Bonus Story: Goodbye, Blue Monday

on August 25, 2008 in Other Tales

Per popular request, a bonus story about a certain More Tales of MU character.

Betsy Higgins led her young daughter into the classroom where she normally spent her weekday mornings. It was late afternoon. The second section had just been dismissed, and the voices of grade school students were still echoing down the hall.

“Thank you for coming, Ms. Higgins,” the teacher said. She held out a hand to indicate the adult-sized chair that had been placed at the front of the room, across the desk from her own. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

“Thank you, Mrs. White,” Betsy said. She let go of her daughter’s hand and waved towards the corner of the room. “Go play with the blocks, sweetie, but don’t make a mess. Mommy shouldn’t be long.”

Without a word, and without looking at either her mother or the teacher, the plump child toddled off towards the shelf with the tub of blocks.

“Your note sounded urgent,” Betsy said, taking her seat. “But, was it really necessary to pin it to her overalls like that?”

“That’s a good way to make sure the parents actually get my little notes,” Mrs. White said. “If they put it in their backpack, it’s out of sight, out of mind… and if they carry it, they’ll drop it as soon as they see something interesting.”

“Maybe, but don’t you think having a note pinned to your clothing is a little embarrassing? You’re singling a child out in front of the whole room… I’m not sure I think that’s appropriate, especially if, as the note says, she’s not actually in trouble.”

“Your daughter is not in trouble in the sense that she hasn’t exactly misbehaved, and she certainly isn’t being punished,” Mrs. White said “But I think if we do not correct her situation soon, she will be in a sort of trouble all the same.”

She said this as if she were making a rather impressive pronouncement, and then she sat straight up in her chair waiting for a sufficiently impressed response. Betsy Higgins just sat there waiting. After a while, she gave a small nod and gestured for Mrs. White to continue.

“Ms. Higgins, I know I don’t have to tell you that Mary Beth has certain… gifts…”

“Oh, she doesn’t like being called Mary,” Betsy said.

“Well, I insist on calling children by their given names,” Mrs. White said. “They have to get used to them sooner or later, don’t they?”

“Only if people insist on calling them by them,” Betsy said. “We just call her Beth.”

“You might have named her that in the first place, then,” Mrs. White said.

“Well, I didn’t exactly wait to ask her opinion,” Betsy said. “Is this really the problem, though? Her name?”

“No, her name isn’t the issue. As I was saying, your daughter has certain gifts which, while they may be seen to be beneficial in some respects, pose difficulties in a classroom setting.”

“Such as?”

“Your daughter can hear thoughts,” Mrs. White said.

“Yes,” Betsy said, nodding. “And?”

“And you don’t see how this could be a problem, in a classroom setting?”

“No, I’m afraid I really don’t,” Betsy said.

“Well… kindergarten is one thing, but next year she’s going to start having spelling tests and quizzes.”

“I’m still not sure I see the problem,” Betsy said.

“While everybody else will have to study and apply themselves to learn the answers, your daughter will just be able to peer into their minds to get them,” Mrs. White said.

“I don’t see why you’re assuming the people around her will all be better spellers than she is,” Betsy said.

“Because she wouldn’t have any reason to learn how to spell if she can just look into the mind of the boy sitting next to her to see how he’s doing it,” the teacher said.

“She’d still have to know the right answer to recognize it,” Betsy said.

“Yes, but none of the other students will get to poll their classmates to compare answers,” Mrs. White said. “She would have an unfair advantage.”

“I thought you said she would have a problem.”

“That is a problem,” Mrs. White said.

“Look, if a boy sitting next to her only knows how to spell ‘zebra’ because the teacher told him, or he only knows it because he read it in a book or because he asked a classmate, how is that any different from her knowing it because she saw it in his mind?”

“For one thing, he wouldn’t be asking a classmate if it’s during a spelling test,” Mrs. White said.

“No, but if they’ve spent the week learning words like ‘zebra’, it would hardly be the first time it came up, inside his head or out of it,” Betsy said. “You’re acting like her gift means she could completely ignore her vocabulary until the end of the week and then just… I don’t know… reach out and pluck the answer out of the ether. If the first grade teacher has done her job right, Beth should already know the answer when she sits down to take the quiz, shouldn’t she?”

“She should,” Mrs. White agreed. “But the purpose of the quiz is to find out if she does.”

“And if she answers everything correctly, I’d say it’s done the job,” Betsy said. “It seems to me like the problem she might face is from teachers who don’t understand that even if she arrives at the answer in a different way, she’s still learning.”

“But I don’t think that she is,” Mrs. White said. “And she won’t be able to learn spelling and arithmetic and all the rest until she learns to control her gift. That’s a skill she won’t learn in a regular classroom.”

“Control? You mean suppress,” Betsy said. “My great aunt died in an asylum, Mrs. White, because her family was ashamed of her and she couldn’t escape from those feelings. My mother went to a special school where they taught her to close herself off, to shut her mind down. You can’t tell me that’s not going to stunt a person. Khersis made my daughter special, and I’m not going to force her to deny that.”

“With all due respect, I don’t think Khersis has anything to do with it,” Mrs. White said.

“What are you saying?”

“I don’t wish to have a theological debate,” Mrs. White said. “Look, what if I can give you examples of how your daughter’s special perceptions are hurting her?”

“I’m listening.”

“I have to remind her to look at people when she’s talking to them,” Mrs. White said. “When I can get her to use her words in the first place.”

“I have to remind her to tie her shoes,” Ms. Higgins said. “Aren’t they all like that at that age?”

“Yesterday, during free play, she asked me why M is yellow and N is orange,” Mrs. White said. Again she seemed to expect a shocked reaction, but when none came, she continued. “I thought at first she was looking at a picture book… you know, they often draw the letters in different colors to stand out… so I asked her to show it to me, and she pointed at the alphabet on the walls.” Mrs. White gestured to the block letters that went around the wall of the classroom, starting and ending with Kh. “So I asked her what she meant, and she said that M was yellow and N was orange, and she didn’t understand this because… well… because they had the same parents.”

“And this is a problem?”

“Well, obviously,” Mrs. White said. “Please don’t think me rash, Ms. Higgins… I asked her if she was playing a game, but she seemed quite earnest. Then, she told me that she can make O by mixing M and N.”

“At the risk of sounding redundant, I’m still not sure I see the problem,” Betsy said.

“These notions of hers…”

“They don’t hurt anything, do they?” Betsy said. “She knows her KhABCs as well as the other students, doesn’t she?”

“Better,” Mrs. White said. “She can do them forwards or backwards, without using a sing-song. But this confusion about letters…”

“What is she confused about? You just said she can do them backwards and forwards.”

“Letters don’t have colors, Ms. Higgins, and they certainly don’t have parents,” Mrs. White said. “And it isn’t just letters that get her like this. She was the line leader last Monday, and when I wrote her name on the calendar she started to cry. I asked her why, and she said she doesn’t like Monday.”

“Well, who does?”

“She says it’s mean.”

“Couldn’t you put her on another, less disagreeable day?”

“Ms. Higgins, I don’t negotiate with my students,” Mrs. White said.

“Why ever not? It’s an important thing to learn.”

“So are personal responsibility and taking one’s turn,” Mrs. White said. “That’s what they’re supposed to learn from being line leader. That doesn’t work when one child disrupts the class and interrupts the rotation with her irrational crying breakdown…”

“I suppose all the other five-year-olds in the class only break down crying for purely rational reasons,” Betsy said.

“Ms. Higgins, there’s no reason to be snide,” Mrs. White said. “It is my job to see to it that all the children in my charge are adequately prepared when they begin elementary school next year, and while I pride myself on rising to that challenge, I don’t let that pride blind me when a child is beyond my ability to help.”

“Are you saying my daughter shouldn’t be in kindergarten?”

“She needs specialized instruction,” Mrs. White said. “Whether that would be in conjunction with regular schooling or in place of it, I couldn’t say… I’ve had students who might have had a glimmer of subtle talent before, but not like Mary Beth has.”

“That might be because we nurture her abilities where other parents try to cover them up,” Betsy said. “We’ve looked into schools for subtle artists, Mrs. White, and we didn’t like what we saw. Beth’s abilities are a gift. They aren’t a problem for us to solve, they certainly aren’t a problem for her, and if you’re going to freak out because she sees things differently than you do, then maybe she is beyond your ability to help.”

Mrs. White got to her feet behind the desk.

“Ms. Higgins, I have been teaching kindergarten for seventeen years, and in my experience…”

“And I’ve been raising my daughter for five years,” Betsy said. “If my daughter’s gifts are outside your experience, then with all due respect, I think my five years may be a little more relevant to the situation than your seventeen. If you’re not willing to teach Beth…”

“I am perfectly willing to teach anybody who walks through the door,” Mrs. White said. “But if ‘Beth’ isn’t able…”

“In all the years I’ve been raising her, I’ve never found Beth unable to understand me, or to make herself understood,” Betsy said. “I don’t know what else would be required for her to learn.”

“Then maybe you should listen to me,” Mrs. White said.

“I think I’ve heard enough,” Betsy said. She rose and turned towards her daughter, who had stacked all the disparately-shaped blocks into a perfect column more than twice her own height. “Come here, Beth… I think it’s time for us to leave.”

The child knocked the tower over, and most of the blocks spilled back into the tub. She picked up the rest of them and then put the container away before padding back towards her mother.

“Beth will see you tomorrow morning,” Betsy said to the teacher. “I don’t intend to do anything differently. Is that going to be a problem for you?”

“Ms. Higgins, it isn’t me I’m concerned about,” Mrs. White said. “If you won’t get your daughter the help she needs… or allow the school to provide it, which would have been my suggestion if you had been a little more receptive… then as far as I’m concerned kindergarten is going to be a waste of your daughter’s time and mine.”

“I see,” Betsy said. “Well, I suppose that puts the matter in black and white, doesn’t it?” She reached out a hand towards her daughter. “Wave goodbye to Mrs. White, darling… I don’t think she’ll be teaching you any more.”

The child took her mother’s hand, but she didn’t otherwise move. Nevertheless, Mrs. White had the distinct impression that she had waved. She also smelled cinnamon.

“Kindergarten is mandatory in this province,” Mrs. White said. “You can hold her out a year, but after her sixth birthday…”

“That gives us plenty of time to look into homeschooling and other options,” Betsy said. “We’ll work something out. I thank you for your concern, Mrs. White, but I think the only thing we’re going to agree on is that you’re not the right person to teach my daughter.”

“Well… good day, then,” Mrs. White said.

“Good day to you, too,” Betsy said, leading her daughter towards the door.

“Mommy, I’m feeling purple,” the girl said as they were leaving.

“Well, you can have a nap when we get home.”

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14 Responses to “Bonus Story: Goodbye, Blue Monday”

  1. Christy says:

    I don’t see how the mom can’t see that telepathy is a problem when later grades teach harder stuff that the kid might not understand on her own and just get the answer from the smartest kid in the class’ mind. She obviously hasn’t thought it through…

    Current score: 1
    • HollowGolem says:

      I’d wager she -has- thought it through, though. The opportunity to cheat doesn’t mean one will utilize it, and the comparison to other means of obtaining information, as well as the misconceptions about what examinations are for, and the undercurrent concerning their misuse in education really resonated with me, as a teacher.

      In fact, the subtext here is incredibly relevant to -many- of my friends in the education profession, and, fantastic trappings aside, this story really makes a point worth making in a very relevant way.

      Current score: 3
      • Rendia says:

        As a teacher, it’s my job to make sure all of my students understand the subject matter. I can see how it would be hard to tell if they understood since they could just read the answer in my mind if I gave them a verbal cue, but I feel that it would still be my responsibility to teach that student. On the other hand, learning to control those mental abilities would be a good idea, just because being in large crowds could be mentally overwhelming, hearing so many thoughts at once. Or being in unfriendly environments. People control their words about what they say to others when it comes to criticism, but they rarely control their thoughts. I would want to shield myself from other people’s thoughts about my fashion choices or the shape of my body. Not to mention feeling like I was invading their privacy.

        Current score: 3
    • Anon says:

      The source of the knowledge is irrelevant compared to comprehension and retention. Whether she learns something from a book or a teacher’s words or discussions with fellow students or the psychic aura of the room, she has still learned it. And she will certainly be no *less* able to understand or remember it for having additional context and data.

      Just because I have a pocket calculator doesn’t make me incapable of performing calculus.

      Current score: 0
  2. pedestrian says:

    this sounds to me like some version of synesthesia or chromesthesia?

    Current score: 1
  3. Psi-Ko says:

    The difference between looking at the other kid’s test and seeimg that N = -6 and peering into their head, is that one can see the throught process behind how said kid got to that answer. Really, it’d probably be a BETTER way of learning, since verbal communication is 100x less expressive than one’s thoights.

    Current score: 1
  4. zeel says:

    If the teacher is any good at doing what they are teaching, I can not imagine that I could fail to grasp the materiel if I took a look at their mind. Seeing not only the answer, but how they got it, why they got it, and all the other things that let them understand it would probably be more effective than sitting through the class.

    Current score: 1
  5. Lorelei says:

    I grew up with synesthesia at a Christian school…this was very familiar. I was spanked for mentioning that 7 was afraid of 9 (9 is a bully), and was told to not listen to demons. When I described tastes as colors, I was told to stop.
    I wish my parents had been like Mrs. Higgens.

    Current score: 7
    • C says:

      I feel sad for you, and I hope that your life has improved since then.

      Current score: 0
    • keyonte0 says:

      When I was a kid, the smell of dark green made me distinctly uncomfortable, and certain numbers felt “wrong” to me. I always figured those were quirks everyone had on a subconscious level.

      Current score: 3
      • Anon says:

        And if different numbers have different personalities, that just helps to remember how they interact with each other! Learning addition, let along multiplication, by memorizing nothing but data points would have been almost impossible for me as a child…

        Current score: 0
    • Jechtael says:

      So seven eight nine in self-defense?

      Telepathy AND synesthesia? Sounds… disconcerting. I wonder if they’re related in her.

      I wish I could have some kind of bookmark that lets me read MoToMU up to the point where I’ve read ToMU, so I could read it and not accidentally get carried away and read ahead to points where it spoils ToMU, but as it is I’m just going to catch up on the main story and read the spinoff later (which is my usual MO for webcomics).

      Current score: 2
  6. Cadnawes says:

    I can see the colors that scents and sounds have, and I know the personalitiesof numbers and letters. I compare notes with others of like mind when I can and just now I gotta say… 9 IS rather aggressive, isn’t she?

    Current score: 1
  7. Furslid says:

    As always, the kid has to change. Easy fix on the test, have her take it at a different time than the other children. Such simple ideas aren’t even considered.

    Every damn time there’s a difficulty, the people who have the least power have to change to fix it. Especially if they are being ‘helped’ by the relationship.

    Current score: 3