PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE
- Commissioner Jackson
- Commissioner Rand
- Commissioner Hegel
- Commissioner Clemens
- Commissioner Levin
COM. JACKSON: Please go ahead sir, you have five minutes.
SOCRATES: If it pleases the Board, I prefer to investigate this subject collectively. There is one question in particular, a most vexing question about the nature of the testing process, which has been dogging my mind.
COM. JACKSON: I’m sorry, sir, that’s not how public comment works.
SOCRATES: Is it not?
COM. JACKSON: No.
SOCRATES: Does the problem lie in my desire to pose a question, or in my assumption that the education of our children is a cooperative effort?
COM. JACKSON: You speak, we listen. That’s how it works.
COM. RAND: I advise the speaker he has four and a half minutes remaining.
SOCRATES: Very well, so I may ask certain questions, but not others?
COM. HEGEL: If the speaker is unfamiliar with the public comment process, we can answer his questions regarding the rules of order. Otherwise, please go ahead. The floor is yours.
SOCRATES: And the walls and ceiling as well, and even the heavens, if I might only obtain a satisfactory answer to this question: Which format of instruction is more beneficial to the youthful mind––the one in which the teacher presents a series of questions, and the student is obligated to answer, or the opposing, in which the teacher provides only the answers and the student only the questions?
COM. HEGEL: Again, that is not the nature of public comment.
SOCRATES: But am I not simply inquiring about the speaking process, with which, as you pointed out, I am unfamiliar? And also the rules of order––for what are the rules of order but the succession in which questions and answers are presented? Therefore I ask, should a student be judged solely on his ability to furnish solutions, or might he be judged on his curiosity as well?
(COMMISIONER LEVIN removes a handkerchief from his coat pocket and emphatically blows his nose.)
SOCRATES: I shall assume your silence gives consent to the notion that both forms of tutelage are worthy of consideration?
COM. RAND: Three and a half.
COM. CLEMENS: The man can see the clock well enough. We don’t need to count it down for him.
SOCRATES: But let us continue our investigation, shall we? I believe I am beginning to apprehend the rules of order, and as you have so sagaciously satisfied my first inquiry, I think I shall put good use to this overabundance of time and present another question to the board. And I shall be most fascinated to hear your responses; do not trouble yourselves, for I will make sure to adhere to the parliamentary procedure. Only, allow me to request a definition of terms, so that I might be on proper footing in this discourse. Would you agree that if some thing can be bought and sold, and has a value, that we call it a “good”?
COM. RAND: Fair enough.
SOCRATES: And if something has a value, is it therefore a good?
COM. CLEMENS: Sounds reasonable.
SOCRATES: I appreciate your support, Commissioners. We have reached some accord, then, on this notion: that the buying and selling of goods endows them with value. My confusion––and perhaps it is a confusion of semantics––relates to certain foods in the cafeteria. I refer to those ornately decorated packages of savory and sweet treats among which are the Lays potato chips, Rice Krispie Treats, Oreo cookies, Cheetos, and also the ambrosial beverages Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew, Fanta, and others of which I am forgetting the names. It is generally accepted, is it not, that these products, while most beautiful and charming to the eye and tongue, offer little or no nutritional value to the youthful soul and body?
COM. RAND: The items you mention are on the snack cart, not in the lunch line.
SOCRATES: I see. And though we admit freely that these snack foods do nothing to nourish the children, but only contribute to the rotting of their teeth and innards, we offer them for sale during the lunch hour, and present them as goods. Is this not the basic economic tenet we discussed earlier? I only wish to clarify our definition, as it strikes me that we have a limited time to impart these economic and philosophical lessons to the children.
COM. JACKSON: It would be of no use to argue with you, sir. A healthy lunch is offered free of charge to every student. If they wish to purchase something from the snack cart, they are free to do so.
SOCRATES: Of course. But be patient with an old fool, as I am simply trying to understand the notion of what is good, and what has value. If I were a younger person I might be perplexed, for the examples of this principle are scarce on school grounds. On the one hand, books and wisdom, and healthy meals, are given away freely, and on the other, the items on the snack cart can only be bought…
(A blaring buzzer sound fills the room, and a red light blinks above SOCRATES’s head. His voice is lost in the din. He turns full round, bewildered. A security officer ushers him away from the dais. A primly dressed woman in glasses takes his place, flipping through a notepad.)
COM. JACKSON: May I remind everyone if we want to get out of here by midnight, we need to focus on the two main issues up for vote tonight: the adoption of the new Common Core standards, and the approval of this year’s budget.
SOCRATES (from the floor): But are these not precisely the topics…
COM. JACKSON (banging the gavel): Order!
COM. RAND: I see we have a lot of people waiting to speak tonight. I move to curtail the public comment to three minutes instead of five.
COM. HEGEL: Second.