Ruth, ex-public school teacher

RuthRuth was a teacher in a high school in Oakland, California – until her school was turned into a center for computerized education and all the teachers were laid off. When she was a teacher, she belonged to an interest group that was studying the idea that humanity has latent genius, and that we are on the threshold of an evolutionary leap in intelligence and technological development. After the layoff, Ruth and another ex-teacher, Larry, keep the faith that they will be able to develop the idea somehow. They hit the road and eventually arrive at Occutopia, where they collaborate with others on a new kind of cyber-world Internet that makes learning and collaborating with others much easier and more immediate. And there, they begin to see the evolutionary leap take off.

Part 1 of Ruth’s story, excerpt from the book:

Without education, you can tell the populace that the sun goes around the Earth, and they will believe it.

Such were Ruth’s thoughts as she sat in her apartment for the last time. The apartment was empty. She sat in a folding chair in front of her TV, which was on the floor. Ruth was a white woman in her thirties, with long, wavy red hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was covered with freckles, which made her unique looking. Her right arm was bandaged from shoulder to elbow—an injury she suffered at the hands of the police on the day her school was closed. She had been an English teacher at the Metro West High School in the Oakland school district.

The TV was showing the congressional hearings on the state of the economy. The hearings put on a show of probing into the truth of the matter, whatever subject was in debate. But it was really just a kind of theater—nothing actually got accomplished. It had been clear for a long time that no real solutions were coming. In fact, the government seemed to run quite independently of those governed. She watched the hearings on TV until she heard the same rhetoric, down to the wording, that she had heard for years. It was time to go. She got up, turned off the TV, and unplugged it.

She looked around the apartment. She had already cleaned it. She cleaned it because it was the responsible thing to do, and there was a chance that she would get her deposit back. She did it as a ritual of farewell. She realized she was trying to be logical and practical, hoping that somehow it would make a difference in this strange new reality. She had tried to cry, thinking that grieving would help make the transition easier. But the tension was locked up inside her.

Just two months earlier, the state of California shut down public libraries. Ruth was distraught. She was sure that public education was going to be next. Teachers had been laid off in batches over the preceding decade and classrooms were jammed with more and more children. The quality of education had been decimated. California was bankrupt, and this meant that public education had to be radically changed, or it would have to be closed down completely.

So there was a new plan for public education. The plan was to close all the public school buildings in the Oakland school district except for the high schools. They were to be converted to something called education centers. These centers would provide computerized education to all grades.

According to the plan, the students would be given a curriculum of computerized courses to complete. The courses would consist of reading followed by multiple-choice questions. The only adults on-site would be technical assistants to help with computer problems, and security guards to maintain order. No teachers would be there. This so-called education was going to be vastly cheaper than having to pay the salaries of thousands of teachers. And so, all the remaining teachers in the school district were laid off.

When the announcement came, Ruth and all the teachers were enraged. They were angry not only because they were laid off, but because there would be no more teaching of critical thinking skills, no writing or creativity. Children would not be encouraged to be curious, to discover things on their own, or develop interests. There would be no discussion, no personal attention, no inspiration to do more, no independent problem solving, no teamwork, and no welcoming environment for questions.

It was clear to Ruth that the new education system would teach children what to think, not how to analyze. They would grow up unable to participate intelligently in a democracy. Worst of all, education was not going to be required at all.

On the day of the announcement, Ruth was teaching at her school, Metro West High School. It was a Friday. The district superintendent spoke over the school’s speaker system and said she had an announcement. Due to budget cuts, that day was the last day of school. It came as a shock to everyone at the school. It wasn’t even the end of the school year—it was only the end of the first semester.

School let out and teachers and students stood around in front of the building. No one could believe that the school could close so abruptly. Word traveled through the crowd that the high school was going to be converted to an education center over the weekend. People were becoming agitated. The principal stood on the steps of the school and said he would try to get some answers for them.

As the teachers and students waited in the street, they called and texted their friends, family, and others about what happened. The crowd grew and filled the streets in front of the high school, a nearby grade school, and the school district office building two blocks away.

As evening began to fall, the police arrived. They barricaded a nine-block area and created a containment area to corral the crowd. Beginning at the periphery, they began working methodically, isolating individuals and spraying a plastic netting material on them. The material instantly closed around the body from head to toe, immobilizing the person and causing him or her to fall to the ground.

The officers spread a gray liquid on the ground that formed a path. It was like a slippery slide. As people were captured in the plastic netting, officers laid them on the path and used their feet to push them along from one officer to the next. The netted captives slid rapidly out of the containment area to a loading area. There, a kind of bulldozer with pincers picked up them up one at a time, and dropped them into an open-top truck.

As the protestors became aware of what was happening at the periphery, they began screaming and pushing and trying to get away. Ruth was in the densely-packed middle of the crowd, and because of all the shouting and jostling, she was unaware of what was happening on the edges. She was with another teacher, her good friend Larry, a tall Jewish man with dark, curly hair. They were still waiting for someone to speak to the crowd.

Suddenly, she felt cool air on her back—behind her, the crowd had opened up. She turned and saw that there was no one between her and the police. They sprayed her with the plastic netting. She gasped as it came at her. It immediately enclosed her body and shrank. She lost balance and fell to the ground. She struggled to free herself, but it was useless. She was able to see somewhat through the netting, but her hair had fallen in front of her eyes. Suddenly, she was being pushed along the street over gravel, broken glass, and smashed soda cans. She cried out in pain. She wondered if Larry had gotten caught.

She came to a stop. More netted people slammed into her and the police piled more of them on top of her. They were all struggling and shouting. They weighed heavily on her and gouged her with their knees and elbows. It was difficult to breathe.

In a few minutes, a truck came and pulled up beside them. She couldn’t see what was happening, but evidently, people were being picked up because the weight on her was lessening. Now she knew Larry was nearby; he was shouting about civil rights.

‘Ruth,’ he yelled, ‘roll into the jaws!’

‘What?’ she yelled back.

In the next instant, she felt metal jaws closing on her body. She hesitated, fearful of rolling into their maw. As they closed, her arm was caught between the edge of the jaw and the pavement. Half of the flesh was torn off, exposing the bone. She screamed in pain and terror. The jaw closed and lifted her up, swung her over the open-top truck, and dropped her on the pile of writhing bodies inside. She rolled down one side and hit the inside wall of the truck. A man was dropped into the truck after her; he rolled on top of her, and inadvertently kicked her in the head. The top closed and the interior of the truck went dark.

The truck started to move and the weight of the people inside shifted. Ruth’s arm pounded with intense pain and she nearly suffocated inside the netting and under the weight of the man on top of her. What followed was a rough ride around corners and over bumps. Then the noise of the truck echoed as though it had entered a large warehouse. It stopped with a jolt and the engine was turned off.

The top opened. She strained to look up. They were inside some sort of brightly-lit warehouse. The side of the truck came down and a ramp was attached. The netted captives were rolled down to the ground by the workers, picked up by shoulders and feet, and placed in rows.

The pavement inside the warehouse was cold and it sent a shiver through Ruth’s body. Her arm was throbbing, her head was buzzing, and she was bruised and bleeding. Apparently, her arm wasn’t as bad as she thought; otherwise she would have already bled out and died. Where was Larry? She couldn’t tell. Now, she had to pee.

–End of excerpt.

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