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There was a very old man named Watu who lived by himself in an apartment over a restaurant in Chinatown in New York City. A loud ring from his computer, signaling an incoming call, roused him from his afternoon nap.
Drowsily, Watu approached the computer terminal. Each home in the country was equipped with one, and they all were networked together through the vast US-NET. As he activated the monitor, the face of a teenage girl filled the screen, and her voice was heard through the terminal's speakers.
"Hello, Grandfather," she said, and on seeing Watu yawn, "Did I wake you?"
"Yes, but that's all right," smiled Watu. "You know I'm always glad to hear from you, Gao. What can I do for you?"
Gao explained that she was having trouble understanding a certain subject she was studying. Because she considered her grandfather a very intelligent man and enjoyed spending time with him, she often asked him to help her with her work. As usual, Watu agreed to help and invited Gao to his apartment.
When she arrived, they seated themselves in front of the computer terminal. Gao pushed the necessary keyboard keys to access the National Education System, which contained millions of interactive courses on a variety of grade levels and subjects. It allowed students to use the terminals in their own homes, to read textbooks and novels, see plays, hear lectures, write essays and reports, do "homework," take exams, do research or perform any of the other activities the course might require. By passing specific courses, students earned promotions to various grade levels. Gao was on Level 9. Entering her Social Security number, she loaded the homework she'd been doing.
"I'm having difficulty with imaginary numbers. Can you help me, Grandfather?"
"Certainly. I was one of the best students in my algebra class," he answered proudly.
"Class ..." said Gao, with a puzzled expression.
"Long, long ago, not all children had a computer to learn from. They would meet in a building, called a school, to take courses ..."
"What would happen if there wasn't a school nearby?" she interrupted.
"There were thousands of schools, all over the country, so a student would never have to travel far," responded Watu. "Most of the time, a student would attend different schools in his lifetime." He then described places called elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. "Although they varied greatly in size," continued Watu, "all schools were basically the same. Each was divided into rooms that seated twenty to thirty pupils. Each room had a teacher, who would conduct the course, or Aclass,' as we called it."
"But how could all the students see the teacher on the computer screen?"
"They weren't on computers, Gao. The teacher was a real, live person. In elementary school, where the youngest children went, each teacher would teach the basic subjects to one group of students the whole day. In the other types of schools, students would be taught each subject by a different teacher."
"The teachers would change rooms," remarked Gao.
Watu chuckled, "No, the students changed rooms." He then described what a typical school day was like "in the old days." As he did, his dark eyes seemed to glow as long forgotten memories were rekindled.
Like a bard spinning yarns of times past, Watu told tales of a strange time when all children between five and at least sixteen went to a mysterious place called school. He told of people called substitutes and lunch ladies, places known as homerooms and study halls and objects like hall passes and grade books.
Gao listened, enthralled. When he finished, she wistfully said, "I wish I could have lived back then. I would have loved to learn from a living, breathing teacher instead of a computer-generated image. Often, I get tired of sitting at home, alone, in front of my terminal. It must have been great for you to be able to go to a school with other people your age and have classes with them. You must have made many friends. What fun you must have had!"
Watu nodded slowly, still swimming in an ocean of fond recollections. Yes, he thought, what fun I had! n