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Origin of the District

“At least, I’m done bringing stuff!” Linda thought. It was past two, and she ready for lunch, having been in the school building since 7:45 on nothing more than a lousy cup of gas station coffee.

Her 10th grade science classroom was finally ready for the first student day at North Lansdale High, and it looked even better than she had envisioned it. She had just taken half a dozen pictures of her amazing bulletin boards to post on Facebook later that evening.

Digging through her purse on her way down the hall, she was startled to find that she had no cash. Then she remembered that she had stuffed the change from a twenty into her side pocket at the gas station. She paused to count the wadded bills, being all too well aware that she had spent nearly a thousand dollars on a professional wardrobe—most of it charged to her credit card.  She couldn’t wait to start wearing it.

I need to make a hairdressing appointment, …and install that software on my laptop. She loved making lists and preparing for her first semester as a teacher required the longest, most detailed list she had ever made.  By now she was borderline euphoric to know that the end was in sight.

The moment she passed the Principal’s Office, Dr. Keller stepped out into the hall. “Ms. Moreno,” he said. “I need to speak with you.” 

She felt the twinge that all new employees feel when being summoned by a boss, though she knew that she was on top of things and it was all going well.

“Yes?” she said, passing through the door that he held open for her.

“I’ve reviewed your Semester One Syllabus…”


“For the most part, it looks good; but there are a few issues that we need to discuss.”

“Of course.”

“I know that you’re a first year teacher, so let me assure you that this is normal. Every first year teacher…and in fact, some of the seasoned ones…well…let’s just say that it’s rare for any new syllabus to be approved right off the bat with flying colors.”

“Yes. I understand.”

“Everything, in general looks pretty good. It’s obvious that you’ve studied and adhered to the District Curriculum Standards. You appear to have everything covered. It’s just that there are some…particulars… that go with North Lansdale High.”

“Beyond the District Standards?”

“I mean in order to conform to, and better serve, our community.”

“Good,” she said.  “To be perfectly candid, Dr. Keller, I thought that the District Standards looked a little bit lacking. I’m glad you raised the bar.”

Dr. Keller smiled. “That’s a good way to look at it!” he said. “One of the most important things an educator learns is that it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ endeavor. What works over in West Edgemont, for example, may not work here at North Lansdale. Again, it’s just a matter of minor semantic adjustments.”

“A more advanced vocabulary?”

“Oh, No. We certainly don’t want to complicate things.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“I’m just talking about changing a few specific words. There are some words we don’t use here in our Science Program.”

“What sort of words?”

Dr. Keller pointed to an empathically-circled word on her syllabus. “Now then,” he began. “The first word–and it’s the big one: ‘Evolution.’ We don’t ever use the word ‘Evolution’ at North Lansdale High.”

This makes no sense, she thought. “I’m sorry, Dr. Keller,” she said carefully, “but perhaps there’s some sort of misunderstanding. According to the District, one of the core objectives of the First Semester Curriculum is to teach the origins of life.”

“Yes. Absolutely!” Dr. Keller agreed. “And based on this syllabus, you’ll successfully meet that objective. You just need to replace the term, ‘Evolution’ with the term ‘Change Over Time.’

“But I can’t replace that term,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Of course you can!” Dr. Keller assured her calmly. “If you wrote this in Word, just do a ‘Find and Replace.’ It should only take a minute.”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Keller,” she said, deliberately. “The point I’m making is that ‘Change Over Time’ isn’t a scientific term.”

“It’s still essentially synonymous with evolution. More important, it’s a term that is far more sensitive and respectful to some of the members of our local community.”

“But this is a public school!”

“Yes. Exactly. That means that our school belongs to the local community. We are respectfully and democratically acknowledging that each citizen has a stake in it. North Lansdale happens to be a rather close-knit, traditional community.”

“By ‘traditional,’ do you mean Fundamentalist Christian?’”

“I would never bring religion into this. I’m just pointing out that our local residents are generally conservative.”

“With all due respect, Dr. Keller, the only people who would object to the term ‘Evolution’ are…”

“Let’s not get hung up on that little detail. If you have questions at the end, we can come back to them. Right now we need to move on to the other revisions.”

“Are there more revisions like that last one?”

“Very, very few, just a couple of terms and concepts. Like I said, all very minor.”
Linda began to speak, thought the better of it and nodded.

Dr. Keller continued. “For the sake of consistency, throughout the North Lansdale High School Biology program, we only use the term ‘Adaptation’ in a very specific context.”
Linda’s forehead wrinkled. “What do you mean?”

“Our Science teachers use the term ‘Adaptation’ to refer to a current change in a particular organism, for example the hummingbirds changing their migration pattern after Katrina because the trees are now gone. It’s against our policy to introduce the concept of ‘Adaptation’ as it might pertain to ‘Natural Selection.’

“But then how will I be able to teach Natural Selection?”

Dr. Keller smiled, “That’s where you get a break,” he said as if he were giving her the perfect birthday present. “You won’t teach it! We know that there’s nothing more difficult than trying to correctly teach a complicated concept when there isn’t sufficient time to fully explain it. The department bought this excellent movie for you to show instead.”
He handed her a DVD case with a photo of the Milky Way on the cover above the title, The Scientific Theory of Intelligent Design.

“Dr. Keller!”

“It’s a high quality production. It has wonderful computer graphics and incredible special effects. One of those well-known TV actors–I can’t think of his name—the guy who used to be on Growing Pains –narrates it. Last year the students really enjoyed it.”

“The District Standards didn’t mention anything about Intelligent Design.”

“Yes. As you observed earlier, we’re going above and beyond District Standards. We need to tailor our program to our community and we need to gear this Biology class toward every student’s success. Time is limited, and so you can’t afford to digress into a lot of extraneous detail.”

Extraneous detail. Such as…?”

“Such as… I don’t want you giving any hard numbers. Ever. For example, we don’t teach that something is, say, ‘100 million years old,’ we simplify it and teach that it’s ‘very old.’ General concepts are plenty at this level.”

Linda dug her nails into the palms of her hands, struggling. “Dr. Keller…. I …. I thought this general issue was settled with the Scopes Trial …something like eighty years ago!”

“Ms. Moreno, this isn’t college. You will be teaching a sophomore level Biology class in a public high school. Your students are fifteen years old, and you have them for forty-five minutes a day. We both know that at this rudimentary level, and with this limited amount of time, you won’t be able to squeeze everything in. Following my instructions will make your syllabus work here at North Lansdale.”

Linda persisted in an agony of politeness. “I’m very sorry, Dr. Keller, but I have to disagree. I think that my existing syllabus is very workable.”

“Yes, I’m sure you do. I understand,” Dr. Keller said in a patronizing tone. “I haven’t forgotten what it was like years ago when I was a first year teacher myself. First year teachers all walk in with ambitious plans and the idyllic notion that all of the students come to school wanting to learn. But once the semester starts, you’ll find that if things go well, you’ll still barely have time to cover the basics. There’s no time to teach something that will cause problems.”

“Proven scientific facts shouldn’t cause problems.”

“No. In a perfect world, they shouldn’t. But realistically speaking, if some of your students were to go home and tell their parents that we are proponents of Evolution, those parents might get on the phone with like-minded parents and then, before we knew it, the whole thing would snowball…”

“Dr. Keller, I really doubt that the snowball effect would happen. For one thing, it would have to be such a very small minority of parents who would strongly object…”

“It doesn’t matter how few or how many parents. It’s who those parents are that worries me.”

“I would agree with what you were saying if this were a private, parochial school with benefactors, and that’s exactly why I didn’t apply at any of those schools. North Lansdale is a public school.”

“Yes, and the members of the School Board have the power to veto–or approve–funding for a lot of our programs. In this community, if you were to insist on stating the exact ages of rocks, you could be personally responsible for invoking a funding reprisal that would undermine the quality of our entire school!”

Linda was silent for a moment. Finally, she said evenly, “Dr. Keller, classes start in less than two weeks. Why wasn’t this brought up when I came to interview?”

“If you had questions during the interview process, Ms. Moreno, it was your responsibility to ask them.”

“But I never imagined…”

“I would be very sorry to see you go…particularly in this economy.”

“I didn’t say anything about quitting. I’m just trying to understand why it is that a few weeks ago, you hired me to teach Science and now—today–you’re telling me that I’m not allowed to teach it.”

“I’m doing nothing of the sort. I’m requiring you to adjust your curriculum to the needs of our school. To put this into perspective, about thirty-five percent of North Lansdale seniors apply to college, and of that thirty-five percent, most enroll in a two-year certificate program at North Valley Community College. In other words, you’re not teaching future scientists!”

“But if we compromise the truth …”

“Listen, I interviewed seventeen qualified applicants for your position. I hired you because I thought you would be a good, young, female role model–particularly for our minority students. I would hate to think that this isn’t going to work out.”

“Dr. Keller…I didn’t apply to be a token Latina. I applied to be a Biology teacher. And I believe that I can be an excellent Biology teacher. But now, I feel like you’re… well…Are you threatening fire me?”

Dr. Keller, saw tears well up in her eyes. He would have to be careful. Few things looked worse than having a young teacher leave his office crying.  “Ms. Moreno,” he said gently.

“As oppressive as this may feel, North Lansdale isn’t the only public school making minor adjustments to the Biology curriculum these days.”

Linda nodded. “Yes. Of course, I’ve heard stories. I just didn’t think that this kind of scenario was…”

Dr. Keller interrupted. “I promise,” he said. “It’s not as big as it looks to you, but there are times in our lives when we all have to put aside own little notions for the sake of the big picture. Besides, I honestly think in many ways, it’s a very positive thing that so many schools are meeting the expectations of their local communities.”

“May I go now?”

“Yes. But remember, I need your revised syllabus in my inbox no later than day after tomorrow.”

She nodded.

Once outside his office, she hurried out of the building and across the hot parking lot thinking of her beautifully decorated classroom, her painstakingly prepared lesson plans, her thousand dollar’s worth of new clothes, her health insurance, her student loans, her fiancé, her parents …

No longer hungry for lunch, she drove past the coffee shop without a destination. Less than an hour earlier, she had known exactly who she was, what she wanted, and what she had to do. Being a newly-minted science teacher felt right, and everything had been under control. Now, it was as if someone had rolled the dice and sent her back to square one. …Only a few days left, and so much to figure out


Caroline Zarlengo Sposto lives in Memphis, Tennessee. She returned to creative writing very recently after spending many years working in electronic media. She has since won several fiction and poetry writing contests and one of her poems is in the current issue of Bloodroot Literary Magazine. She has a B.A. in English and an M.S. in Electronic Media.


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