I HAVE endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
~Charles Dickens (Preface from A Christmas Carol)
Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail….The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. (Dickens)
Standardized Classroom Education was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the parents, the children, the communities, and the boards. That there is no doubt…This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story that I am going to relate.
Modern Education never pointed out Standardized’s good name. There it stood, years afterward, above the schoolhouse door: Modern and Standardized. They were interchangeable names really to the community, and more or less to Modern Education as well.
Modern Education was tight-fisted as a grindstone, a real scrooge in life. He was a squeezing, clutching, covetous entity from which no warmth glowed nor no lips recalled with fondness. But this was exactly what Modern Education liked. To be undoubtedly on his own among the ideas for education, swatting ideas for change and betterment away in order to maintain its sense of sanity and sameness.
Once upon a time, on Christmas Eve, Modern Education sat busy in his rule-books. A cheerful voice called from somewhere beyond the prose, “Good afternoon and merry Christmas, Modernity!” To which Modernity replied with a ‘harrumph’ because Modernity leaves no time for such illogical pleasantries. “Good Afternoon.” Modernity replied firmly and went back to work, sorting through ledgers and facts and numbers to siphon to the children after break. A few moments later, Modern Education was approached by an individual who appeared out of sorts in Modernity’s predictable layout. He was asking for donations from Modern Education’s numerable store of educational resources and knowledge to give to those less heard in the education system: Gifted Education. “Bah” said Modernity, “Humbug”, and the individual left, stricken at the heartless reaction of Modernity to those who dearly needed attention.
Later that evening, as Modern Education was feeling particularly sullen, he arrived home amidst a flurry of Christmas Eve snow to see the face of Standardized Education presented to him on the knocker of his door. Standardized had been presumably dead for a few years at that point, and Modernity was stricken at the ghostly visage. The face reminded him of a time when everyone had worked together with ideas, brilliant ideas but left to wither by the greed of the Industrial Revolution. Whole generations of children to come to be forced into a system of education that was bred for a single mind with a single goal: to create new workers. As Modernity stared at the face on his door, it became a knocker once more and he was left with the eerie and bitter feelings of a time passed. “Bah” he muttered to himself as he hurried inside, “Humbug!”
As Modern Education sat in his high-backed chair by the meager fire he created to banish thoughts of Christmas cheer, he was struck by a noise. Faint, and nearly imperceptible at first, it was a ghostly moan. He shook his head and stared even deeper into the fire. Chains rattled in the distance and he began to grow agitated by the sound outside his door. Suddenly, a keening voice called from the stair outside his chambers… “MoDeRnItY”…. Modern Education startled at the call, for there were few people in his life that addressed him in such a way. His color changed, when, without a pause, the noise came through the door to his chamber. “I know him!” exclaimed Modern Education in a fit of terror, “It is Standardized’s ghost!”
The same face: the very same face. The specter eyed Modernity with an edge of familiarity as the terrified man sat stiffly in his chair. “Who are you?” cried Modernity. To which the specter replied, “Ask me not who I am but who I was”.
“Then Who were you?” cried Modernity once again. “I am Standardized Education, your old partner in life.” Modernity at once fell to his knees, “Apparition, what do you want from me?” he beseeched the figure, noticing as he slid from his seat to the floor, the chains wrapped around Standardized’s ghostly frame. “Why do you wear such chains?” questioned Modernity. “It is the chain I forged in life” explained Standardized, “for every child I excluded, every voice I silenced and every life unsupported, I have created this chain. Yours is considerable as well, for years ago, at my death your chain was as long as mine. You have built yours steadily since.”
Modernity trembled as he gazed upon the lengths of chain that encircled Standardized’s body and wrapped behind and beyond in great swaths of links. “Please speak comfort to me” pleaded Modernity to the ghost before him. “I have none to give”, replied Standardized Education. My soul travels to the ends of the earth, seeing the damage of a system I helped to create. Watching the “gaps” grow as the lives I have helped to silence do not flourish. Why did I never do anything to help those that I heard but refused to listen to? Why did I refuse to see those who pleaded with me and suffered under my monotony?”
At these words, Modernity began to quake and moan. Standardized, taking pity on his friend and colleague exclaimed, “You have a chance, Modernity. A chance that I have created for you, to change your path and shed the shackles with which I am now bound. You will be haunted by three ghosts.”
Modernity shouted at this, “What mean you, Standardized? I cannot take these apparitions all at once… why have you done this to me?” Standardized shook his chains, his voice boiling with emotion, “I have not the time for such questions. Without the spirits, you have no chance to shun the path which you tread and turn to other ways. Expect the first at the stroke of midnight.” With this the ghost of Standardized began backing up toward the window of Modernity's chamber and disappeared into a mist leaving Modernity quite frightened and exhausted on the floor of his room.
Modernity awoke to pitch blackness as he lay in bed. The peace of the night which he had awakened to, began to convince him that his encounter with Standardized had been a dream, a frightening nightmare, but a dream nonetheless. Then the watch on his wrist beeped, its typical beep for the change of the hour, and Modernity realized it was midnight. He was fully awakened by a burst of light in the room. It was a specter, beautifully dressed whose visage danced in and out of focus. In one hand it held holly, its ethereal white robe was trimmed with summer flowers and it spoke with a low soft voice, “I am the Ghost of Education Past”. “Long past?” asked Modernity. “No” replied the ghost, “your past.”
At those words, Modernity found himself being transported over the cool night air, supported by the hand of the spirit. When they finally stopped, they found themselves wandering beyond the city lights and in the crisp pine scented air of a forest. Modernity recognized it at once. It was the land in which he took his roots, born and bred out of the one-room school houses on the plains. Tutors in the East. Whole communities of people who came together to help create him and the world that he knew.
Figures appeared out of the shadows, brilliantly shining and boldly they gathered around the duo, paying them no mind as they went about their way. Mentors leading children to explore the unknown while echoes of questions called through the air. Classrooms of children not distinguished by age or a level, but inspired to grow at the pace that worked for them. To learn to ask questions and demand answers. Modernity grew warm at the reminder of what he used to be… where he had come from. The warmth drew him back to his bed chamber.
The second specter appeared and introduced himself as the spirit of Education present. This fellow was a large and warm spirit, clothed in fresh winter greens and sitting amidst a warm blaze in Modernity’s chamber. Following the lesson from the first spirit, Modernity approached the second spirit boldly and asked to be shown the lesson he was meant to learn. The spirit bade Modernity to touch the fur on the hem of his robe. Immediately, Modernity was transported to another place in the city. It was a school that lay quietly on the edge of town, filled with the warm voices of young families. Modernity was struck by the lively conversation of a small number of children and their parents who had gathered at the school for what appeared to be a holiday party. Modernity entered a classroom under the guidance of the spirit, and was surprised by the minimal decorations, the empty desks, and yet the general jovial attitude of the families today. The parents, bound with the familiarity of shared experience, chatted like old friends and the children squirmed with delight as they waited to celebrate the holidays.
In the door came a parent that Modernity knew well, for he was under the employ Modern Education. On the parent’s shoulder sat a child, the youngest of his family, who went by the name Tiny Tim. Tim’s desk sat more decorated than the rest, a product of trying to make do with the meager belongings he had in the classroom. He was gaunt compared to his classmates, seeming to shrink in the structure of the classroom rather than to grow. Modern Education looked at the spirit and inquired as to the health of the child. Modernity asked “Will this child survive?” The spirit grew grave and slowly responded, “I see a vacant seat where this child once sat. A box of belongings left behind unfinished. A blank canvas, a manuscript left unwritten… pieces of machinery lay dusted at the bottom along with forgotten experiments.” Modernity, stricken, cried “Let it not be true! That such a young child be gone from the school. Is he ill?! Is there not something that doctors can do?”
The Spirit surveyed the be-grieved man before him and solemnly replied, “Perhaps it was an illness, but one born of a failure to thrive. This illness was born within these walls, for this child has gifts that were silenced. They fit not with the curriculum prescribed under your watchful eye and so the child’s gifts were squandered. Perhaps the child will survive, and make it on his own volition. Or perhaps, he drops out of school and risks prison. Perhaps he will never reach his full potential as his motivations fall under constant scrutiny and oppressive lessons. This child, this Tiny Tim, is waning under you.” Modernity cried out aghast at the spirit’s accusations. He was transported by the ghost to another part of town and was introduced to two more children, less jovial than the rest, and more decrepit by far. They were jaundiced and starved and clung to the robes of the ghost who introduced them as Ignorance and Want. “These children” explained the spirit, “are the creation of man, and cling to your decisions. You ignore those you shouldn’t and you want, selfishly.” The spirit regarded Modernity one last time as the bell began to chime and he was replaced by a hooded phantom.
This phantom approached Modernity slowly and in utter silence. Modernity began to shiver at the darkness the phantom brought. “Are you the ghost of Education future?” asked Modernity. The specter, in reply, lifted its long-fingered hand and pointed away into the darkness. Modernity felt compelled to follow. They traveled over rough terrain in the blind darkness known only to midnight. They came upon a grizzled group of men, who sat chattering to one another.
"When did he die?” Asked one.
“Last night, I think”, replied a second as they shuffled uncomfortably in the cold.
With these words, Modernity was introduced to his own demise. Alone and in a darkened corner of a graveyard, devoid of all love and memory from textbooks, Modern Education fell to his knees, feeling forgotten and tormented in the darkness. “Phantom, take me away from here” he cried out. The Phantom continued to point into the darkness as Modernity quaked in the night. As he pleaded with the specter, he observed the ghost shrink into the shape of a bedpost.
And the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in! (Dickens) He shot out of bed, sputtering with relief and happiness and rushed to dress. Upon the completion of this seemingly innocent task, he inspected his apartment and found all to be in order. Laughing with glee he ran outside and asked what day it was and was met with the reply “Why sir, it is Christmas Day!” With that Modernity ran to buy all of the school resources he could find, ones to challenge alternative thinkers and inspire questions. He had been so moved by the story of Tiny Tim and the other children, that he gifted the materials to the school house down the way where the children were gathered for a production of a classic holiday play. Amidst the flurry of activity and commotion, Modern Education spotted Tiny Tim, smiling with his peers. The children, all in costumes sat in a pile of presents from Modern Education, gifts to help them on their educational journeys. Modern Education smiled and observed them for a time before feeling a tug on his coat. He looked down into the shining face of Tiny Tim, who for the first time was encouraged to speak. “God Bless you, sir!” Said Tim with a smile, for not only had Modern Education given the gift of resources to help the children learn, he had given them the gift of fair identification strategies, social-emotional support, GT trained teachers, and the opportunities for challenging differentiation and acceleration, wrapped with the acceptance of deep curiosity and novel creativity, and tied with the means to pursue both in an academic setting.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas (and education) well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, everyone! (Dickens)
The idea and excerpts for this blog were of course borrowed from the brilliantly gifted writer Charles Dickens… and as Dickens offered, my daughter and I have endeavored in this blog, to raise the ‘Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt your house pleasantly’… but call each of us to action.
Happy Holidays to each and every one of you!
Cathy and Hannah Schmit