Excerpt from Chapter 3: “Field Trip”
“But Mr. Mack, what if they come for us next?” Sam said. “What will we do-will we have to be like that?” He nodded towards the length of glass pretending to be a wall between Sam and his teacher, and the New School “learning lab” they had just toured.
His teacher sighed, paused; shook his head. Then he seemed to gather himself, and Mr. Mack was back.
“We’re different, Sam. You can’t really say what’s good here, or what’s good for some people in some other place would be good for some other place- or good for us.” He looked at Sam for a moment and smiled just a little, but it was a smile that looked forced and didn’t make it to his eyes the way it did when he lit up-when he was just as excited to see that you were learning as you were to be learning yourself-the way he lit up when he said he was learning too. That’s what the kids all called it, “lit up”. “Mr. Mack’s ‘lit up’ again,” like they were picking on him-but only just a little. He went on in that way he did when kids knew that he might not get to the homework-the story would finish and the homework would be tomorrow’s classwork.
“Different places make different people, and that’s one of the things that make learning beautiful. Call it ‘education’ if you want to sound fancy, but you’re learning. And then, get all those different people from all those different places together- at the end of all that learning? All grown, all wide open and knowing that a great big world full of other places and other learners is just waiting for them…that’s when powerful things can happen! That’s what’s happening here, Sam. They are just different people, in a different place, that’s all. They’re still learning. But they’re not us, and we’re not them. They’re just learning .”
Mr. Mack’s gaze trailed slowly to take in the view into the room of “learners”. What his teacher was thinking about, Sam couldn’t tell. But when he looked through the expansive length of clear glass into the room he had just visited; when he saw the rows and rows of robot-children dutifully tapping at their continually flashing screen and the neutral gray proctors gliding on their predictable paths between the children…he couldn’t help but wonder at what might have been lost to make this kind of learning happen. What had these sterilized learners left behind?
Or, who had been left behind?
When he looked to the front wall of the room to that giant techno-screen that dominated it and saw again the huge, looming, somehow stern and serene at the same time face on the screen (still endlessly dictating to the little down-turned heads in that steady monotone cadence): Sam shuddered. What did Mr. Mack really think that he wasn’t saying? At this very moment the teacher looked lost; no longer lit-up and eager, but fallen into some empty space about three inches off or a million miles away, just staring.
Sam was suddenly frightened. He knew a handful of silent seconds had passed but it felt like so many heavy years. And he felt sad. Sad because he knew. He knew he had just seen the future and he knew he could watch it happening right now through the giant windows into that “learning lab” and he knew Mr. Mack knew it but would never say it. That made him more sad and more frightened than anything ever had. Until he turned to look at that giant looming face on the screen.
And saw that the face was looking right at him.