Notetakers, Part 1
In his documentary ‘The Cartel’, Bob Bowdon said that “overhead” is the “kind of spending that seldom faces any scrutiny locally when the money is coming from the state”. The following is based on the philosophy espoused in ‘The Cartel’ and on characters from ‘St Bart’s High, Or How I Had a Love for the Classes Beat into Me’, a novel by DS Palmer.
“Eh! Come on, man, you’re going to fast!” a student interrupted to bark at Charlie Spurlock as he poured his soul into a lecture about Pearl Harbor.
“Yeah, man! How do you expect us to learn nothin’ when we can’t write nothin’ down ‘cuz you’re all talkin’ so fast!” another jumped in.
“Um,” Spurlock muttered while rubbing his forehead, “Guys, this is, like, the most basic skill anyone is going to ask of you in school. The skill to, you know, write what someone else is saying. Good grief, nobody’s even asking you to learn, just copy my words.”
“Yeah, well, all those other teachers give us handouts!” came a call from the back with unnecessary gusto, “Why don’t you do none of that!”
“Look, I don’t think I need to justify basic classroom decisions to anyone under the age of…I don’t know…17…”
“I’m 19,” the same pseudo-outraged young man glowered.
“Good for you,” Spurlock continued with as much surprise as smirk written across his reddening face, “Regardless, before we discuss the volume of paper that needs to be sacrificed to try and minimize all of your…contributions, perhaps we should first see what note-taking is like after you all put your phones away. Hmmmm, in the back…,” he said while staring down his most vocal antagonist.
The following morning Spurlock’s intercom buzzed as he was sitting down at his desk. “Mr. Spurlock?” it asked.
“Hi, Principal Dotter would like to speak with you before your class starts.”
“All right, I’m on my way,” he said while pushing away from his desk. His walk through St. Bart’s High School halls was quieter than usual as many of the students had not yet arrived and the instructors were locked in their rooms bracing for the coming day. Phones rang intermittently through the office as he turned the corner and found Dotter’s open door waiting for him as the principal shuffled papers at his desk.
“You wanted to see me?” Spurlock asked from the doorway.
“Yes, I’m sorry, yes. Please sit down,” Dotter said while motioning to the lone chair in the office that did not have binders stacked atop it.
“Well,” the principal began, “We just got a complaint. One of your students said that you refused to provide him with handouts en lieu of notes?”
“What?” Spurlock asked in full surprise.
“Yeah, I guess you told him that you wouldn’t make copies of the PowerPoint slides and told him to put away his phone and take notes. You understand that…”
“That’s entirely accurate,” Spurlock interrupted, “Some of the students wondered yesterday why I don’t make copies and claimed that many other teachers do it, but I told the whole class that it shouldn’t be hard to write down what I’m saying and that maybe if they spent less time on their phones then taking the notes would be easier.”
“They shouldn’t be on their phones,” Dotter said while looking at Spurlock over his glasses, “And why aren’t you making them copies?”
“Because it’s a waste. Because I have five classes with at least 27 kids in them. If I’m making copies for every discussion every day, plus the other copies for the documents and things that we talk about, we’re talking about hundreds of copies a week. Thousands a month! For just my class! Shouldn’t the students cut that cost by being, you know…students?”
“Well, in a perfect world, yes. But times have changed, Charlie, and you can’t just expect the students to be able to write as fast as you talk. And the guy that you singled out about the phone, he’s resource. You can’t deny him notes. Now the Special Ed department is piping hot, and his mother has called them and me. You have to give them notes.”
“All right,” Spurlock laughed, “If you’re telling me to do it, I’ll do it…”
“That’s what I’m doing,” Dotter smiled.
“OK, but how many teachers are we not going to hire back this year?”
“What do you mean?” Dotter asked.
“I mean last spring we all heard that nobody’s going to lose their jobs because of attrition and that we shouldn’t have to worry about the budget if we want to come back. Meanwhile there’s more kids than seats in the English classes and most of the Math Department is rumored to have sold their prep hours and there are all sorts of Penthouse-worthy stories coming back from every sports trip since the boys and girls teams started using the same bus. And despite all of that, you’re telling me to increase my copy budget by about, what, $7.50 or $10 a week?”
“Well, it’s not all quite that simple, and yes, that’s what I’m asking of you. Now, I have a parent coming in here, so, if you’ll please…”
The next day Spurlock dutifully handed out the PowerPoint slides and introduced his activity with a lecture. And as he spoke, he recognized a veritable sea of tranquility before him, so still were his students’ pens and pencils.
To be continued…
Author’s note: The above is just one example of the gross waste that schools suggest as methods to make the learning process more simple. They funny thing is, what could be more simple than traditional note-taking? And what could be more cost-effective than students bringing a traditional notebook to do it?
Chime in! What other schoolhouse wastes make you crazy?
Contact DS Palmer at email@example.com