"Dans une grande âme"
[Monday, December 1, 2014]
Genna sat down at her desk
and got ready for work.
She had a better desk now,
set up in the corner of her office --
not as nice as the one that she'd
had to sell, but made of solid wood
even if it had come in a box from
a build-your-own furniture store.
It held an assortment of school supplies,
an ergonomic mouse and keyboard,
a set of surround-sound speakers,
and a three-screen monitor bank.
Hatter had wanted her to have more,
but Genna had insisted that she didn't
have the skill to handle more, so he
had relented and let her buy this.
He had, however, insisted on
providing the brains of the unit,
which was the size of a minifridge
and tucked into the spine of the desk.
She logged onto BlackSheep.
There were no urgent messages,
just the usual questions from students
in her inbox, and none of them were
in the school pasture yet, either.
Genna answered the questions,
none of which took long, and then
split her screens -- one for browsing
the other pastures, one for school notes,
and one for the inevitable research.
She had to admit it was much easier
to handle all that information when she
could spread it out like this, instead of
having to squint at a tiny split screen
or page back and forth between tabs.
With that set up, Genna scanned
for other teachers currently online.
Hatter was gradually adding some
of the more challenging students,
and she could really use advice.
When Genna spotted Grande_âme
in The_Teachers_Lounge, she
hurried to join the conversation.
Gem_Mom has entered the pasture.
Grande_âme: Hi, Gem_Mom, what's up?
Gem_Mom: Oh, the usual. Wrangling kids,
my own and everyone else's, it seems like.
Grande_âme: I know the feeling. Two more
of my students have decided that they
want to take a summer trip to France.
Gem_Mom: Good for them. It will
be the experience of a lifetime.
Grande_âme: Trouble is, neither
of their families can afford it. Not all of
our attendees are rich, despite what
people say about private schools.
Genna's hands danced over the keys,
running a search on another screen.
Gem_Mom: Would those families
accept help, or would that offend them?
Grande_âme: One of them would jump
on it in a heartbeat. The other might take
some convincing. We've already assigned
all our scholarships for the year, though.
Genna copied and pasted excerpts and links
listing sources from Triton Teen Center
to Le Petit Jardin and Cinc Francs,
then sent the file to the pasture.
Gem_Mom: Here, try these.
Lots of places have funding for
students who want to travel abroad.
Maybe something will pan out.
Grande_âme: Thank you so much!
How's the llama farming these days?
Genna managed to giggle instead of
wince at the oblique reference to
her 'unspecified family drama'
that she had mentioned before
but never in any real detail.
Gem_Mom: It's coming along.
Some days are harder than others.
School is getting busier, too -- I have
more students now, and they have
more problems of their own.
I could help you with?
Gem_Mom: Not unless you
can wave a magic wand and make
body-image issues disappear.
She had several primal soups in
her class now, each a different species
and all of them with body-image problems.
Grande_âme: Not quite, but close.
We deal with it all the time, and
we have whole programs for that.
You'll need mirrors, and I can tell
you where to get our class materials.
Gem_Mom: Mirrors?! That sounds
like the opposite of helpful here.
Grande_âme: I know, but it works.
Start with ones that don't throw
an actual reflection, like frosties,
pebbled glass, or mosaics. Then
work up to funhouse mirrors and flats.
Gem_Mom: What will that do?
Grande_âme: It helps them see
how much of the world is illusion
or distortion. Kids love the colors
and funny shapes, too. When you
start with things that are shiny but
don't cast a real reflection, then
it's not as distressing to them.
Gem_Mom: Thanks. I'm game
to try just about anything by now.
Grande_âme: Here's my favorite place
to shop for children's mirrors. They're
priced for school use, not home use,
sorry about that. If it's too steep,
tell me and I'll send more, but
cheap mirrors are a last resort.
Images of broken clips and scratched plastic
made Genna wince. Fortunately, price
wouldn't pose a barrier for her students.
Gem_Mom: It's okay. I have
a decent budget. I'll start with
one item per child, then use
their responses to decide
what I should do next.
Browsing through the pages,
Genna made her selections.
She picked out frosted mirrors
and soft toys with flexible mirrors
for the youngest children. Those
would show motion but not
capture a clear image.
For the older ones, she
bought mirror puzzles of
brushed steel that would
serve as fidgets, and sets of
the fiendishly difficult Bellz!
She included a note that
the latter game could easily be
adjusted for different skill levels
simply by spreading out the bells,
and the chunky magnet wand
could even be held in the mouth
if wrapped in a foam sleeve.
Several of her students had
lost a lot of their dexterity in
manifesting animal traits.
Then, just because she could,
she bought a matched set of
clear and frosted mirrors for
her younger kids to use in
science experiments, and
Bellz! for everyone to enjoy.
Gem_Mom: These things
are awesome. We can try Bellz!
at home for our next game night.
Grande_âme: Well, better
you than me. That game
is the very devil to play!
Just then, Genna's computer
chimed receipt of a message
coming in from Hatter.
When she opened it,
she found a file for
a new student.
Corin Driscoll was
seven years old, and
had somehow managed
to keep his shapeshifting
a secret for over a year --
until his former school had
locked him in an oubliette
for mocking the teachers,
where he then lost control.
Furious, his parents had
withdrawn him from the school
but had not found anywhere else
that could cope with his tendency
to mimic everyone and everything.
As Genna reviewed the file, she
realized something was wrong.
Punching a few keys, she said,
"I need to talk to Hatter, please."
"He's in a meeting at present,"
the secretary said. "What
is your call concerning?"
"He's made a mistake, and
we have to fix this before it can
get any worse," Genna said.
"Is this an emergency?"
The secretary's voice
sharpened a note.
"Not yet, and I'd like
to keep it that way,"
Genna said. "Let's say
it's urgent, rather than
an emergency, and needs
to be addressed today but
not necessarily right now."
"I will let him know, and he'll
get back to you as soon as
he can," the secretary said.
"Thank you," Genna said.
While she waited, she read
more of Corin's file, wondered
what he was doing today,
and worried about him.
Within half an hour,
Hatter got back to her.
"What's the problem?"
he said briskly, his voice
a crisp Northeast bark.
"You assigned Corin Driscoll
to Ocean Pearls Academy, but
it's all wrong for him," Genna said.
"What makes you say that?"
Hatter said, sounding unhappy.
"This kid needs to be with people,
not staring at a screen," Genna said.
"Depriving him of people to mimic
would be like depriving him of air."
"The old school called him
autistic," Hatter said. "They
complained that he mocked
everyone by mimicking them."
"The old school locked him
in a fucking closet," Genna said.
"I wouldn't trust them if they
said the sky was blue."
Hatter's soft chuckle
several different voices.
"Well, neither would I.
What do you think?"
"Corin shows traits that
people think of as autistic,
but I think they relate more to
his superpowers," Genna said.
"He needs to mimic people;
it's his nature and his strength.
Punishing him for that is abuse."
"We agree on that," Hatter said,
a crackle of ice underlying his words.
"Then we need to find Corin
a new school that can support
his need for copying," Genna said.
"You don't think that will make
his echolalia worse?" Hatter said.
"That's a risk, but I think it's a lot lower
than other options," Genna said. "Kids
go through several phases of mimicry and
independence. Corin is eight now, and
there are two thresholds coming up --
tween and teen. If he doesn't start
differentiating more by then, I'll worry,
but I doubt that will happen."
"All right," Hatter said. "I doubt
another public school would fare
much better than this one. So,
what else do you suggest?"
"Either Montessori or Waldorf
could work," Genna said, tilting
one hand and then the other. "Both
of those teach a lot by demonstration
and encourage meaningful movement."
"But?" Hatter said, his voice warbling
over several notes as he spoke.
"But they're not the best fit," she said,
thinking about Grande_âme. "I suggest
the Reflétant l’école, which means
'reflecting school' in French. They're
often done as immersion schools,
but they don't have to be."
"How will it help to teach
him French?" Hatter asked in
an elegant Parisian accent.
"Corin will just echo that too."
"I'm sure he will, but that's not why I
recommend this system," Genna said,
her hands mirroring each other. "It teaches
primarily by demonstration, not by reading
or lecturing. That makes it a perfect fit
for a shapeshifter's learning style."
"Compelling argument," Hatter said.
"What's it like? I've never heard of it."
"Most people haven't," Genna said.
"Reflétant l’école came from Vermont.
Its densest clusters are in the Northeast
and Louisiana. There are some around
River City and Chicago, another cluster
in Michigan, and a few scattered about.
Most places, they're rare or absent."
She flicked up a map that showed
the Franco-American population,
followed by one of the schools.
"There are none in Wyoming, where
the Driscolls live," Hatter said. "So
that doesn't do us much good."
"Try searching for nannies,
governesses, or tutors and
cross-reference that with
the school," Genna said.
"Ah! There are three in
Wyoming," Hatter said.
"How did you know?"
"Reflétant l’école is one
of the rare systems that
works equally well at home
or in a classroom," Genna said.
"The methodology has its roots in
upper-class Franco-American culture,
so plenty of parents had hired help."
"That makes sense," Hatter said,
drifting into a warm Creole voice.
"Plus it's the only school that shows
every student both how to learn and how
to teach, because the older kids help teach
the younger ones," Genna said. "Around
a quarter of the students go into education or
some related field, and that includes nannies
and such using it in a home environment."
"You're right, Corin is going to love this,
if you can convince his parents -- and
if they can access it," Hatter said.
"Well, they have several options,"
Genna said. "One, they can move
near a school. Two, they can hire
someone to teach Corin at home.
Three, they can homeschool him
using the same methods. Four,
they could start with a nanny or
homeschooling, while working
to move closer to a school."
"Two of the nannies I found are
currently job-hunting," Hatter said.
"I'm not surprised," Genna said.
"There probably isn't much call
for their specialty out there."
"Then why would they
bother?" Hatter said.
"They probably have family
there, or some other reason
to stay," Genna said. "As for
Reflétant l’école itself, it's
beautiful and inspiring."
"I'm listening," Hatter said.
"Tell me more about it."
"Let me show you instead,"
Genna said, opening the website
for Colette's school in Montpelier.
"The first thing you'll notice is that
they use a lot of mirrors. That helps
the students think critically about
what they see, how real it is."
The entrance had a row of
funhouse mirrors, and the lobby
let into the reflecting room
which had a different set.
"I can see how that would be
enormously useful to a shapeshifter,"
Hatter said. "How will the other students
respond, though? Corin was bullied at
his old school, including by teachers."
"Well, they'll watch him, because
they watch everything; but they're
less likely to tease, because Corin
could see them from all angles, too,"
Genna said. "When you're surrounded
by images of everyone, you learn to see
things in a more accepting way."
She clicked through images
of the toddler room. "Children
enter Reflétant l’école when they
actively start mimicking adults, so
the toddler room shows them how
to watch a demonstration and
then repeat the performance."
"They really do use a lot of
mirrors," Hatter said, counting
them under his breath.
"For toys, decoration,
observation, and more,"
Genna agreed. "Compare
that to a grade school classroom.
See all the different stations? They
let the teachers move around to show
different lessons. The teacher-student
ratio there is about one to ten."
"So either very small classes, or
larger ones with several teachers,"
Hatter mused. "Interesting."
"Older students often have
a classroom with a mirror wall,"
Genna said. "It's similar to
the dance studio, only
it doesn't have a barre."
"Dance studio?" Hatter said.
"Reflétant l’école doesn't do much
with conventional sports, so their setup
for physical education is different,"
Genna said, tabbing through pictures.
"They teach ballet, ballroom dance,
yoga, meditation, swimming, and so on
rather than basketball or football."
"Why are there fashion plates
under Home Economics?"
Hatter said. Genna could
almost hear his face scrunch,
even with the computerized voice
and the swirling video screen.
"The school teaches students
how to dress in different styles
and for different occasions,"
she explained. "French fashion
is the default, but the kids can
choose others -- experimentation
and copying each other are both
encouraged. Some of them will
grow up to work in fashion, too."
"And the bathtubs?" Hatter said.
"Kids need to know how to clean,
how to decorate, how to care for
a home," Genna said. "So Home Ec
has a suite with all the basic rooms
to practice in. You don't see these kids
getting to college and not knowing how
to do laundry without turning the sheets pink!"
"What about other specialty rooms?"
Hatter wondered. "Is it all fashion stuff?"
"No, they have a fine arts room where
students practice self-portraits with mirrors
and then take turns modeling for each other,"
Genna said. "The science lab does a lot
of studying the behavior of light, and
horticulture outside in the gardens.
"I wonder how many STEMZ majors
they turn out," Hatter mused.
"I don't know," Genna said.
"Hit the careers tab, and it'll
tell you the most common ones."
"Not listed, unless you count
painting as chemistry," Hatter said.
Genna ran another search. "Look,
the inventor of creme pastels
came out of Reflétant l’école."
"That definitely counts," Hatter said.
"I admit STEMZ isn't the main focus
of this school, so it's not for everyone,"
Genna said. "It really appeals to folks
who love the fine arts or French culture,
though. They get a lot of students from
French-speaking native tribes for that,
and they're just as happy to incorporate
Native American arts as European ones."
"Well, that's good to know," Hatter said.
"We don't get a lot of recruits from tribes,
but the ones we do tend to be hard put."
"There's a lot of bad history, especially
regarding schools, but alternative ones
can help," Genna said. "We have to try."
"My word! That's a student performance?"
Hatter exclaimed, highlighting a stage.
Genna looked at the snapshot from
The Hunchback of Notre Dame with
its great shining bells. "Apparently so.
The drama club runs a lot of French plays.
Other students can get class credit for
making props, sets, and costumes.
Check out the workshop spaces."
"Corin could make an amazing actor,
if people would let him," Hatter said
as he browsed the prop workshops,
the costume worship, and the studio.
"I am determined to change the world
so that people no longer get shut out of
work just for developing superpowers."
"I am all on board with that," Genna said.
"I think that by the time Corin grows up,
he'll have a lot more freedom to be
whatever he wants to be than
other people do right now."
"And you, Genna?" said Hatter.
"Are you what you want to be?
I worry, sometimes, that I might
have ... press-ganged you."
"Black hat," she said gently.
"I'm learning to live with that.
Mostly, I'm happy with things."
"What would you change,
if you could?" Hatter said.
Genna gave a wistful sigh.
"Well, there are programs for
alternative education -- not just
certification in one system, like
I took with Montessori, but
comparing and contrasting
educational styles in general.
I'd love to take one of those,
but couldn't possibly afford it."
"Pick one," Hatter said. "It's in
every job we have, you're entitled
to more training if you want it -- or
even if you want to retrain and
switch to some other job."
"And they call you supervillains,"
Genna said, shaking her head.
"Well ... we do have classes in
manipulation, sabotage, and
other mayhem," he admitted.
"Like the Army doesn't?" she said.
"It's not just about what you do, but about
why you do it and what results you get. You
just said that you wanted to make the world
a better place for soups. I may not always
approve of your methods, but I am a grownup
and I know how to cope with differences."
"Thank you," Hatter said softly.
"I find that your regard ... means
more to me than I expected."
"That's what friendship is,"
Genna said. "So, what are
we going to do about Corin?"
"I'm going to back out before I
make matters worse," Hatter said.
"You're going to write a summary
of your suggestions for his parents."
"I can do that," Genna said. "I have
a class coming up soon, but I can
start the summary after class."
"I would also very much like
another summary aimed at
other shapeshifters to describe
the benefits of Reflétant l’école,"
Hatter said. "The younger ones
might enroll, and perhaps we
could hire tutors for the adults."
"Corin has to come first, but
I'm willing to do the other one
after that," Genna replied.
"Then I'll leave you to
your work," Hatter said.
"I don't know how you do it."
"Dans une grande âme tout est grand,"
Genna said, and finally got the last word.
* * *
This poem runs long, so the character, location, and content notes appear separately.