(The following is an excerpt from a longer work titled Dreaming During the Pandemic.)
In the 1960s, Baby Boomer teenagers overwhelmed the California high school system. In Fremont, California, they responded by quickly building a new high school, which was filled beyond capacity on the first day. Judy was one of the new teachers. With not enough space, she taught her first geography classes in the bleachers, to students using clipboards as desks. Nope, not ideal.
Now in 2020 the school has been razed to the ground and replaced with the newest of the new high tech schools. It is named after the predominant technology guiding our experience, A-2K High, which stands for Animator 2000s High School. In this dream I am a transfer student to A-2K in 2020.
We don’t have books, only a screenpad, which we use for everything. Upon entering, the pad is placed on a tripod and it scans our face, turning it from a photo (used for identification purposes) into our personally animated icon. It is an absolutely absorbing, addicting toy. I’m still 72, the oldest known high school student and the animation has automatically taken 20 to 30 years from my face due to the simplification of my animated self. (I choose to restore some of my aging.) I can appear as anyone I admire: artist, actor, writer, athlete, neighbor, friend, movie character, etc. I can sound like them, too. I have chosen a very superficial looking Albert Einstein with a slight Woody Allen accent.
When “we” study 20th Century History, my animated self begins in Einstein’s apartment where I join him in playing the violin. I learn about the great man’s interests, worries, sense of humor, work life, and prophecies. Then my A-2K self lands in Edward Steichen’s darkroom as I begin my studies of photography.
We do all our reading, research, sharing, presenting, and writing or creation on the screen. We still meet for different classes for the “social” part of learning but these happen only twice a week per class, so we can take up to 10 classes at once. And while we can include some of our friends in our classes at times, the seated classrooms also include a random collection of people with profiles very different from ours.
There are no discipline problems in this school, no interruptions or acting out because the consequence is that we are gradually diminished and made invisible for attention getting behaviors. When we want to make a comment, even a joke, we press a button and the moderator will include us as feasible and appropriate. The amount of work required is tapered to the number of classes, so we can take only a handful and deep dive into the subject matter. We can change teachers when feasible or create our own favorite from an amalgam of past instructors we’ve enjoyed. Did I mention no one ever wants to go home?
I’m taking the required math, science, philosophy, fitness/wellness, and history classes along with two electives, writing and photo art. I am allowed to attend through age 30 and the curriculum includes college level classes anytime I qualify. Because the experience is all-encompassing and all-consuming they put up a barrier to our addiction to school by limiting our screen access to a time agreed upon by our family and yourself. I’m maxed out at 35-hours per week.
Much of this first high school dream is spent at the intake step. It is a deeply structured interview about preferences, fears, dreams, achievements, and a test to determine our specific talents. This helps to guide the creation of our curriculum. The IntakeBot is quite charming. We pick its gender and personality from a gallery of past instructors we have enjoyed either in person or on the screen. The bot remains professional and yet displays a sense of humor and unending interest in you and your life. Answering these many questions is like going on the world’s greatest first date.
My history classes will match my interest in Greco Roman, Renaissance, and Political cultures. Science will weigh heavily on the cosmos but include the general introductory material as well. Math follows a sequence leading to higher and higher levels of geometry, algebras, and imaginary number systems. Writing follows a standard structure but uses reference materials from my favorite authors: Bertolt Brecht, Mark Twain, Karl Marx, and Richard Russo. My other core classes include a diversity of other authors to broaden my exposure to different genders, ages, cultures, etc.
The intake interview lasts six hours; it is the longest I will ever sit in this school. It is broken up with fitness and vocational tests to determine aptitudes, interests, and deficits. We also meet for 40 minutes at a time with others to establish our classroom behaviors and learn social expectations. It is more fun than it sounds.
After the interview many students refuse to go home immediately. We are allowed to hang out in the “commons” for 1-2 hours before we are “exited” from the campus.
In the next dream I hope I can glimpse the yearbook for A-2K High.
By Martin Kimeldorf