Pollovic is at lunch in the Senate dining room with one of his constituents.
Miz Marma is a thirty-something teacher, who has won a special award for her innovative approaches to education.
Pollovic has been moody and depressed lately, but his staff have been working hard to find ways of cheering him up. Taking an attractive and intelligent young schoolteacher to lunch is definitely cheering him up today.
Pollovic is a bit surprised that he can think of Miz Marma as young. He's so used to being considered a "young" senator, he sometimes forgets that in more general terms he's quite middle aged.
Marma: It's so elegant, here. A far cry from the average school cafeteria.
Pollovic: To me, it's just where I eat lunch. But I'm glad you're enjoying it. You've certainly earned a bit of a reward.
Marma is ~~ openly enjoying ~~ the setting.
Marma: As to that, a teacher who can't convince her students to learn isn't doing her job, is she, now?
Pollovic: I suppose not. But you've done your job exceedingly well. And now you'll go home with a certificate to prove it.
Pollovic smiles and takes another sip of coffee.
Marma: I'm sure that will convince my students to learn their biology!
Marma: At that, I have it easy. It's my colleague Edwin, who teaches history, who really has the challenge. Children have a natural curiosity about their surroundings, but few of them care about events during their grandparents' lifetimes.
Marma takes a sip of her drink.
Pollovic: True. Most youngsters are fascinated by biology at that age. It's hard to make history seem as relevant to the young.
Marma: If it comes to that, I have more interference from some of the parents of my students.
Pollovic: I'd imagine so. How do you deal with it?
Marma: If persuasion doesn't work, I have to back down. At least in appearance.
Pollovic: And in reality?
Marma: It depends on what the information is, and how critical I think it is for my students.
Pollovic: I suspect the most critical bits are also the most controversial.
Marma: Some things I can compromise on: I'll spend a little time talking up farming, for instance, instead of taking other examples from non-domesticated plants and animals. On the other hand, there are some hot-button issues that require a more clandestine approach.
Marma looks at Pollovic ~~ frankly ~~.
Pollovic smiles and gestures for her to say more.
Marma: I'm not completely sure I should deprive you of "plausible deniability". On the other hand, I am rather proud of my subterfuge.
Pollovic: I'm not sure I've got much of a reputation left to lose.
Marma: Oh, dear, yes. I do want you to know that many folks back home think you were terribly brave.
Pollovic gives a much more genuine smile.
Pollovic: Thank you. Hearing that means a lot.
Marma smiles back.
Marma: You're welcome, I'm sure.
Marma settles back in her chair.
Marma: You're aware, I'm sure, that one of the most controversial recent additions to the curriculum has been the unit on adult biology? It's not that it's explicit, but we do have to cover the material objectively. And many parents feel strongly that such issues should not be taught objectively.
Pollovic: It's frightening how many people think nothing has changed since before Unity.
Marma: The parents who object most are those who want their children to learn about turning Sime in their churches. And what's taught there is usually not accurate or helpful, in my biased opinion.
Marma has strongly biased opinions that children ought to be provided with scientifically accurate information about the changes adulthood will make in their bodies.
Marma: Those parents are a minority, it's true, but they're a vocal one.
Pollovic: And they have centuries of tradition on their side.
Marma: I'm not such a fan of history as to think that excuses teaching children lies, or enforcing ignorance.
Pollovic: I couldn't agree more. But you and I are still in a minority, I'm afraid.
Pollovic takes another bite of potato salad.
Marma: Sadly, yes. Anyway, those parents who don't want their children to learn exercise their rights and take their children out of class during the adult biology unit.
Pollovic: And your solution to that is...?
Marma grins, making her look five years younger -- and quite a bit more attractive.
Marma: I'm very careful to defer completely to the wishes of the parents of these children.
Pollovic: Except that...?
Marma: I explain to my classes what the unit will cover, in detail, a week before I begin. Then I pass out the permission slips, and tell them that only kids who have signed slips will be allowed access to this information.
Pollovic gestures for her to continue.
Marma: I will admit to phrasing it in terms such as "Some parents think children should not be exposed to such material, on grounds of lack of maturity."
Marma's eyes twinkle.
Marma: And of course, this gets them very curious about the material. Especially the ones whose parents forbid them to take the class.
Pollovic: So then the creative youngsters...?
Marma: Well, there are several approaches I use.
Pollovic waves a fork in a "please continue" gesture.
Marma: When I pass out materials, such as pamphlets and handouts, I often forget to count just how many copies I ought to make -- a shocking waste of paper and resources, but I'm so used to making one copy for everyone...
Marma gives a "helpless" shrug.
Pollovic: Such an understandable error.
Marma: I put the extras in my recycling bin in the back corner of the room. It's by the pencil sharpener.
Pollovic: A most appropriate location.
Marma: And then, I make it clear that all booklets must be locked in my supply cabinet after the class is over. I keep the key in my desk drawer.
Pollovic: Your unlocked desk drawer?
Marma: Well, I can hardly lock it when I keep my chalk there, can I? And after all, I'm there when classes are in session.
Pollovic: So what other little errors do you make?
Marma: I had my students who were allowed to take the class write some essays, that I handed back after the unit was completed. Several students sitting in the back complained that they didn't get theirs back, but I had their grades, so they must have just overlooked them.
Pollovic, whose mouth is full of roast beef sandwich, gestures for her to continue.
Marma: I may also have mentioned to the students that I expected better research, and that there were certain books in the restricted section of the library. But I was always very careful to make sure that the students who didn't have permission to take the unit never heard me teaching a thing about it.
Pollovic: So, among other things, you're encouraging students to spend more time in the library? Most admirable.
Marma: Teaching is a sacred trust. ~~ piously ~~
Lumbiss walks past Pollovic's table carrying a leather document folder.
Pollovic, at that moment, favors the teacher with a solemn wink.
Lumbiss: Oho, Pollovic. Showing off your... flexibility, are you? I mean...
Lumbiss winks ostentatiously.
Lumbiss: We never believed those stories in the gutter press.
Pollovic favors Lumbiss with a cool stare.
Pollovic: Good afternoon, Senator Lumbiss.
Marma gives Lumbiss the sort of glance that quells whole classrooms of restless youngsters.
Lumbiss ignores both the remark and the glance.
Lumbiss: Good afternoon, Miz. I hope you're enjoying your visit to the Senate today?
Marma: I was.
Marma pointedly uses the past tense.
Lumbiss laughs like a politician.
Lumbiss: Oh come now, Miz ...?
Marma: Marma. I see quite enough schoolyard bullying at home; I can certainly recognize it when I hear it.
Pollovic, who had been about to step in to rescue his young constituent, decides she doesn't need rescuing.
Lumbiss: Why, not at all. You got me all wrong. Why, Senator Pollovic and I are allies.
Marma: What's the Ancient quote? With friends like these, who requires enemies?
Lumbiss looks over and inspects Marma's arms.
Marma: There are several translations. I prefer that one.
Pollovic is actually beginning to enjoy this.
Lumbiss: Well, little lady, I think you're out of my league there. I have to concern myself with, shall I say, more immediately practical, er, concerns.
Pollovic raises an eyebrow at his colleague.
Marma: I quite agree. An increase in funding for education, for instance.
Lumbiss puts the folder down on Pollovic's table.
Lumbiss: Really. And you are offering?
Marma raises a well-bred eyebrow.
Marma: You disappoint me, Senator. I realize I live a long way from New Washington, but I like to maintain the illusion that at least some elected officials value our future enough to invest in it without a quid quo pro.
Lumbiss: [jovially] That's just not the way the game is played, little lady.
Marma: Is that all it is to you? A game?
Lumbiss: Some games can be verrrry serious indeed.
Pollovic has had about enough of this.
Pollovic: If you have a point, Lumbiss, I suggest that you make it.
Lumbiss: [hastily] But I mustn't keep Senator Sludgepump, er, Slungared, waiting. See you later, Pollovic. And you too, Miz Urmurm, I hope.
Lumbiss picks up his folder and walks off.
Pollovic: I'm sorry about that.
Marma: One doesn't always get to choose one's colleagues.
Pollovic: You handled him well.
Marma: As I told him, I've seen more than my share of schoolyard bullies.
Pollovic: If you should ever develop a taste for politics, I think you'd do well in New Washington.
Fennik strolls into the Senate Dining Room and heads for the table he usually shares with Senator Tsibola at their periodic lunches together.
Marma: I believe I'll stick to education.
Fennik is a bit early, and suspects Ruthven may be late. He seems to be very busy these days.
Marma: Children are much less tactful, on average, but they're also more open and honest.
Pollovic: True. And there isn't the same gender barrier in the classroom.
Marma: True. Which makes no sense, since many of the same skills are applicable.
Fennik comes around the latticed screen and is ~~ startled ~~ to see the table already occupied.
Fennik: Oh, excuse me. I expected to find Senator Tsibola here.
Fennik starts to back away, but then recognizes Pollovic from the newspaper photographs.
Fennik: Senator Pollovic? I'm Professor Jon Fennik, of NWU. Let me congratulate you on your public demonstration of the importance of people here in the Gen Territories donating selyn.
Pollovic is startled by such open support.
Pollovic: Thank you, Professor.
Pollovic glances at Miz Marma to see if she'd object to the company.
Fennik looks around for Ruthven, or an appropriate substitute table.
Marma looks at Fennik with the ~~ respect ~~ due an eminent educator.
Marma: I'm very pleased to meet you, Professor. Minna Marma, schoolteacher. Do join us, if you have time.
Fennik: Pleased to meet you, Miz Marma.
Pollovic: We were just discussing education, Professor.
Fennik: I see.
Fennik isn't very interested in education at levels below university. Graduate school, really.
Marma: I was telling the Senator some of the extremes I've gone to, to follow parents' wishes with regards to the new Adult Biology unit.
Fennik nods. He'd really rather not get involved, but he's too well bred not to be polite.
Pollovic: It's a thorny problem, Professor. Miz Marma has done some excellent work, but there are still far too many parents who think ignorance is bliss.
Fennik: Yes. Especially among the less educated, I suppose.
Pollovic: And far too many students who die in changeover, well within reach of a Sime center.
Marma: It's truly amazing, what lengths some students will go to, to find forbidden information.
Marma doesn't appear particularly upset about this.
Marma: The Senator's recent actions, for instance, were widely covered in the press, and by an unfortunate coincidence, there was an article of local interest printed on the opposite side. Shocking, the irresponsibility of the journalists.
Fennik: Local interest? ~~ confused ~~
Marma: A two-headed calf. Many of my students are farmers, and I have a bulletin board covering farming issues in my biology classroom.
Fennik still doesn't see the connection.
Pollovic smiles. He's heard enough of how Miz Marma thinks, that he suspects he knows where this is leading.
Marma: Unfortunately, my bulletin board is rather old, and the pins often come loose.
Fennik wonders why Pollovic is smiling. He himself would find it humiliating to be compared to a two headed calf, for donating.
Pollovic: And so, by purest accident, of course, the children were exposed to the article on the other side of the page, that their parents hadn't wanted them to see.
Fennik: I see. Well, I hope the Senator's actions will be an inspiration for your students.
Fennik looks around again. No sign of Ruthven.
Marma: They were certainly eager to read about them, judging by the number of times that pin came loose.
Pollovic: I must confess to a bit of surprise, Professor, that a friend of Senator Tsibola's would be so supportive of my position.
Fennik: Senator Tsibola and I do have a few differences on various matters.
Pollovic: So it would seem. Have you known him long?
Fennik wonders if he was too effusive. He was surprised to see Pollovic where he expected to see Tsibola and was more forthcoming than usual, so resolves to be more reticent.
Fennik: Some years.
Marma: And yet you approve of donating selyn to the channels? You interest me, Professor.
Fennik: The Simes need it, and if it isn't donated it goes to waste. Rather a dog in the manger attitude, not to do so. Of course, everyone has a right to their own beliefs.
Fennik: Around the university, donating isn't regarded as a particularly radical act. Many students donate for the income.
Marma is reaching a surprising supposition.
Marma: And their professors?
Pollovic raises an eyebrow. It seems that some of her students' bluntness has rubbed off on the teacher.
Fennik: On the whole, I'd say there's less anti-Sime prejudice amongst intellectuals, but of course, there are a wide range of attitudes, and the older faculty tend to be more conservative in their beliefs.
Pollovic: That's too bad. A professor's attitude can do a lot to influence his students.
Fennik makes a dismissive gesture.
Fennik: Ideally, we hope to teach them to think for themselves.
Pollovic: Still, young adults do look for role models.
Fennik: Not many find them in their professors.
Pollovic: I suspect you underestimate your influence, sir. Your students may not share your tastes in clothing or music, but I suspect they share many of your ideas.
Fennik: Judging by the results of the final exams, many fail to acquire very many ideas from me.
Marma: It might take a few years after they graduate, but I've had a lot of students come back and tell me how much they learned from me. Frequently, it's the ones I could have sworn were sleeping through my class.
Fennik: Yes, when that happens, it can be very gratifying.
Fennik finds it rather embarrassing as well, especially since the things the students claim to have learned from him are seldom the ones he thought he was teaching.
Marma sees the embarrassment.
Marma: Yours also sometimes remember some of the things you wish they'd forget?
Fennik: Yes, indeed.
Pollovic: It seems students and voters have something in common.
Fennik looks around, and spots Tsibola at the door, looking around for him, and heading toward their usual table.
Fennik: Ah, here's Ruthven now. A pleasure to have met both of you.
Fennik performs a little formal bow.
Pollovic: A pleasure, Professor.
Fennik nods and heads toward Ruthven, who hasn't spotted him yet.
Pollovic: And there's the problem, Miz Marma. People who believe in Unity, but don't act on their beliefs.
Marma looks after Fennik.
Marma: One can't always act on one's beliefs, Senator. Sometimes, the price of doing so would be too high. Not just materially, but when it would prevent you from acting on your other beliefs... what can you do?
Pollovic nods ruefully.
Pollovic: Indeed. Two-headed calf or not, I'll be surprised if I'm able to get re-elected.
Pollovic, despite the excellent company, finds himself slipping back into the depression that's become part of his life these last few weeks.
Marma: I think Turman's just about played the issue out. People back home are starting to lose interest. Well, not all of them, but the ones for whom it's a deciding issue would never have voted for you, anyway.
Pollovic: My campaign manager is still telling me that in the long run it will do me more good than harm.
Marma: I expect he's right. If the worst Turman can accuse you of, is donating selyn, well, most people don't think that's a hanging offense. At least, not in our district.
Pollovic manages a smile.
Marma decides a change of topic is appropriate.
Marma: Now, then. The lunch was marvelous. Have they a dessert menu to match?