Friday, April 29, 2011

Point Counterpoint: In-service/The Shadow Council


            The meeting hall echoed with the haughty laughter of the Cumberland Area Teachers Association.  Smiles and handshakes were exchanged between various old friends and coworkers.  After a few minutes, Tom Grenke, union leader and eighth grade history teacher, began striking his gavel for order.  The raucous crowd took some time to calm down, but eventually the room fell silent.  Tom shuffled through some papers and cleared his throat before leaning in to the microphone that sat in front of him.
            “Alright ladies and gentlemen, let’s get this meeting of the CATA started, shall we?   There is quite a lot to cover today; so much has been happening in the district.  As you know the School Board is trying to squeeze us because of the new funding changes.  The new budget is a little smaller, so it looks like we’re going to have to make some cutbacks.  For most of you that will mean no raise this year, and for a few of our more tenured teachers it may even mean a 2% pay cut.  Your benefits will likely be affected as well.  We’re all going to have to tighten our belts this time folks.  No one is above it.”  A heavy silence fell over the crowd.  Serious looks were exchanged between the members.  A few teachers in the crowd looked down at their feet solemnly as Tom sat stone-faced at the front of the room.  The corner of his mouth twitched a little and he tried to clear his throat again, but he couldn’t contain himself.  A broad, goofy smile spread across his face.
            Instantly, the hall erupted in laughter.  Some teachers giggled like children while others nearly fell out of their chairs in their hilarity.  Grenke himself was holding his sides and struggling to catch his breath.  The roaring jocularity of the crowd slowly died down with the odd renewed burst of laughter here and there.  Once he had composed himself, Grenke leaned back to the microphone and continued. 
            “Right, well we all know that ain’t happenin’.  So the question is: how can we use this to our benefit?”  After a few moments of silence, Jen Harris, a first year English teacher got to her feet.  Tom nodded and she spoke.
            “Well, we could paint these budget cuts as an attack on education to manipulate public opinion in our favor.”  Tom chuckled and gave her a condescending smile.
            “Haha, first years.  Of course we’re going to do that, honey.  This isn’t our first time to the rodeo.  Things are changing though, Jen.  Public opinion isn’t what it used to be back when we could do no wrong.  We need to be more creative these days with how we trick the outsiders.  So come on, folks, let’s hear some new ones.”  An older woman in the front row struggled to her feet and raised her hand.  She had the homely sweetness of a loving grandmother and smiled with all the tenderness and compassion possible in a human being.  Tom smiled back and acknowledged her.
            “Well, I know it’s not all that original, but we could pull the old extracurricular con.  We did that at my old school and it worked perfectly.  Since we all bargain together, we can force them to give up on the pay cuts.  Their only choice will to be to cut in other places like extracurriculars.  The board will have to shut down music and sports and the parents will be in an uproar and no one will ever suspect that teachers would have caused it.  The school board will look like the villains and we’ll be heroes for fighting them.”  The older woman sat back down with a smile.  Tom nodded happily.
            “I like it.  Thank you, Agnes.  Not only will we be heroes, but we’ll finally get rid of those pesky extracurriculars.  Extracurriculars have had the market on time wasting for too long now.  Once we get rid of them, we’ll have a better excuse to give the students more downtime, and more downtime for them means more time for us to smoke pot in the break room!  It’s simply brilliant!”
            “Wait!” someone shouted from the back.  “What about the actual extracurricular teachers?  Won’t this tactic be bad for them?”  There were a few confused murmurs, but Tom silenced them with his gavel.
            “Oh I don’t think we need to worry about them,” he said, gesturing to his left.  A spotlight turned on and illuminated the corner where six extracurricular teachers sat, tied to their chairs and gagged.  The struggled a little and made some pitiful sounds.  Tom laughed and the light shut off. 
            “Besides, we’ve set up a lucrative severance package.  I’m sure they’ll be able to survive for a while.”  Tom scribbled a few things down on his paper and took a deep breath.  “Ok, so that much is settled.  Any other ideas?”  There were a few more moments of silence before another voice rang out from the back.
            “What about the children?” the voice shouted.  Tom looked taken aback at first.  He hadn’t expected such a sentiment, but he realized the voice was right.  He nodded.
            “The children, of course,” he said his voice deep and serious.  “They’re always a good bargaining chip.  We could engineer another study demonstrating that underfunded classrooms are less effective at teaching students.  The blame for our failures falls on the state and we don’t even have to try to teach a thing!  It’s perfect.”  He reclined in his seat and let out a sigh.  “You know,” he continued.  “These cuts just keep sounding better and better…”

The Shadow Council

            Thick smoke swirled in the darkened chamber of the Cumberland Area School District board room.  Murmurs filled the hall and mingled with the smoke.  Thaddeus Thompson, the school board President, sat at the head of the table puffing on an oversized cigar.  Ashes piled up on the floor beside him as he conversed with the woman to his left.  Taking another drag, he looked at the clock and realized it was time to begin.  He raised his hand and the assembly grew quiet.  All eyes were on Thaddeus as he placed his cigar in an ash tray and ran his hands through his hair.
            “Alright, as you all know the war is on.  Funding from the state keeps getting tighter, so we’re going to have to be even craftier if we’re going to keep any of it for ourselves.  Heaven knows those teachers are going to try to grab as much of the pie as they can.”
            “Bloodsuckers!” a board member cried out angrily.
            “Keep it cool, Martha,” Thaddeus said soothingly.  “We’ll get our money.  We just need to make the right strategic moves.  Any suggestions?”
            “What about all that money going to sports?” Martha asked.  “Can’t we just take that?”  Thaddeus shook his head.
            “No, that’s too obvious.  They’ll be expecting that.  We have to find a way they won’t be expecting.”  A shadowy figure at the end of the table raised a hand.  “Yes, Gerald?”
            “I’ve been cultivating a plan I think you all might approve of for the last few weeks,” came the thin, wicked voice of Gerald Weaving.  Thaddeus nodded approvingly.
            “Of course, Gerald.  Please tell us.”  The shadowy Gerald cleared his through and began to lay out his master plan.
            “The Healthy Food Cafeteria Plan enacted two years ago; we say we are eliminating it to protect other school programs.”
            “I don’t know, Gerald,” Martha said.  “Won’t that cause problems with the parents?”  Gerald chuckled at her naivety. 
            “You’re forgetting what it’s like out there these days, Martha.  Parents don’t want the schools telling them how to raise their children.  We can use that to our advantage.  We announce that we are bringing free choice back to our cafeterias and eliminating the heavy handed Health Plan.  ‘Let students choose hamburgers and cheese fries if they want them!’ is what we’ll say.  We’ll be praised as freedom loving Americans and while the parents rejoice, we’ll keep the excess funding looking like heroes all the way!”  Martha gasped in pleasure and the others applauded.  Thaddeus rose to his feet to congratulate his fellow board member.
            “It’s a wonderful plan, Gerald.  It will work perfectly!”  Gerald raised his hand and the room fell silent.
            “That is not all, my friends,” he said wickedly.  “The best part is forthcoming.  We fill the cafeteria with the cheapest, most unhealthy food we can find.  It will take very little time to have the desired effect.  Our students will gorge themselves on the delicious junk, all the while their arteries clogging and their breath growing shallower.”  The other board members looked at him, perplexed.
            “I don’t understand,” said Martha.  “What good would that do?”  Gerald laughed, his voice drenched in cruelty.
            “What is the point of funding sports teams when our students can barely walk ten feet without a break?  In two years the athletic department will be in shambles.  We’ll have no choice but to cut the wasteful sports programs.  Even if funding takes a 12% cut in that time, the surplus will be more than enough to meet our…expenses…”  The board room was stunned. 
            “My word, Gerald,” Thaddeus said.  “I’ve never heard anything so brilliant in my life!”

The End

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Point Counterpoint: The Empty Vending Machine/All the Chips

The Empty Vending Machine

            The vending machine was empty again.  Karl Bloris stood unhappily in the office break room, his stomach balancing on the thin line that lies between peckishness and hunger.  He eyed his watch angrily.  Eight hours of work and only 15 minutes for a coffee break, he thought.  And then just a half hour for lunch that doesn’t even count towards my work day.  This is modern day slavery.
            Karl slumped down into a chair beside the small table that stood in the middle of the room.  He stared longingly at the circular metal rings that should have at this very moment been sliding aside to relinquish his chosen refreshment.  Right now, he should be enjoying the fruits of his hard earned dollar manifesting itself in the form of barbeque potato chips or a fudge drizzled snack cake.  Hadn’t he been told all his life that if you work hard you can achieve your dreams?  Was this dream really so big that he had yet to earn it?
            As he sat in silence, pining for his mid-morning snack, Karl could not help but feel that this moment was, in a way, symbolic of his entire life.  Since he was a young man, people had told him that he could do great things if he just put his mind to it.  Today, Karl knew that those people were as dumb as they were stupid.  Today, he knew that the hard workers of this world were just stepstools for the elite.  Men like him worked their whole life for the faint hope of some small reward, while the bosses and CEOs drank champagne and ate caviar from their own personal vending machines.  Wasn’t it their job to make sure the vending machines were full?  What’s the sense of having a manager if they don’t manage?  There’s no use complaining, Karl thought.  Men like me do all the work and they reap all the benefits.  And I can’t get a single bag of chips.
            The more he thought about it, the more Karl’s anger grew.  He began to grind his teeth as he thought of everyone else enjoying their snacks while he sat and starved.  His breathing rose sharply as Bill Morris from accounting walked by, a bag of Sea Salted chips in his left hand.  Karl was sure Bill had taken the last package.  What’s more, he was fairly certain that last time he had been in Bill’s office, he had seen a whole box of assorted packaged snacks.  The bastard is hoarding chips, Karl thought.  Who did Bill think he was, keeping all the chips to himself like that?  Didn’t they both work for the same company?  Weren’t they both at the same pay grade?  Karl was certain that Bill did not need all the chips he had been saving and it was certainly not fair to keep them from the rest of the office.  Didn’t Karl deserve chips just as much as Bill did?  Didn’t he have the right?
            By now, Karl Bloris was fuming.  He looked down at his watch and let out a harsh growl.  His break was already half over and he still didn’t have anything to eat.  His stomach grumbled as he stared intensely at the empty vending machine.  He was sick of it all; sick of the long hours, sick of the hard work, and sick of the constant oppression from the wealthy class.  This wasn’t what America was supposed to be.  He imagined an America where he could truly be free; a place where he wasn’t held back by the greed and inequities of the corporate wasteland; a place where the rich didn’t draw their profits from the blood of the working class and the vending machines were always full of chips, cookies and a myriad of other delicious edibles.
            That, after all, was what the founding fathers had intended.  This country wasn’t founded to be a haven for the rich and elite to tread all over the common man.  Here, if nowhere else in the world, people were supposed to be equal.  No one man should ever be another man’s master.  No one man deserved all the snacks. 
            Karl was red in the face by the time he had reached this crescendo of indignity.  His anger towards all the managers and CEOs hit a fever pitch and he gasped for air, trying to calm down.  When his mind had finally cleared of the rage he looked down at his watch and sighed heavily.
            Bastards made me miss my entire break…

All the Chips

            Bill from accounting always sat with his desk facing the front door of his office and his back as close to the wall as possible.  To his left sat a box full of reserve snacks in case the vending machine either broke down or stood empty.  He wouldn’t be left snackless like that idiot Karl from legal.  Bill despised Karl because he always seemed to be eyeing him up every time he walked past Karl’s desk with chips or some kind of snack cake.  Almost instinctively, Bill slid a little closer to his box of snacks.  He was certain Karl or one of his subordinates would happily steal what he had rightfully earned if he gave them the chance.  Those people were all the same and he knew it.
            Thinking of his subordinates made Bill cringe.  He had ten junior accountants and two secretaries working under him, and each one of them was as ungrateful as the last.  When he gave them an entire weekend off, they complained about the ten hour days.  When the company agreed to give them a health plan, they whined that they didn’t have dental.  Every time he graced them with a new account, they responded scornfully that ten workers couldn’t possibly handle eight accounts at once.  Didn’t they care about the company?  Didn’t they appreciate everything that he did for them?  If it wasn’t for the company, they wouldn’t have jobs!  If it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t have a leader to direct them.  For three years he had told them what to do and how to do it and not once had any of them ever thanked him! 
            He remembered with contempt the time they had come to him with their demands; not one on one like adults, but in a veritable mob.  All twelve of them came storming into his office, hollering about the nearly empty vending machine in the break room.
            “There are only two bags of chips left,” Charlie had said.  “It’s not enough for all of us to share.”
            “So what do you want from me?”  Bill replied.  “I’m not in charge of the vending machines.  They get filled on the second Monday of every month.  If we run out, we run out.”
            “But Bill,” Charlie continued.  “It always runs out and management never thinks to increase the order frequency.  We know you must have bought at least twenty bags of chips in and put them in your box…”  Bill’s face turned red with anger.
            “And you just thought you’d hit me up for free chips?” he said, his voice rising.  “You think you can just wait until the machine is empty then come hound me for mine?”
            “No, no, Bill” Rita replied.  “We’re perfectly willing to pay for them.  We want to do our part; you just haven’t given us the chance.  We only want five of them for the people who haven’t gotten the chance to buy any for themselves to share.  It’s not that unreasonable.” 
            Bill was livid just remembering the confrontation.  Who did they think they were, asking for so many of his hard earned chips?  When you think about it, twenty bags really isn’t even that much.  It was all well and good for them to say that fifteen would be enough for him; they were the only ones benefiting.  They would be off enjoying corn chips and nachos while he was left behind, robbed of a quarter of his chips!  If they wanted chips they should have gone out and gotten some themselves.  It’s not his fault that he planned ahead for the possibility of an empty vending machine.  If nothing else, he should be congratulated for his forethought and business savvy, rather than harassed by his good-for-nothing employees.
            He thought of them, the writhing, hollering masses of workers clawing for the blood of leaders like him.  Their jealous, greedy eyes salivated when they looked at him, hungry for a piece of what was rightfully his.  How dare they?  Didn’t they know that without men like him to lead there would be no workers?  Men like him drove this nation’s economy and made it truly great.  It was his poise, his intelligence, his two extra courses in business administration that set him above these common toilers. 
            Hot passionate tears formed in his eyes when he thought of the heavy burden placed on the shoulders of men like him.  They asked so little in exchange for their efforts: a fair wage for their work, a quiet space of their own to think, and the well-deserved respect of those beneath them.  Bill knew that, if left to lead their way, men like him could pull this country back from the brink.  His heart sank when he thought of the all the people that hurled insults at business leaders like himself.  He knew that the world he dreamed of, the world where well-meaning men like himself could guide everyone into prosperity, would never come to be.
            There’s just no trust in the working class…

The End