, but thanks to six new Korean students, they filled out the class.”
“Sounds like everybody wins,” VanderHaar said.
Christina Lopez, Bedlam’s best English teacher, had appeared increasingly uncomfortable as Jane spoke. Now she could no longer contain herself. She said, “Does anyone beside me find this idea just a little bit selfish?”
“Selfish?” VanderAsch snorted. “What are you talking about?”
“Yes, selfish,” Christina fired back. “Your cousin’s school in New Jersey is using those kids for its own ends.”
“The school is providing a service. It is providing the same service that it provides to its traditional students. The international students want to study in the US for a variety of reasons. The school is giving them the opportunity to fulfill their own desires. How can you suggest the school is using anybody?”
“I suggest it based on everything you just said, Jane,” Christina sputtered. “When you brought up the school, you never once talked about serving international students. You never once talked about how international students might be enriched by their attendance at your cousin’s school. You never once talked about how traditional students might benefit from exposure to a wider world. All you talked about was prepaid tuition dollars and bodies filling seats. I don’t hear anyone getting excited about enrolling low-income students who might need what we can offer as much as rich kids from other countries need it. Thinking only of the bottom line is selfish!”
Christina had grown louder and louder as she spoke. Now she stood there, her shoulders trembling as she looked across the lounge at Jane who smiled at her coldly, crossed her arms on her chest, and threw her a steely gaze. Jane said, “I didn’t say those things because those things are obvious, Christina. I thought I’d rather speak to the point than belabor the obvious.”
Christina sucked in a deep breath and pulled her head back to respond before Cal, sensing imminent disaster, stepped in to bring clarity for the second time that afternoon.
“I think you are both right,” Cal said. “Jane, those ideas are ‘baked in’ to the idea of a school hosting international students, but the idea of using those same students to help raise enrollment or plug budget holes, well, that is something new. At least it’s new to me, and I’ve been teaching for thirty-five years now. So Christina has a point too.”
He turned to Bentley and said, “So, Bentley, what do you think? Good idea or bad idea?”
VanderHaar answered, the twinkle still in his eye, “My master’s degree study of Derrida’s views of management taught me not to live in a world of simple dualities because said dualities always empower one group over another and they seldom reveal the more complicated truth with which, and in which, we must live.”
Again, a number of teachers looked about the room quizzically.
Rex jumped to his feet, waving his hands, and said, “It’s really quite simple, folks. What Bentley is saying is that sometimes the shoe fits, but other times we discover that the shoe is on the other foot now, so even if we shouldn’t look a gift international student in the mouth, the better part of valor is caution.”
It was Gord Winkle, snoring quietly in the corner, who brought real clarity to the situation. Into the silence that followed Rex’s confusing explanation, he mumbled loudly, “Not now, Batman. I gotta go feed the hedgehogs in the pizza church.”
Rex smiled at the sea of faces, nodded once, and then added, “Amen. You are dismissed.”
Jan Karsvlaam has recently accepted a position as the International Student Coordinator at Springfield Christian School. Unfortunately, in his joy upon receiving his acceptance email, he dumped his peppermint spice caramel chocolate marshmallow banana split latte onto his laptop, rendering it inoperative, and now he cannot remember which state (or possibly country) Springfield Christian is located in. He would like to use this forum to humbly ask those at Springfield Christian to contact him by phone.