Slouching Toward Bedlam

The Metaphor in the Room, or Like Fodder for Elephants

Shop teacher Gord Winkel, as usual, was the last one to slip into a seat in the back of the
room. He disliked staff meetings passionately, mostly because he usually had no
idea what was going on in them and was always afraid that at some point he
would not speak up when he should and that the next thing he knew, the
Practical Arts department would be shut down, and he would be out of a job (or
worse, student council would cancel the free-leftover-donuts-for-faculty policy
for fundraiser donut days).

He was still catching his breath (the staff room was a long way from the metal shop) as
Principal Bentley VanderHaar cleared his throat like a bullfrog and said it was
time to begin, then looked pointedly at Gord as he added, “Now that we are all
finally here.” Gord slouched in his seat. He hadn’t meant to keep anyone

Bentley turned on his laptop projector and shined a pie chart on the mostly white walls
of the staff room. Almost immediately Gord’s eyes glazed over and his stomach
rumbled. He had never understood how to read pie charts, and their mere name
always made him just a bit hungry. Bentley was droning on about sources of
revenue and enrollment projections versus actual numbers and saying something
about the “volatility of the numbers from our traditional feeder schools” and
“the impact of changing demographics” and “the possible need, in light of the
actual numbers, to consider a reduction in force.” Gord wasn’t listening
though. He was thinking about Larson Scieszka in his fifth period class. Larson
was in his advanced woodworking class, and she had had a hard day of it in
class today. This was the day that the big pachydermal chronometer project was
due. Long ago Gord called it the elephant clock project, but when, in another
staff meeting, head counselor Maxwell Prentiss-Hall suggested that all academic
disciplines help prepare for the ACT by teaching more vocabulary, Gord changed
the name of the project.

Anyway, Larson was the lone girl in a class of unruly boys, and she had always been a
fantastic woodworker. But today in class she had quietly told Gord that her
pachydermal chronometer project wasn’t finished because her dad had been
admitted to a rehab center last night for treatment of his drug addiction. Gord
wasn’t concerned about Larson missing the deadline; he was concerned about the
girl herself and her mom and little brother.

Slowly Gord grew conscious that Bentley VanderHaar had stopped speaking and was waiting
expectantly for something. Just as the silence was growing awkward, Bedlam’s
librarian (and chief conspiracy theorist), Jon Kleinhut, spoke up. “Yeah. I
have a question. Don’t you think it’s time we talk about the elephant in the

This is an abridged version of this article. To read more, subscribe to the print edition of Christian Educators Journal.

Jan Karsvlaam is happy to announce that he has taken a position as director of standardized testing for Milwaukee Heights Christian Schools in Wisconsin. He is also happy to announce that he has signed a contract with a major publishing company to write a book tentatively titled Standardized Testing: The Worst Thing to Happen to Schools Since They Got Rid of the Monkey Bars. Early reviewers have called the book “. . . not completely incomprehensible,” “apparently written by a . . . teacher,” and “. . . entirely laughable.”