I wrote this piece back in 1987. It’s a light-hearted commentary on the state of American education, linked to the beginning of construction on the English Channel tunnel. Despite the dated reference, its premise remains relevant, and I offer it here for whatever amusement (or satirical value) it might still have. I’ve attached a few bonus thoughts at the end.
HEY, LET’S NOT WASTE ALL THAT WASTE!
It’s not your everyday problem – how to get rid of 25 million cubic feet of chalk marl. But our friends, the French and English, are soon to confront it.
On December 1, they begin digging the long-awaited rail tunnel under the English Channel. By completion, a few years from now, they will have hauled up enough raw chalk to build the Great Pyramid of Egypt three times over.
Meanwhile, we in America have our own problem. We have high school seniors who can’t place World War I in the correct century. We have college freshmen who think Einstein invented the light bulb. For some reason, our kids aren’t learning the basic facts about their past.
Now, it’s clear what the French and English need. They need a process that consumes chalk – lots of it. It’s clear what we Americans need. We need a process that gets kids to remember basic facts. Question: Wasn’t there once a process that taught kids basic facts and consumed chalk?
Right, it was called Education.
As memory serves, it worked this way: Chalk would be shipped into classrooms in small boxes, the chalk shaped into solid, cigarette-like cylinders. These chalk cylinders differed from the felt-tip markers now in use. They didn’t dry out when you held them straight up. And the first one you grabbed worked. You didn’t have to try three or four others first.
Because they were easy to use, teachers would greatly encourage their use. When young Johnny would say, “Einstein? Like, um, didn’t he invent the light bulb?” – teacher would hand Johnny a cylinder of this chalk and send him to the chalkboard, where he would be encouraged to write a thousand times, “Edison invented the light bulb.”
In the process, five or six cylinders of chalk would be worked down to the nub. When the board was covered with scrawl, the teacher would say, “Now, Johnny, who invented the light bulb?” And Johnny would say, “Like, um, Edison?” And the teacher would say, “Good, Johnny, now erase the chalkboard and don’t forget to clap the erasers when you’re done.”
And young Johnny, after erasing the chalkboard, would lean out the classroom window and clap the erasers, sending clouds of chalk dust billowing into the ozone (We are only today finding out that the protective layer of ozone was always, chiefly, chalk dust.)
That’s how it worked. By converting five or six cylinders of chalk into chalk dust, a student would learn that Edison invented the light bulb. Chalk, in a word, was the solid fuel of education.
Now, the French and the English have well-chalked educational systems. They don’t need any more. Fact is, at great expense, they are planning to dispose of all this chalk marl by leveling old construction dumps, and filling in World War II bomb craters on the French coast, and reinforcing sea walls over by Dover.
What a waste of waste!
It’s likely that we Americans could have all that chalk for the asking, simply by providing transport. Think of it – 25 million cubic feet of chalk stoking those dormant furnaces of American education: our classrooms. It boggles the mind. It might even unboggle minds.
So France, England – send us the wretched refuse of your teeming shore (or offshore). We could use it.
You wonder how many times the Creator has looked down on the human circus and said, , "You couldn't think this up."
"Know thyself, or at least keep renewing the acquaintance."
"I've concluded, after many years, that my mind works by process of elimination, although, as yet, it hasn't actually eliminated anything."
"What makes child-raising difficult is that each day you have to start with the child you have raised so far."
"You wonder if the nuclear holocaust that destroys one world is the Big Bang that starts the next."
"One thing you find when you consent to being a doormat -- they want you to say WELCOME."
"As a way to get to know new people, try giving a little more attention to the people you know."
"I have this theory: maybe, over millions of years, buried bones get larger by absorbing calcium from the earth's crust. Nah, dinosaurs make more sense."
~ Robert Brault