The Emperor's New Schools

En cada libro que leo
siempre encuentro una palabra
que sobreviva al olvido
y me acompaña.

In each book I read
I always find a word
that outlives forgetting
and comes with me

--Mario Benedetti
lame old poet from Uruguay

Peace and joy, Camper.

Step into Your Uncle Jerry’s library for a moment, my friend. What do you see? Empty shelves?? No, no, no. Por favor.

Clean shelves—that’s what you see. Shelves liberated from the weight of words. Shelves that no longer bear the poetic burden. They hold the Emperor’s new books, you might say, heh heh. That’s a joke, son—a useless literary quip that you would understand if your teachers had been allowed to skip the testing for one year and just “teach” instead.

Fortunately, that is not possible. So think of these as the shelves that you will fill, year on year, as you build the library of your mind.

Your Uncle Jerry, years ago, had shelves like these. In those days, sadly, schools forced a young camper to build a collection of words, images, maps and math problems. To build a set of ideas to think with, let’s say. A starter set of life shelves. And the wider you made your shelves, the better, in those days.

But schools found they could not control what young persons would do with the words they were given. Duh. Students were discovered deliberately shelving ideas upside down; some were learning words in other languages; some began not to support our troops. The system wasn’t working.

Much better is the approach now, where a camper like you is given a very narrow set of shelves, and your task is to burden them with only the lightest of weights. Yes, exactly: I’m talking about certificates.

A certificate, my friend, is far superior to a book. When you read a book, you get a handful of words—and some of them are completely new. How does that make you feel? Dumb. And the bigger the book, the dumber you feel. A certificate, on the other hand, proves that you have done something hard. You have passed a test. It automatically makes you feel smart; that’s why they call it a certificate.

And when your school day is consumed in test preparation, the certificate says that you are not weighed down with the baggage of unused thought, extra words. If the school has done its job, you know only what you need to pass the test. You command every word on the test.

Okay, true, a certificate is too thin to stand up on the bookshelf, but if you lay it flat, it takes up more room. Don’t complicate things.

The shelves we need, the schools we need, are uncomplicated ones. We’ve had enough of feeling dumb in school, haven’t we, camper? We need schools that will tell campers exactly what will be on the test, and we need certificates to prove they learned exactly that. We need books that include only the words we already know. We need the Emperor’s new books in the Emperor’s new schools.

Joy and peace.

In our next chapter, Molly brings home exactly the wrong boy from school—or at least Rhinehart thinks so.


  1. Uncle Jerry should get a special certificate that grants him the right to criticize, otherwise he might run up against the Patriot Act.

  2. in mourning for wide shelves and wide books and wide hearts....gann