Utopia 3: Ms. Grant

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Compassion is the radicalism of our time.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.

The purpose of our lives is to be happy.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama


Ms. Grant


At the end of the day Jack’s students slowly filed out of the room. Jack watched them go. He could remember when this part of the day had given him such a sense of relief, but now he felt the clock ticking toward the final days with his students and this part of the day reminded him of their approaching graduation.

When the final child was out the door, Jack stood and turned to what looked like a dry erase board. He tapped it twice with his fingers and several icons appeared. Jack tapped one of the icons and the rest of the icons sank to rest at the bottom of the board. The one he had tapped exploded into several more icons. Jack tapped several more icons in rapid succession until he reached the file he was looking for. He then tapped several files in a row and they expanded while the others sank to the bottom with the rest. Jack then started to organize the files along the side of the board by dragging them with his fingers. He enlarged some by placing his fingers in the center of the document and spreading his fingers out and he shrunk some by reversing the procedure.

There was a faint “Ah-hem” at the door. Jack spun around quickly thinking that one of his students had stayed behind to talk to him. Instead, Ms. Olivia Grant, the school principal, stood in the doorway leaning on her cane.

“Jack.  I hope I am not disturbing you.”

“No.  Not at all.  Just polishing off my lesson plans for tomorrow.”

“I was wondering if you might accompany me to dinner this evening…if you don’t have other plans, that is?”

Jack leaned back against the board and looked at Ms. Grant. She had never made this request of him before. “Ms. Grant, are you making a pass at me?” he said coyly. His body language was casual but his face belied his concern.

Olivia, who was old enough to be Jack’s mother, smiled, “No.  I just wanted a chance to talk to you in a more casual setting.”

This did not reassure him. She had the reputation as a strict disciplinarian. Jack was still a young member of the school and had never been reprimanded by Ms. Grant. Was this her way of letting him down gently? She must have picked up on his concern because she smiled at him again disarmingly. “I just wanted to see how you were doing, Jack.”

“OK.  What time?”

“Are you going to be working in your office until late?”

Jack’s lesson plans were essentially done over a month ago. He only needed to touch it up a little. “No. I only need a few minutes.”

“Can you meet me in front of the school at 4:30?  I have some work to do as well.”

“Sure.  I’ll be there.”

At 4:30 Jack found Olivia Grant standing in the foyer where the shuttles collected to gather the children. She had already summoned a shuttle and programmed it for their destination from her office computer. Jack helped her into the shuttle. Her knee, which had been injured in a fall while she climbed a mountain in her youth, was now ravaged by arthritis. She was refusing to have the knee replaced. Thus the cane. But she was still a force to be reckoned within the school. Helping this or that class. Developing new programs. Despite the cane she still moved with some grace and was constantly doing something at the school. She could be seen in the garden every morning and she was frequently called upon for small repairs which required her to crawl under a sink or climb a ladder. Although she was slower at these than she used to be, she was still capable and therefore reasoned that she did not need a surgery that would incapacitate her for several weeks. Helping her into the shuttle was less of a necessity and more of the last vestige of male chivalry.

They chatted easily about school politics and controversies during their ride to the restaurant. As they arrived at their destination, Jack was somewhat taken aback. Restaurants had become a luxury during the food shortage. This restaurant was one of the nicer ones in town. Olivia was greeted warmly by the maiterdee, who clearly knew her. She was apparently a frequent visitor.

They were shown to a very nice table and Jack was again surprised as Ms. Grant ordered a bottle of wine with dinner. Wine and liquor had never left American culture completely but turning fruit into wine when there was a food crisis was a bit of an extravagance. Even though food was no longer rationed wine was a luxury. He gave her a wry smile, “So you are trying to seduce me.”

Without so much as a missed beat she leaned forward and met his smile measure for measure and asked, “Speaking of which, how is the search for a mate coming?”

Jack laughed. She was enjoying keeping him off balance tonight. “I knew it! You are making a pass at me. Wait until I tell the school board.”

She leaned back and gazed at him steadily. Then she went on. “Most of my educators have children of their own by the time their first class graduates to the second level. It provides some stability for them. Of course one need not be mated to become a parent, but given the demands on our profession it is useful to have a partner. It is a great irony that being an educator, it is very difficult to be a single parent. The city pays us very well, but also expects much of us in return.”

The smile was wiped clean from Jack’s face. The reason for this meeting was immediately clear. She was concerned about Jack’s emotional well being and how it would affect his work this year. He dropped his gaze uncertain of how to proceed with this line of questioning, which made him intensely uncomfortable.

She went on, “I have seen educators quit after their first class. Even after all of the work that it takes to get here. The prestige and pay mean nothing if you can not overcome the feelings of loss that we experience every 8 years.”

“I can assure you that I have no intention of quitting.” Jack put in quickly.

“I do not question your competence or your voracity, Jack. I am only expressing my concern for your emotional well being. I have noticed your fondness for your students particularly the Clay boy.”

Jack was indeed too fond of Andy Clay and he knew it. Bookish but outgoing and not yet coming into his own body. He reminded Jack of himself at this age. Again he was unable to come up with an adequate response. The unaccustomed wine was going to his head to some degree and making his responses slower and more difficult to articulate.

“Perhaps it was too much to ask of you to teach the boy in your first class.” She admitted to herself.

Jack looked down at the table, wounded by her comment, but he continued to remain silent. From their first meeting Olivia had had too much of an emotional grip on him. What was it about this woman that made him feel like an errant child being chastised for not putting away his toys?

“When your class graduates, it does not mean good-bye forever. My students from my first class still write to me and call me. They still ask my advice even though they are adults with children of their own now. As do students from the second and the third class. With time you grow just as attached to the new class.”

“I have no doubt that all of that is true.  And I am sure that I will be fine when I take on the new class.”

“So, then,” she smiled, “back to my original line of questioning. How is the search coming for a mate? Any ladies…you do like ladies…waiting in the wings?”

The homophobia of decades ago was now a thing of the past. Jack neither feared for his reputation or his employment in this question. Still Jack felt a need to stress the fact that he was exclusively attracted to women. “Yes. Ladies.” He murmured. Then he stammered, “At the moment I am somewhat…busy. I am not….involved. I doubt that becoming a parent is a realistic option by next year.” he smiled.

“Pity.” she smiled back. Then she leaned forward again, “You need to learn to take more time for yourself, Jack. Your class and your work are important to you. Anyone can see that, but it is an irony that when we devote too much time to one aspect of life that aspect itself suffers. I sense that you need to achieve a better balance in your life. I can see that you are uncomfortable speaking about your personal life. To some degree this may be because you have not put an effort into allowing all parts of your life to develop. You should know that. You teach history very well. You know what happens to people’s decision making abilities when they are too consumed by only one aspect of their lives. Such focus in not good for the person or the society. Perhaps you should consider a sabbatical when this year has finished. I spent a year in India between my first and second class. It helped bring a better perspective to my educating…. and to my life.”

Jack did some quick math in his head. If she had been their principal for 7 years and she had had the maximum 4 classes prior to that, then she had gone in the mid portion of the century. When there was famine raging through most of Asia. He had no doubt that this had put her life in perspective.

To Jack’s relief the waiter set a plate of food down in front of each of them. He hoped that this would change the topic of conversation. He helped this along by asking Olivia’s opinion of a bill before the county council this coming month. He was not that interested in the bill but she seemed to take the hint and the conversation turned away from Jack’s personal life. Olivia had said what she had come to say and so she was quite satisfied to return to the easy chit chat they had had in the shuttle.

The food was excellent but Jack was unable to enjoy it. He was distracted by their earlier conversation and the overwhelming desire to right whatever wrong he had committed. What was it about her that made him feel this way?

It was a great relief to Jack when the dinner ended and he had helped her into a shuttle by herself so she could return to her home and he was able to slip into his own shuttle. Alone with his own thoughts he contemplated, not for the first time, what it would be like to have a family of his own. Perhaps even a son like Andy.



The Concepts Behind the Fiction

1.) A Word About Waldorf:

Last episode of Utopia I spoke about traditional education and public school and the concerns that some, including myself, have that we are doing a disservice to our children.  When I started to write this piece, I wanted to make Jack’s classroom into something that seemed more futuristic.  But I also wanted the children seem as though they were being made to think about their lives and solve problems.  I did not want Jack to emulate the rote leaning/testing/forget model that many schools have become.  After some research on different school models, I finally settled on the Waldorf education model. Waldorf, as far as I know, does not endorse my site, but I will at least make a passing endorsement of Waldorf.

The Waldorf Educational system is the brainchild of Rudolph Steiner.  Some interesting aspects of Waldorf education include:

*Generally the teacher advances with the class, for the elementary years at least.

*The seasons are marked by celebrations.

*The lines between subjects are blurred. For example math is sometimes taught as art and dance.

*It emphasizes the creative aspects of thinking as well as the analytical.  Thus crafts, drama, art and dance hold equal importance with math, English, and history.

*General 2 foreign languages are taught at the elementary school level.

*Children are not taught to read until age 7 or so, preferring to teach them an oral tradition first.

*Individual schools and teachers have a great deal of autonomy and can adjust their lessons according to the needs of the culture, the students, or the situation.

*The schools are largely democratically run.

*Parental participation is strongly encouraged.

*They encourage and celebrate diversity:


Under the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Waldorf school was one of the few schools in which children of both races attended the same classes, despite the ensuing loss of state aid. A Waldorf training college in Cape Town, the Novalis Institute, was described by UNESCO as an organization which had a great consequence in the conquest of apartheid: “It has prepared the way and laid the foundations for a new and integrated [community].

In Israel, the Harduf Kibbutz Waldorf school includes both Jewish and Arab faculty and students and has extensive contact with the surrounding Arab communities; it also runs an Arab-language Waldorf teacher training.  In addition, a joint Arab-Jewish Waldorf kindergarten, the first Arab-Jewish, bilingual and bicultural kindergarten in Israel,was founded in Hilf (near Haifa) in 2005.

If Jack’s class seems interesting to you and you want to get to know more about Waldorf, here are a couple of links for you to examine.


The Millennium Child

Chicago Waldorf

2.) A Word about Education in General:

Many of us give our children over to public education because we do not feel that we have any other options.  With the invention of the internet there are many more options then there used to be.  Here are some links that you might find interesting.  Not all of the links are for everyone but it does give you some idea as to the diverse thinking about how people learn:

Alternative Education

Home Schooling

School Choice


Free School



Sudbury Valley

3.) A Word about Tolerance:

“The highest result of education is tolerance.” Helen Keller

Time is a funny thing.  One hundred years ago a marriage between a white woman and a black man was unthinkable.  Now the child of such a marriage is the President.  Throughout the years there has been resistance to many progressive changes in our social structure.  At one time interracial marriage or interfaith marriage was considered taboo.  Now it is ho-hum.

There has been a very hard turn to the right when it comes to gay marriage in this country lately.  Don’t expect it to last.  Although there may be battles fought and won against the progressive current of our relationships the river continues to flow and our movement is continuously if somewhat slowly in the progressive direction.

The right argues that marriage is a religious institution.  Fine.  It should have no bearing as such on taxes, health insurance, visitation, and child custody then.  If it does impact those things then it is secular.  In Jack’s world I envisioned a world where marriage may indeed be a strictly religious institution and therefore irrelevant to the legal forms of the day.

Only 1/4 of households in America consist of a married couple with children (which was the dominant type of household in the 1950’s).  One third of children live in a single family household.  Yet we continue to hold out the nuclear, two parent family as the paradigm structure of our society.

In ancient times the nuclear family took a back seat to the tribe, clan, community, group, village.  All adults saw children as their responsibility.  Parents relied on the entire group.    It is only in modern times that we hold the nuclear family up to be the basic unit of society.  Then we tell the adults in the family to be out of the house working for 8 or more hours a day to put food on the table.  It is no wonder that the adults in families are consistently overwhelmed and children’s needs are not being met.

In Jack’s world the emphasis is not so much on the nuclear, “Leave It to Beaver”, family but on the community.  Since there is more community support, parents are not as dependent on each other and not so overwhelmed when there is no other person to rely on.  Children are cared for by the entire neighborhood.  His world is not solely motivated by profit but by what we want from our society.  Thus Jack has more options.  In his secular life no one bats an eye at the decision to become a single parent, become “mated” or “unmated” or with who you become mated.  These decisions are his and his alone.

Oh…And congratulations to Iceland’s new Prime Minister.  If the language wasn’t so hard to  speak I might consider moving there.

4.)  What if Teachers made More than Lawyers?

If you were going to create a society from scratch how would you go about it?  You would probably start by deciding what was important to your society.  Then decide how to set up the governance and economy to achieve those goals.  I honestly think that was more or less the goal of the American forefathers.  Problem is we really have not had this discussion for about 200 years and things have changed since then.   We really have not renewed any overarching goals that as a nation we wish to encourage.  Maybe it is time to have this discussion on a national level again.

If you asked Americans what was important to them today they would probably not say imprisoning the most people of any nation in the world, having a military that was more powerful (and more expensive) than all the other nations combined, or paying Brittany Spears as much money as possible.  Most likely you would say something like education for your children, healthcare in case you got sick, police and fire for safety, infrastructure so you could get to where you were going and have a building to go to when you got there, and some kind of just distribution of the wealth of the nation for your contribution to the nation.  Oh and clean air, water, food and soil would be kinda nice too, right?

Yet education gets about 4% of the GDP and the military gets about 5%.  That does not sound like much of a difference but remember the GDP is about 15 trillion dollars.     Currently we are spending $1 trillion a year on all defense spending!  A third of our GDP goes to servicing debt.  Did you sign up for that?  Don’t even get me started on giving away billions (trillions?) to people who do not add any value to the economy but only debt (bankers).

So in Jack ‘s world educators, not rock stars or lawyer, are idolized.  Educators go through years of arduous training and sacrifice to get their positions and they are paid accordingly.  Education attracts the best and brightest of the nation in Jack’s world.

5.) A Word about the Coming Famine in Asia

The glacier that feeds the famous Ganges river in India is disappearing.  And so are the glaciers that feed the Yellow, and the Yangtze rivers.  Most of the glaciers that the Asian population, one billion  people, depend on are disappearing.  When they are gone, so in the fresh water supply and the food supply.  This would be the biggest crisis the world of man has ever known.

“Across Asia, up to a billion people could be affected by climate change, according to the IPCC. In a region that has seen rapid poverty reduction, many of those gains could be lost as an estimated 130 million people risk facing hunger by 2050 because of the effects of climate change.”  Development Asia

“The world has never faced such a predictably massive threat to food production as that posed by the melting mountain glaciers of Asia. China and India are the world’s leading producers of both wheat and rice—humanity’s food staples. China’s wheat harvest is nearly double that of the United States, which ranks third after India. With rice, these two countries are far and away the leading producers, together accounting for over half of the world harvest.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that Himalayan glaciers are receding rapidly and that many could melt entirely by 2035. If the giant Gangotri Glacier that supplies 70 percent of the Ganges flow during the dry season disappears, the Ganges could become a seasonal river, flowing during the rainy season but not during the summer dry season when irrigation water needs are greatest.

Yao Tandong, a leading Chinese glaciologist, reports that the glaciers on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau in western China are now melting at an accelerating rate. He believes that two thirds of these glaciers could be gone by 2060, greatly reducing the dry-season flow of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. Like the Ganges, the Yellow River, which flows through the arid northern part of China, could become seasonal. If this melting of glaciers continues, Yao says, “[it] will eventually lead to an ecological catastrophe.”  Earth Policy Institute

The alternative to this civilization-threatening scenario is to abandon business-as-usual energy policies and move to cut carbon emissions 80 percent—not by 2050 as many political leaders suggest, because that will be too late, but by 2020, as outlined in Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. The first step is to  ban new coal-fired power plants, a move that is fast gaining momentum in the United States.  Earth Policy Institute


Suggested Reading:

What is Waldorf Education by Rudolph Steiner

Introduction to Steiner Education by Francis Edmunds

School as a Journey by Torin Finser

Teach you Own by John Holt

The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith

Free at Last by Daniel Greenberg

Plan B 3.0 by Lester Brown

Audio/Video Selections:

The Waldorf Promise by Laura Cain

Science Fiction Selection:

The Gate to Women’s Country by Sherri Tepper