From Education and Ditto the donkey

“Ditto goes to school” (XXVI)

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Shall we read page three of The Children’s Story? said Ms. Johnson. Oh yes, said Virginia, I want to know why the teacher and children are afraid. Very well, said Ms. Johnson, page three says:

The children rustled, watching the teacher, wondering what possessed her… Johnny looked away from the door and watched with the other children. He did not understand anything except that the teacher was afraid, and because she was afraid she was making them all worse and he wanted to shout that there was no need to fear. “Just because they’ve conquered us there’s no need for panic-fear,” Dad had said. “Don’t be afraid, Johnny. If you fear too much, you’ll be dead even though you’re alive.”

We still don’t know why they’re afraid, said Virginia. No, we don’t, said Ms. Johnson. I don’t like to be afraid, said Virginia. Neither do I, said Ditto. Maybe that’s why Johnny has so much hate, said Virginia. Why? said Ms. Johnson. Because he doesn’t like to be afraid, and he’s angry at the person who’s making him afraid. Are we sure it’s a person? said Ms. Johnson. It says “they” conquered, said Virginia.

Who are they? said Ms. Johnson. I don’t know, said Virginia, but they must be bad if they conquered. Is conquering bad? said Ms. Johnson. That depends if you’re a conquer or a conquered, said Virginia. A “conqueror,” said Ms. Johnson. “They” could be another kind of animal, said Ditto. Like what? said Ms. Johnson. Any kind of animal that’s different from them, said Ditto, like a herd of rhinoceri. “Rhinoceroses,” said Ms. Johnson. Or a swarm of bees, said Ditto, or a school of piranhas. What’s a piranha? said Virginia. A piranha, said Ms. Johnson, is a freshwater fish with an insatiable appetite for meat. Insatiable? said Virginia. Impossible to satisfy, said Ms. Johnson. Oh, said Virginia.

Why don’t you like to be afraid? said Ms. Johnson. Because, said Virginia, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But something good might happen, said Ms. Johnson. But it might not, said Virginia. We fear the unknown, said Ditto, like Hamlet. Hamlet? said Ms. Johnson. Yes, said Ditto, my parents and their friend Blurtso staged a play called “Hamlet” last year. What does Hamlet say? said Ms. Johnson. He says, said Ditto, that he would rather stay with something familiar that doesn’t make him happy than take his chances with something unfamiliar. Something unfamiliar? said Ms. Johnson. Yes, said Ditto. Like what? said Ms. Johnson. Like death, said Ditto. Are you afraid of death? said Ms. Johnson. Yes, said Ditto. And you, Virginia? Yes, said Virginia.

Do you think Johnny is afraid of death in the story? said Ms. Johnson. Yes, said Ditto, or something worse. What’s worse than death? said Ms. Johnson. No one can say, said Ditto, until they know what death is. So it might not be bad? said Ms. Johnson. It might not, said Ditto, but we don’t know, so we create nightmares to fill the unknown. Is that what Johnny’s dad is telling us, said Ms. Johnson, when he says, “If you fear too much, you’ll be dead even though you’re alive”? Yes, said Ditto.

Have you ever heard of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? said Ms. Johnson. No, said Ditto. He was a president of the United States who said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” What does that mean? said Virginia. It means, said Ditto, that the worst thing to do is be afraid. Why? said Virginia. Because when you’re afraid, said Ditto, you’ll do anything to stop being afraid. Do you think it’s easy, said Ms. Johnson, to frighten people into doing what you want them to do? Yes, said Ditto, all you have to do is convince them something unknown will happen if they don’t.

“Ditto goes to school” (XXIII)

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I like your house, said Virginia. Thank you, said Ditto. How is the intervention class? I love it, said Ditto, we’re reading a book by James Clavell. James Clavell? said Virginia. Yes, said Ditto, and Ms. Johnson asks all kinds of interesting questions, and she lets me answer any way I choose. Really? said Virginia. Really, said Ditto. It’s not like our regular class? said Virginia. No, said Ditto, we talk about whatever the story brings to mind. That’s great, said Virginia. Yes it is, said Ditto, you should try to get in. To intervention? said Virginia. Yes, said Ditto. How? said Virginia. What was your Benchmark score? said Ditto. I was a yellow light, said Virginia. Maybe if you failed your weekly tests, said Ditto, you could become a red light. Do you think? said Virginia. I don’t know, said Ditto, it’s worth a try.

“Ditto goes to school” (XXII)

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I spoke to the schoolmarm, said Ms. Johnson, about your difficulty with the Benchmark. What did she say? said Ditto. She said that it doesn’t matter why you failed the test, you’ll have to remain in intervention until the next test at the end of May. That’s fine with me, said Ditto. Good, said Ms. Johnson, I thought we might do a “read aloud.” I brought a book called, The Children’s Story, by a writer named James Clavell. James Clavell? said Ditto, the author of Shogun? Yes, said Ms. Johnson, have you seen the movie? No, said Ditto, but I read the novel.

“Ditto goes to school” (XXI)

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Hello, said Ms. Johnson, I’m Ms. Johnson. Hello, said Ditto, I’m Ditto. Nice to meet you, Ditto. Nice to meet you, Ms. Johnson. I understand, said Ms. Johnson, that you had some trouble with the Dibels test. Yes, said Ditto, the words didn’t make any sense. Didn’t the schoolmarm explain, said Ms. Johnson, that the words were make-believe words? Yes, said Ditto, but even make-believe words have meaning. I don’t understand, said Ms. Johnson. Aren’t all words, said Ditto, make-believe words? All words? said Ms. Johnson. Yes, said Ditto, the word “tree” has no ontological relationship to the thing we call a tree. We might invent any word and make believe it refers to a tree. In fact, that’s what we’ve done since the beginning of language—the word for tree is different in every language that exists—all the different words are simply make-believe words that we’ve agreed upon to refer to trees.

You’re exactly right, said Ms. Johnson. And if someone is asked to read a group of make-believe words, said Ditto, how do they know that the words don’t have make-believe pronunciations? They don’t know, said Ms. Johnson, because the group of make-believe words might constitute a make-believe language, with its own grammar, syntax, and pronunciation. Exactly, said Ditto, that’s why I had trouble with the test. Would it have helped, said Ms. Johnson, if the schoolmarm had said the words were “meaningless”? Meaningless? said Ditto. How could they be called meaningless if they’ve determined where I have to spend my lunch hour? Yes, said Ms. Johnson, the two of us are going to get along very, very well.

“Ditto goes to school” (XX)

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Intervention? said Virginia. Yes, said Ditto, every day during lunch I have to meet with a special teacher. Until when? said Virginia. Until I pass the next Dibels. What if you fail the next one? Then, said Ditto, I continue to be intervened.

“Ditto goes to school” (XIX)

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An abject failiure? said Virginia. Yes, said Ditto, that’s what the teacher called me. I’ve never heard the word “abject”, said Virginia. “Abject”, said Ditto, refers to someone cast down in spirit, someone reduced to hopelessness and surrender. Really? said Virginia. Yes, said Ditto, at least that’s the way Thoreau uses it. Thoreau? said Virginia. Henry David Thoreau, said Ditto, a man who wrote a book called Walden—my parents have a copy and they let me read it. Was Thoreau abject? said Virginia. No, said Ditto, but near the end of the book when he’s talking about the importance of protecting your thoughts he says, “Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts… if I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts… from an army of three divisions one can take away its general, and put it in disorder, but from the man the most abject and vulgar one cannot take away his thought.” How come you can read Walden, said Virginia, but can’t pass the Dibels? I don’t know, said Ditto, I guess Walden is a different kind of reading, or maybe Thoreau has been outlawed.

“Ditto goes to school” (XVII)

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Will they kick me out of school, said Ditto, if I fail the Dibels test? No, said Virginia, they’ll put you in an intervention class an hour a day until you pass the test. What if I never pass? Then you’ll be in intervention forever, said Virginia. Isn’t there any way, said Ditto, I can get kicked out of school?

“Ditto goes to school” (XVI)

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The Dibels tests are tomorrow, said Virginia. Dibels? said Ditto. Yes, said Viriginia, the test that decides if you will be a failure or a success. A failure, said Ditto, in first grade? Yes, said Virginia. That’s crazy, said Ditto, I’m too young to die.

“Ditto goes to school” (XV)

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Spring is here, said Virginia, only two months before summer vacation. Summer vacation? said Ditto. Yes, said Virginia. What’s summer vacation? That’s when we get three months off before coming back to school. Coming back? said Ditto. Yes, said Virginia, in the fall. For how long? said Ditto. Until the next summer, said Virginia. And then? said Ditto. Until the summer after that, said Virginia. How long do we have to keep coming? Forever, said Virginia. Forever? said Ditto. Yes, said Virginia, until we grow old.

“Ditto finds a dead tree” (IV)

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Eulogy? said Bonny. Yes, I could say something… “Here lies a tree. It was a good tree. A tree that made use of what was offered, and offered what made use. It grew without haste, and it grew without malice. And when it fell, it made a sound.”