The Big Reboot: 6

The stacks of books looked good. Plenty of blue-backed regular Economics books, stacked in groups of five with spines alternating left and right, just the way Mr. Webb had left them at the end of last year. That means they hadn’t been raided for summer school. That was always a mess. Whenever a summer school requisitioned books to another high school, they stayed there until after their home school hollered. And then, it would take almost six weeks for them to arrive – and grading periods were every six weeks. Not a good arrangement.

Mr. Webb took 120 books, five at a time, thanking God for giving him hands big enough to grip the books in that easy-to-count manner. That filled up both sides of the bottom two shelves of the book cart. It also made the 15 AP Economics books on the top shelf look weak. The fact that the books were a sickly shade of green with spines disintegrating only made them look sadder.

Both titles were ridiculously out of date. The last textbook adoption had been in 2003, of books that had been published in early 2002. They were supposed to have lasted only ten years. Now they were like so many veterans, kept too long at the front. Shells of their former selves, desperate for some relief.

The AP books were the hardest hit. They had been written just before the huge tech stock crash of 2001, so their chapters about the “Internet economy” having possibly found a way to end the business cycle were hopelessly, unintentionally hilarious in a world that had seen the hard side of a business cycle not once, but twice, since then. And that second time was sure one for the record books. Mr. Webb had seen later versions of the same text, with the bubbly chapters on eternal growth and dotcoms forever excised like they had angered Stalin, replaced with chapters asking questions about global growth and income inequality.

Worse, the AP books had been written in a very pro-econometric way. To a non-economist, that meant they taught concepts that the Panic of 2008 with its subsequent none-dare-call-it-depression had shown to be horribly delusional. Mr. Webb believed that Economics had no business calling itself a science. Sure, there were a lot of numbers to be analyzed, but the subject had nearly zero predictive power – just ask all the poor slobs that got wiped out in 2001 and 2008.

Rather, the subject seemed to have a sort of reverse predictive power. Whenever all the major banks and first-world governments proclaimed things at an all-time high were only going to get better, you could be sure that a major recession was in the cards… and that if it didn’t come on time, then it was going to be violent, destructive, and brutal when it did arrive. Cue the pictures of kittens.

The regular books were so watered down, it was hard for their basic concepts to be irrelevant, until one got to their hip and relevant focus articles. The article praising Enron’s innovations in the energy market was particularly piquant. The chapter exuding the buy-and-hold virtues of stock market investing was downright dangerous, though. Zero interest rate policies and high-frequency trading algorithms had made the stock market a regular minefield for retail small investors. Over the last 15 years, bonds had outperformed stocks, contrary to the optimism expressed in the books. And now cue the pictures of baby dolphins.

With his load of books ready, Mr. Webb signed out his books and wheeled them back to his classroom. State law required that he have one per student, and he intended to honor the law even if he didn’t honor the book. This year, the assistant principal in charge of the books had said something that made Mr. Webb’s spidey-sense tingle.

“If you would rather have just a classroom set of books, that would make things easier for you and reduces the risk that we lose a book and have to pay the fine for it.”

Back in 1993, when he taught at Sunflare High School in East Dallas CISD, the book room guy said the same thing. That school was a desperate mess of teachers that taught only to the tests, and books were useless for that sort of thing. Mr. Webb had to struggle to get one book per student then. He also returned 100% of his books, in spite of the book room guy betting he’d do no better than return one of every ten.

There wasn’t a struggle this year at Teller, but the attitudes of East Dallas CISD seemed to be settling in here and there. Mr. Webb wondered how long it would be before things got bad enough for him to leave, like he had to leave East Dallas CISD back in 1995.

There had been a grade and attendance fraud scandal at Sunflare, and a friend of Mr. Webb’s had gone to the news about it. The television news station had gotten a copy of a Sunflare student’s transcript and showed evidence of the fraud. East Dallas CISD’s response was to go after Mr. Webb and his friend, since they were in a team-teaching project that, according to the TEA audit in the wake of the scandal, were the only teachers engaging in instructional activity in the entire school.

East Dallas CISD transferred the principal and his assistants to other campuses, where they kept their salaries and privileges. It then sent an assistant superintendent to Sunflare, where he accused Mr. Webb and his friend, Ms. Violet Gardens, of handing over transcripts to the media, which was a felony violation of the Family Educational Records and Privacy Act of 1973.

Mr. Webb and Ms. Gardens had hired a lawyer to sue the district, which was a big mistake. In court, the lawyers for the district admitted that the assistant superintendent had committed defamation per se and that his accusations were groundless, but that the law was written so that the district couldn’t be sued for the actions of one of its officers. Said officer had to be sued individually. The judge over the case was disgusted with EDCISD, but had no choice but to find for them under summary judgment. The district lawyers then turned around and offered a pair of options: either the plaintiffs could pay their legal fees and re-file to sue the assistant superintendent personally, or they could drop the case with prejudice – meaning they wouldn’t re-file – and they wouldn’t have to pay the very substantial legal fees for the district lawyers.

Mr. Webb remembered the wicked glee he felt when, years later, those same lawyers were fired by EDCISD for financial misdealings. But that didn’t make the trauma of the ordeal go away. Mr. Webb had found a way to forgive the assistant superintendent, which was fortunate when the guy later moved into his neighborhood and began to shop at the same supermarket. Even though Mr. Webb had found forgiveness for his fellow man, he knew his name was mud in EDCISD. Worse, if he tried to get a job somewhere else, he’d be tarred with a reputation as a troublemaker, should any district call back to EDCISD. If Mr. Webb had been making out with his students, he’d have a better chance at getting a job in another district. Schools were only too happy to pass the trash and keep those teachers in heavy rotation, but whistleblowers deserved to die on the vine. They didn’t get deliberately bad assignments – that would be retaliation – but they would get progressively worse class assignments and reviews.

Mr. Webb knew that was in his future if he stayed in the classroom. Therefore, in the summer of 1995, he quit the profession that he loved with all his heart. He went into the IT industry and got a job supporting Doors 4.0 for Nauticalmilesoft. That led to him getting into email administration with Nauticalmilesoft’s Missive server when it released in 1996. From there, he went on to be a consultant, a system administrator, and then back to Nauticalmilesoft in 1999 as a full-time Missive expert.

By 2002, all the people from EDCISD that had been involved in running Mr. Webb out of the business had either been fired, were retired, were dead, or were in jail, so Mr. Webb felt it was safe for him to go back to teaching. He took a 45% pay cut, traded in some pretty sweet benefits for crappy health insurance and long vacations, and got a job at Teller High. He was so happy when that happened. Garson ISD was a great place to work, even though it had a streak of racism amongst some of its older, more hidebound teachers.

In the years following, Garson’s gleam had faded. The kids were the same. His fellow-teachers were pretty much the same. It was the administration that was going weird. Them and the state legislature. No way did Mr. Webb want to endure the trials of 1995 again. That’s why the suggestion to get just a class set troubled him so much. Crappy inservice sessions, he could put up with. That was part of the price one paid in order to be a teacher. Falling standards and increased paranoia were another thing entirely. If things got too bad, Mr. Webb was going to have to find a way out.

But, for now, things weren’t intolerable. Heck, they were pretty grand. Mr. Webb rolled his cart into his room and checked things over. He had come in a week earlier to set things up, and everything seemed ready. He had a stock of food for the first few weeks in his cabinets and fridge, his books were ready, his walls were covered with posters, maps, and cartoons, and his copies were –

Faster than you could say, “Oh crap!”, Mr. Webb had grabbed the masters for his copies and was halfway down the hall, headed pell-mell for the copy room.

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