Slouching Toward Bedlam

Something Wiki This Way Comes, or Muted Expectations

“I’ve just about had it up to here with that old barnacle-busting, antique, glutinously oblivious, ancient, parrot-faced gnome who runs this school!” proclaimed Rex Kane as he entered the staff room at Bedlam Christian School and dropped into a chair. “He wouldn’t recognize progress if it ran over his cat with a steamroller!”

Cal VanderMeer was sitting at one of the tables, grading freshman epistle projects. He arched an eyebrow. “I take it you are talking about our esteemed principal, Mr. VanderHaar.”

“VanderHaar-dee-haar-haar is more like it,” snorted Rex. “Just last week during the in-service, did he or did he not say that he was interested in proposals for online classes?”

“Well, I do seem to recall him talking about that, yes,” said Cal. A grin began to play around the corners of his mouth. “He wants to make courses available to homeschoolers, right? Why? Did you make a proposal, Rex?”

“Of course I did. I’m not some stick-in-the-mud who is stuck in the . . . um . . . mud . . . of the twentieth century. This online thing is the wave of the future, and I want to ride that wave all the way over the falls.”

Bedlam’s art teacher, Gregg “Rigor” Mortiss came into the room. Rex continued with a sigh. “Our corporeal commandant just turned down my proposal for an online PE course.”

“An online PE course?” asked Cal, unable to keep from grinning, “What would that look like?”

“I had it all worked out,” explained Rex. “Get this, a student would be able to choose what activity to participate in. I had a whole list—and it was really comprehensive too—not just basketball. I’m talking curling, ferret-legging, caber tossing, okapi jousting, skeet-surfing, cup stacking, roller derby—you name it. Then what they would do is record themselves participating in their sport, post it on the Floozle-site, and then the other students and I could critique their form. We could even insert markers into their digital recording to point at exactly which moments the comments were referencing. Then the students would record themselves participating in the event again, and they would digitally annotate the changes they had made in their technique and I would check those. See? It would be an academically rigorous course. I could even have them write a blog about how they were growing spiritually through participating in the activities. BAM! In one fell swoop, I address writing-across-the-curriculum and the whole Reformed perspective thing. Dang, I’m good.”

After the usual pause that often followed anything Rex said, Rigor Mortiss spoke up. “I don’t know, Rex, sounds like a lot of work. I found out that Bill Freshler, whose videotapes I have been using in class for years, already has online lectures and content that the school can purchase. I just need to record the introductions and assignments, slap those on the front and back of the Freshler stuff, and baby, we’re ready to roll.” He put his feet on the table, his hands behind his neck, and reclined in his chair.

“But Rex,” said Cal, “what about teaching sportsmanship, teamwork, and community?”

“What about it?” Rex asked, raising one eyebrow quizzically.

Cal sighed heavily. “If all of your students are doing their own thing, off by themselves, how do they learn about working as a team? How do they even play in games or activities that require more people? They can’t exactly play football or softball or lacrosse by themselves.”

“Don’t even start with me, VanderMeer,” Rex said. He leaned into his elbows on the table and glared at Cal. “When I tried to bring a football program to Bedlam three years ago, you fought me tooth and nail, and now you are worried because students in my online course won’t play football. You are the worst kind of hypocrite.”

Mortiss folded his arms across his chest and nodded. “He’s got you there, Cal. You did fight starting a football team.”

“It’s not about football, per se, Cal said.

“You’re the one who brought it up,” Rex said. Mortiss grinned and nodded vigorously.

“I don’t care about football,” Cal said, throwing up his hands in exasperation. “You are missing the point!”

“Am I?” Rex demanded. His eyes went wide in mock dismay. “Am I really?”

“Yes, you are!” Cal said, pounding the table with his fist. His rare loss of temper caught his colleagues by surprise and allowed a short opening for him to try to make his point.

“Here’s a quick list of problems I have with your course: 1) Many sports and games are team sports, and they help people to build community, not just in high school, but for a lifetime. Your online version takes away real community and teamwork and replaces it with virtual community, which is a poor replacement for the real thing. 2) The course that you just described offers no real instruction—just kids doing things for themselves while you comment. Not exactly a traditional understanding of the role of a teacher. 3) Your idea of tacking on a blog to address writing and spirituality is a mockery of both ideas. You give no real consideration to what kind of writing might make sense in your curriculum. Nor do you have a clue how you will assess that writing to see if students have accomplished the goals you set. You can’t assess the goals because you have no goals, just loosely formed ideas that are undeveloped. 4) Finally, and most importantly, you completely ignore the magic that happens in a classroom, when a teacher and a group of students truly wrestle with ideas together, discover things about God, the world, and each other, and develop relationships as they seek to grow together. The classroom is a laboratory where reactions take place because of how people and ideas get mixed together. In your ideal ‘virtual’ world, such reactions never happen because no people or ideas ever really mix in any meaningful way. Maybe that’s why VanderHaar shot down your idea.”

Gregg stared at Cal, stunned, looking every bit like Rex’s steamrolled cat. Rex, however, was nonplussed. In fact, while Cal had been going off, Rex had leaned back in his seat, produced a toothpick from his sweatshirt pocket, and worked diligently at something caught between two of his molars. Now as Cal stood there, visibly shaking, Rex pointed the toothpick at his adversary.

“You know,” Rex said, “they laughed at Thomas Edison when he invented the telephone, too. So you go ahead and get all worked up, Cal. Just know, you can’t fight the future. You and VanderHaar can get all sanctimonious if you want, but you can’t stop progress. Someday, there won’t be schools like this old brick-and-mortar behemoth at all. The future is online.”

Rex’s final words, though still fraught with factual error, somehow rang true in Cal’s ears. A cold shudder passed down his spine. He felt like an ancient Roman standing on the ramparts of the city, looking down with despondency and disbelief, as the barbarians gathered at the gates.

 

Jan Kaarsvlam is pleased as punch to announce his engagement to Dela Telly whom he recently met online. Jan is confident that by simultaneously teaching online virtual classes for Phoenix University, Christian Schools International, and Wally’s Internet French Cooking Academy, he will be able to support his beautiful soon-to-be-bride in the lifestyle to which she aspires. He currently has accumulated over one million units of Bitcoin, an online currency in which he receives his weekly pay. At current exchange rates, he estimates he has made approximately $12.42 through his online endeavors. He also hopes to keep his position as night janitor at Terra Ceia Christian School.