What We Should Be Saying

Submitted into Contest #198 in response to: Write a story about an unconventional teacher.... view prompt

15 comments

Contemporary High School Speculative

This story contains sensitive content

CW: Language, Politics, Truth.


{a high school graduation}


{a crowd applauds}


“Thank you. When Paul asked me to deliver the commencement address to Lake View High’s Graduating Class of 2023-”


{applause}


“... yes, well, I truly thought your principal had lost his marbles.”


{audience laughs}


“I even gave him a second chance this morning to rescend the invitation - for the Love of God, pick somebody else - but he declined the offer, and insisted I speak.”


{audience laughs}


“So I asked him, who wants to hear from some grumpy old Econ teacher anyway? He mumbled something about my 30 years at Lake View and the collected wisdom I should share before retirement. Whatever, fool.


{heavier laughter, applause}


“So, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll apologize in advance, as most of you know me as a cantankerous asshole.”


{laughter}


“Nothing I’m about to say will give you hope or make you happy. It is, however, something I feel you need to hear, what you need to be prepared for.”


{laughter, murmers}


“Sunscreen.”


{laughter}


“Lee Perry said it first and it still holds true today. Always wear sunscreen, it’s the best advice there is, but I’ll start with … ”


“Facts.”


“OECD metrics show the US ranks at the bottom of math and science scores across 30 industrialized countries - a condition that has persisted since 2003 and has made no measurable improvement.”


“Whereas, most of you leave high school unprepared for higher-wage work in the STEM fields, and will require a post-secondary degree to compete for those positions.”


“In saying this, only a third of you will complete a post-secondary degree; less than twenty-three percent a Bachelor's; less than eight percent a Master’s.”


“Thus, roughly 70% of the American workforce cannot access those higher-paying jobs. The economic implications alone are staggering - it represents a downward spiral of growth and poverty - but let’s focus on you for a moment, because it’s really all about you, isn’t it?”


{audience laughs}


“Think about it: what will it mean to you when a majority of Americans have no spending power in a country where consumer spending makes up 70% of GDP?”


“Meanwhile, speaking to the thirty percent of you that will receive a degree, you’ll earn 1.5 times more than the high school graduate but be crippled by debt. The average student loan balance in the US is $38.7 thousand dollars whereas most of you will carry balances greater than $50,000, depressing your income potential well into your 40’s and putting downward pressure on your ability to maximize wealth.”


{audience mumbles}


“What will it mean if you and your peers aren’t able to save for retirement or healthcare expenses? Or are unable to buy a house because of mismatched debt to income ratios?”


{more grumbling}


“Automation.”


“Between diminishing opportunity and automation, your generation will face the most competitive job market in American history. You are unprepared for this reality.”


{audience murmurs, checks their phone because they’re bored}


“Aside from the limited jobs and labor pool, producers, driven by the profit motive, will tend towards deploying robots rather than hiring you. Goldman Sachs reported in 2023 that 300 million jobs worldwide will be lost to AI before 2030; current projections show 100% of the world’s goods and services produced by only 2% of its labor by 2050.”


“That’s 98% systemic unemployment as I realize most of you may need help with the math. Do you honestly think we can retrain people that fast? 


{audience grumbles}


“Please consider: what will it mean when 98% of you are unemployed when you’re 50?”


{silence}


“In the short run, with no education to bargain for higher wages, and less than eight percent of the workforce in a union, low-skilled labor will be the first to be displaced, risking life-long poverty.”


“So if you’re planning to walk out of here without a plan for college, and that’s seventy percent of you, you’re fucked. You’re destined to be a dependent forever. Parents: please take note. This will affect you as well.”


{some laughter, and someone from the crowd yells, “My son’s already told me he’s never leaving!”}


{the old teacher points to the guy in the crowd and continues}


“Real Wages.”


“The lucky 30-percent, post-secondary graduates will enter a job market where human labor is discounted. Until recently, real wages haven’t risen materially since the 1970’s. Costs have gone up where earnings have not, not unless you’re a CEO where earnings have increased more than 1000% in the same time period. And may God help you if you have brown skin or a vagina. In 2021, women earned $.82 as compared to their male counterparts; $.76 for blacks as compared to white men -  overall, black households’ net worth is 13% of white households. Wealth inequity is rampant, and we, as a society ruled by old rich white men, do not give a fuck.”


{brief chuckles in the back}


“If wages are not commensurate with inflation, what will that mean to you? Your friends? Your Family?”


{silence}


“Truth.”


“Capitalism’s function is to root out inefficiencies. Human beings - comparatively inefficient to automation - will be ground into the dirt, and you must prepare yourself for this.”


“No jobs are waiting for you. Nobody will read your resume. Nobody cares what your interests are outside of school. You will be a number, a faceless result in a broader query. You must think about how filters work to disqualify you from every job you will apply for, or elevate you to increase your prospects of being captured in their datasets.”


“Sounds unfair? Yes, there is no such thing as a fair market. Our laws have been engineered to favor the rich and powerful; i.e., not you. There is nothing fair about our system. Be prepared for unfairness.”


{laughter, light applause}


“The American Dream - this crap about a house and financial freedom - is a lie.”


{applause}


“The American Reality is indentured servitude. Your value will be measured by a credit score reflecting your income and payment habits to monied interests. Most of you will own nothing but debt, accumulate no retirement or savings, and be straddled with healthcare expenses that exceed the value of your home. You exist to pay others. You will be worth more when you die than when you were alive.”


{the parents in the audience grumble}


“Capitalism does not care about you. It is not intended to benefit the many, but to reward the few, and if left unchecked, it destroys. It will be up to your generation to change it, or at the least temper it, so it’s less draconian and more compassionate, more socialist. If you can, leave the United States. I recommend Finland.”


{slight laughter from the audience, and someone yells, “Finland, Finland, Finland!”}


“Tokens.”


“Throughout your life, most of you will be convinced to work for nothing in return for what is intrinsically worthless yet may carry a perception of value. A token.”


“You will turn to tokens because Capitalism has robbed you of everything else.”


“Whether it is social appreciation - likes, follows, retweets - or bitcoin, or selling images of your body, or trading wear on your car and your personal time to deliver tacos to some asshole who lives three blocks away, or sacrificing your personal information, or making any kind of art, you will be gifted non-currency. Tokens.”


“Your expenses, labor, good looks, and creativity will make you nothing, but they will make someone else money. Beware of tokens; they are a false currency. You cannot eat them.”


{some of the audience check their phones, amazed at how many tokens they’ve collected in the last five minutes; some even raise their phones to take pictures and earn themselves new tokens by sharing their content on social media}


“Homelessness.”


“Approximately 582,000 people in the US were unhoused in January 2022. Homelessness is not a moral failing, but a visible consequence of Capitalism doing its job. Their numbers are the canaries in the coal mine. If you are annoyed by people ‘camping’ in streets, blocking your access to your favorite Starbucks for your morning latte, consider what forced them there in the first place. Consider when it’ll be your time, when you’ll be on the streets. 98% systemic unemployment.”


{audience gossips, telling each other about how bad the highway overpass has become}


“Human Toxicity.”


“In the information age, stagnant ideas are corrosive. They sit, lodged in the back of the mind, rotting, fermenting opinion, and corrupting anyone else they touch.”


“Humans, and by which I mean people - companies, organizations, social groups and churches, friends, parents, co-workers - dislike change, as it destabilizes their worldview, where their stagnant, dumb ideas have taken root.”


“Take any hot-button idea - be it human rights and civil liberty, racism, homophobia and transphobia, gender fluidity, sexual orientation, immigration, economics, political misinformation, bodily autonomy, ‘boot straps’, climate change, fossil fuels, the physical and psychological effects of American professional football - it doesn’t matter.”


“If someone in your world is unwilling to change their position based on new evidence or data, leave them, or wall them off, for they are poisonous. Toxic. You are better off without them. Convincing someone of the obvious is not worth your precious time. Instead, seek to surround yourself with people who are willing to accept new evidence, think critically, and adapt.”


{the audience, unsettled, writhe in their chairs, looking at each other with deep skepticism}


“Civil Unrest.”


“I’m not here to win a popularity contest. I don’t care what you think or believe. But I’ll tell you this.”


“In addition to your inevitable disintermediation from the workforce and extremely bleak prospects, very soon, the world will go to war over clean water.


{the audience murmers}


“One billion people alone will be dislocated due to rising sea levels - and, sidenote: your parents think immigration’s bad now, just wait until Texans and Floridians arrive in Kansas looking for a new home.”


{grumbling, laughing, some people start standing}


“What will happen when three billion people between China and India don’t have enough to drink? Why, they will turn desperate, hard-line, fascist.”


“Everywhere, democracies are upending in favor of totalitarian governments due to a shrinking middle class and rising levels of poverty and powerlessness.”


{angry shouts from the crowd}


“And don’t think the US is somehow immune from upheaval. The most positive outcome for the United States to remedy its political division is an outright rejection of Federalism through civil war, whereas the worst is a nuclear holocaust. Don’t be concerned about Trump - be afraid of who follows him! Only the naive think we’re going to just shake hands and makeup with our neighbors. We’ll eat them, lest we break ourselves into smaller political components.”


{people start standing up, heading for the door}


“And all of this is in your time. You have the misfortune of following those who did nothing, said nothing, tried nothing, and I deeply regret my role in your suffering. I am sorry! You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve to inherit a world that has no future!”


{security guards begin pulling the teacher away from the podium; the teacher struggles}


“I-I hope you are different and will do something - try anything - to change our trajectory! To strive for bigger meaning! To fight for the benefit of all rather than your own myopic, narcissistic, selfish interests! There’s value in truth! It’s what we should be saying!”


{Leaning into the mic…}


“But-but hey, hey - trust me on the sunscreen!”


{the old man is dragged off stage}


{end scene}


May 14, 2023 18:56

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15 comments

Drizzt Donovan
13:08 Aug 07, 2023

It’s good. Prefer your halflings I must say.

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Russell Mickler
14:59 Aug 07, 2023

Laugh - me, too - it was a spontaneous rant, what can I say? Hi Drizzt! (great name - wink!) Thanks for reading :) R

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Drizzt Donovan
23:29 Aug 12, 2023

Have you read the Drizzt books?

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Russell Mickler
00:38 Aug 13, 2023

R.A.Salvatore is required reading in my house, as much as Wies and Hickman. D&D-inspired novels in the eighties and nineties :) oh yah!

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Drizzt Donovan
00:55 Aug 13, 2023

Good

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Aeris Walker
01:06 May 31, 2023

It's easy to see your own passion for politics/economics coming through the writing here. And your points all have a smooth, logical flow, that by the end, no one can deny the reality of some of these issues. I think you summed this up so well: “The American Reality is indentured servitude. Your value will be measured by a credit score reflecting your income and payment habits to monied interests. Most of you will own nothing but debt, accumulate no retirement or savings, and be straddled with healthcare expenses that exceed the value of yo...

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Russell Mickler
01:27 May 31, 2023

Hey Aeris! Grin thank you! It came out came out kind of ranty at the end but I found some catharsis writing it :) glad you enjoyed it … R

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John Werner
23:10 May 25, 2023

Expert use of Baz! If someone in your world is unwilling to change their position... This spoke to me. Instead of speaking to the mind or wallet this paragraph felt like it spoke to the heart and being mindful of who we let in. And then strive for bigger meaning. For me... These words were your most powerful and drove your message home. Thank you for sharing.

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Chris Miller
19:18 May 24, 2023

A sad truth that he's unconventional because he's truthful. I enjoyed it, although I am not sure I should have... Thanks for sharing, please accept a token.

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Russell Mickler
19:53 May 24, 2023

HA! Laugh, oh that's rich - thank you, Chris, I will gladly accept your token :) Thank you! Yeah, I wish I had something more positive to tell kids these days but, jesh ... ! R

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Martin Ross
17:09 May 22, 2023

PREACH! Wish I’d had that commencement speech (though I blew off my own cap-and-gown moment to take my poverty pay first job a half-state away, missing Burgess Meredith in the process😢😢😢). Covering policy and economics for 27 years, I can say economists were among my favorite people. They told it straight, vetted with the facts, and my God, TRIED to teach my farmer audience the realities of an evolving market, society, and the world. You nailed the economist’s voice, integrity, and desperate frustration toward a populace that prefers delusi...

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Russell Mickler
14:26 May 23, 2023

Snicker - and there we go again with more similarities - I was an econ minor in my bachelor's program, specializing in IT in my master's. I love econ and probably pay attention to US and world economics/politics more than I should :) It's an unhealthy obsession, really. I'm always reading The Economist or listening to NPR ... Gina calls it my newsfix habit. :) >> Wish I’d had that commencement speech Laugh - I was at one the other day and listening to what these people were saying, and when I saw the prompt, I was ... well, I was just comp...

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Martin Ross
15:38 May 23, 2023

My brother from another mother! I said that to a farmer buddy one time, and he looked uncertain if I was insulting his mom. The farmer next to him explained it to him, and then he looked uncertain whether he WANTED to be.

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Russell Mickler
15:52 May 23, 2023

HA!

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Lily Finch
01:08 May 15, 2023

Russell, I remember that song when it came out Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody Free" - May 31, 1999. Loved it then, and appropriate now. LOL I got a screenwriter vibe from your tale. Nothing that you wrote wasn't true. LF6

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