The famous American SF-writer Isaac Asimov already anticipated
in the 1950s the developments in computer and communications technology. In this story he
depicts the world in the year 2157 when each child has his/her own machine teacher.
Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary. On the page headed
May 17, 2157, she wrote, 'Today Tommy found a real book!'
It was a very old book. Margie's grandfather once said that when he was a little boy his
grandfather told him that there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.
They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words
that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to - on a screen, you know. And
then, when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that it had had when
they read it the first time.
'Gee', said Tommy, 'what a waste. When you are through with the book, you must throw it away,
I guess. Our television screen must have had a million books on it and it's good for plenty more.
I wouldn't throw it away.'
'Same with mine', said Margie. She was eleven and hadn't seen as many textbooks as Tommy had. He was thirteen.
She said, 'Where did you find it?'
'In my house.' He pointed without looking, because he was busy reading. 'In the attic.'
'What's it about?'
Margie was scornful. 'School? What's there to write about school? I hate school.'
Margie always hated school, but now she hated it more than ever. The mechanical teacher had been
giving her test after test in geography and she had been doing worse and worse until her mother had
shaken her head sorrowfully and sent for the County Inspector. ...
She said to Tommy, 'Why would anyone write about school?'
Tommy looked at her with very superior eyes. 'Because it's not our kind of school, stupid.
This is the old kind of school that they had hundred of years ago.' He added loftily, pronouncing the word carefully,
Margie was hurt. 'Well, I don't know what kind of school they had all that time ago.' She read the book over his shoulder for
a while, then said, 'Anyway, they had a teacher.'
'Sure they had a teacher, but it wasn't a regular teacher. It was a man.'
'A man? How could a man be a teacher?'
'Well, he just told the boys and girls things and gave them homework and asked them questions.'
'A man isn't smart enough.'
'Sure he is. My father knows as much as my teacher.'
'He can't. A man can't know as much as a teacher.'
'He knows almost as much, I betcha.'
Margie wasn't prepared to dispute that. She said, 'I wouldn't want a strange man in my house to teach me.'
Tommy screamed with laughter.
'You don't know much, Margie. The teacher didn't live in the house. They had a special building and
all the kids went there.'
'And all the kids learnt the same thing?'
'Sure, if they were the same age.'
'But my mother says a teacher has to be adjusted to fit the mind of each boy and girl
it teaches and that each kid has to be taught differently.'
'Just the same they didn't do it that way then. If you don't like it, you don't have to read
'I didn't say I didn't like it,' Margie said quickly. She wanted to read about those funny schools.
They weren't even half finished when Margie's mother called, 'Margie! School!'
Margie lokked up. 'Not yet, Mamma.'
'Now!' said Mrs. Jones. 'And it's probably time for Tommy, too.'
Margie said to Tommy, 'Can I read the book some more with you after school?'
'Maybe,' he said nonchalantly. He walked away whistling, the duty old book tucked beneath his arm.
Margie went into the schoolroom. It was right next to her bedroom, and the mechanical teacher
was on and waiting for her. It was always on at the same time every day except Saturday and Sunday, because her mother said
little girls learned better if they learned at regular hours.
The screen was lit up, and it said: 'Today's arithmetic lesson is on the addition of proper fractions. Please insert
yesterday's homework in the proper slot.'
Margie did so with a sigh. She was thinking about the old schools they had when her grandfather's grandfather was a
little boy. All the kids from the whole neighborhood came, laughing, and shouting in the
schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day.
They learned the same things, so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it.
And the teachers were people...
The mechanical teacher was flashing on the screen: 'When we add the fractions 1/2 and 1/4...'
Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking abaout the fun they had.
From Isaac Asimov's Earth is Room Enough
1. What did Margie and Tommy find unusual about the old book?
2. What is school like in the year 2157 and in how far is it different from today's schools?
3. Do you fear that CD-Roms and the Internet will one day lead to such a school described in the story?
4. Where from you do learn most: school, parents, modern media, friends or reading books privately? Give reasons.
5. Taking into account the recent negative findings about German pupils in the OECD PROGRAMME FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ASSESSMENT (PISA),
what, do you think, are the gravest shortcomings in our schools and what should be done about them?