The Classroom Is Dead

What if everything about the future of school was the opposite of school? We invited Eli Horowitz and Scott Teplin to consider the school of 2050.

2024

Now more than ever, we must be vigilant in our defense of our children’s future. Back in 2016, we spoke of “disruption” — disrupting entertainment, disrupting field hockey, disrupting smoothies, and, of course, disrupting education. That was a wonderful time. But now that everything has been disrupted (field hockey has never been edgier), what’s left? What’s next?

The answer: Welcome to the era of destruction — tearing down the outdated institutions, and then occupying their nonstructured absence. And what better place to begin this path of obliteration than our already-crumbling schools?

For generations, thinkers have attempted to reimagine the classroom, to improve the classroom, and, of course, to disrupt the classroom, and where has all that gotten us? Dumber kids every year, that’s where. Case in point: My nephew, the valedictorian of Robert Frost Intermediate, recently attempted to give his pet iguana mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Felt guilty about hogging all the air, he said.

Point is, the classroom is a dead end. The classroom is a mausoleum. The classroom is an outdated husk, and the classroom must be destroyed. Yes: The classroom of the future is no classroom at all.

True learning happens when we least expect it, when we aren’t even attempting it. What is the opposite of school? Recess, of course. We must use the bricks and boards of the deconstructed classroom to erect a playground in its place, a fantasia of slides and forts and swings.

Illustrations by Scott Teplin

If this doesn’t sound like school, my answer is: Exactly. If you think no one will learn anything, I respond: Well, what is “learning” anyway? Is it “learning” when a sick skate ramp teaches the physics of momentum, friction, and angular velocity? Is it “educational” to recreate an entire desert biome in an ordinary sandbox? Is it really “school” if art class is a brick wall swarming with graffiti and stencils? A teacher can’t give every student personalized attention at the same time — but what if the teacher is placed on a spinning carousel, with students ringing the perimeter? What if?

Even an ordinary swing set is a living lesson in momentum and fulcrums and whatever. Do I even know what a fulcrum is, exactly? No, and that’s just my point — I had to spend my recesses indoors, practicing oboe.

It’s not enough to think outside the box . We must get outside the entire building.

Impractical? Idealistic? Naive? Exactly. We must forget all knowledge so that we can learn again. Destroy the classroom and build a future.

2037

Now more than ever, we must be vigilant in our defense of our children’s future. As any intelligent observer could have predicted, the misguided educational policies of our predecessors produced a generation of children who were ignorant, dangerous, and endangered. Hopscotch is not an effective medium for the periodic table. Dodgeball really isn’t very similar to molecular interaction. We should have known this then, but we definitely know it now.

Students who somehow escaped the educational damages of this curriculum often found themselves physically harmed anyway. Serving lunch on a moving swing? Using the wading pool as an observation tank for aquatic predators? This is no way to treat our most vulnerable treasures.

Nevertheless, we stumbled along this foolhardy path until 2034, when Walter Groon, a third-grader in Tucson, scaled a climbing pole/astronomy tower and then forgot how to get down. After a tense 73 hours, a FEMA squadron lowered him to safety, but the outcry and subsequent lawsuit resulted in a complete dismantling of the playground “school” — a death trap, more accurately.

Lesson learned: Our children are too precious to play with. We must protect and nurture both the minds and the bodies of these young citizens. Chaos is unacceptable; guesswork is outdated; safety is paramount. By amassing comprehensive information, combined with absolute control of processes, we can ensure precise, optimal outcomes. Development — whether physical or intellectual — is fundamentally a matter of input and output; for the desired results, we simply must calibrate the raw material, the incoming data, whether that data takes the form of a book or a meal.

And so I present the classroom of the future: the cafeteria.

Mental development is a biological process, nothing more and nothing less. The three steps of knowledge-building — input, processing, and output — are no different from consumption, digestion, growth.

All three steps will occur within one closed environment, a streamlined pedagogical ecosystem. Students begin by passing through a low-radiation bioscanner that determines the individual’s nutritional/informational deficiencies. An ideal meal is then robotically selected for the student from the bountiful buffet, overflowing with fact slurries in a range of appealing textures.

Allergic to nuts? There’s a slurry for that! Terrible at algebra? There’s a slurry for that, too! Allergic to everything except nuts and terrible at algebra and everything else? No problem! Each student’s needs will be assessed and precisely addressed.

Of course, these slurries may alarm some traditionalists who mourn the loss of outdated, non functional foods. To address these concerns, the cafeteria features an all-you-can-eat salad bar, presenting the vegetables and fixins of times gone by. (These items are strictly off-limits to students, of course, and in fact are made of enameled resin.) We’ve also installed a biosphere, presenting agriculture, animal husbandry, and even simple weather systems. (Direct interaction with the biosphere is also forbidden, due to a potential E. coli outbreak in the meat tree.)

The recipe is simple: Healthy bodies create healthy minds. Data-driven goals, individualized curriculum, and full parental/governmental control will deliver guaranteed results. Learning must be constant, and it must be involuntary. Our children’s education is too important to leave in the hands of our children.

2050

Now more than ever, we must be vigilant in our attempt to survive through the week. Oh God, the mistakes we’ve made.

Safety? Control? Optimal outcomes? These words now mock us, but it appears the leaders of the previous decade truly believed these narcotic ideals were somehow achievable. And for a few students, maybe they were. But some children didn’t quite fit the program — unexpected genetics or slurry aversion or who knows — and so they were reassigned to specialized facilities.

These facilities turned out to be not much more than holding pens. Eventually, a group of teenagers in the Southeastern Facility staged an uprising, freed others, and began rampaging. The obese, incompetent children at the cafeteria schools, raised on a curriculum of protection and slurry, were helpless against this onslaught. A mere spitball left a bruise, and harsh language could cause major organ failure. Soon the whole school system was rubble, and our cities soon followed.

Leaving us here, roaming the countryside in search of shelter and sustenance. Youth is no longer an excuse; all children over three must do their part to defend our salvaged schoolbus against the hordes of marauders. We’ve assembled a fully sustainable convoy, with all the rich experiences of a working farm — the livestock truck, the agro-flatbed, everything we need to make it through a day. There are weapons to be built, water to be mined, crude engine fuel to be brewed. And if they learn something along the way? I call that a win-win. Our rooftop catapult is physics in action. Fermented food storage is chemistry in action. Using our turds as a gasoline replacement doesn’t work, turns out, but it’s a nice idea. A-plus for creativity.

Truly, it’s a wonderful opportunity, a blessing in disguise. The rotting corpse of a diseased cow? The circle of life. The zombie hordes? Vibrant group psychology, as well as interesting ethical quandaries. The failed nanotube space elevator is an instructive emblem of man’s hubris, plus a great place to practice knot tying. What a time to be alive.

Unfortunately, due to previous pedagogical failures, no one knows how to fix anything, much less how to hold a weapon. The mobile windmill (a great lesson in alternative energy) broke months ago, and no one can figure out the spinny thing. The only certainty is constant movement.

Oh God. We regret everything. We have learned our lesson. May our deaths be relatively painless.

School in 2050: Utopia or dystopia? Click the response button below. Tag it with “Future of School.”

Illustrations by Scott Teplin. Gif by Chris Phillips for Bright.

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