There’s no Hollywood trope that’s further from reality than the “hero teacher” story. Movies love the idea of a Jaime Escalante or a Joe Clark dropping out of a clear blue sky and turning around a classroom or building full of troubled youth. Teachers—myself included—know better. We’re useful and helpful people, and we need to be competent or better for a school to be the best version of itself. But any school that achieves anything does so because its STUDENTS are heroes. Every high-achieving school I’ve ever been involved with (and I’ve been part of several) has risen on the tide of its students’ drive and talent.
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is…well, it’s many things, isn’t it? An astonishing break with the moral orthodoxy of its day, for one. Prone to interminable passages of purple prose, for another. One of the more interesting things about Atlas Shrugged, for me, is its transgressive attitude towards labor relations. It asks the question: what if capital went on strike, as opposed to labor? Rand posits that the people putting in the important work all along aren’t necessarily the people you’d assumed. But she also posits a unique strike strategy. Rand’s “men of the mind” don’t march with placards; they aren’t directly defiant in any way. Instead, they disappear into the woodwork. They stop innovating. They remove themselves from the occupations in which they have talent and do menial labor, working only with their muscles. They aren’t noncompliant, they’re hyper-compliant. In enacting this strategy, they reveal how important their volunteerism has been all along.
As a teacher, I’ve often wondered what would happen if the uncelebrated innovators responsible for a high school’s success—the students--implemented Rand’s strategy. What would happen if a group of kids decided their efforts were being taken for granted, and took an educational approach based on the idea of doing exactly what was required of them and nothing more? In truth, this is every teacher’s nightmare. The power of students is in many ways invisible to them; they have no idea just how little authority over their behavior teachers really have, how much of our power is a function of willing partnership. With the events surrounding the Stoneman Douglas shootings, students are awakening to the realities of how much power they actually hold. If anyone ever successfully organizes them as a unified block…
I knew early on, when I made the transition to short stories, that I would at some point make an attempt to rewrite Atlas Shrugged as a story of teen rebellion. The final product, enhanced by romantic and science fiction twists, is “Been There, Done That,” which you can read in this quarter’s issue of TheColored Lens. I generally workshop my stories with other writers before seeking to have them published, and edit based on the suggestions I’m given. Among these beta readers, BTDT is by far my best-received story. I hope you’ll enjoy it as well.