“There is a major problem in education,” the superintendent said. The teachers all leaned forward in anticipation. If there was anyone who knew about how to fix education, it was upper management. The superintendent had just come back from a month-long convention about how technology could solve all problems. Since it was so long, it was called Long-Con.
“The problem,” the superintendent repeated, “is that the students with the most stress are the ones that don’t need it. These are the Peter Gowickis, the Emma Randolfs, the Amir Khans.” He flicked through a slideshow of student profiles and grades, breaking dozens of privacy laws simultaneously.
“These are the students who will work until 4:00 am to raise their grade from a 98% to a 99%. They are the ones who drive you nuts by doing every extra credit assignment five times. They are the ones who couldn’t fail a class if they robbed an F factory.”
The teachers all nodded. This was true. One geography teacher in the back wondered why anyone would make an F factory.
“Then we have the other group: the students who clearly need to stress about their work, but don’t; the ones who could easily pass if they just cared enough to do the work.”
He had their attention now. The sea of nodding heads was like slow-motion headbanging at the world’s most boring rock concert. “This is where Long-Con has come through for us again,” the superintendent said.
“There are two types of stress,” he continued, “eustress and distress. Eustress is the good stuff, the stuff that makes us get off our butts and do what we need to. It’s the crunch-time, bottom-of-the-9th stress makes us do our best. Distress is the bad stuff, the stuff that leaves us crying in the corner of the cafeteria because if we lose another chess game to Brian-freakin’-Grosnick, our dads are going to tan our hides.” He stopped. “As an example.”
He pointed to the screen behind him in a dramatic gesture. “Behold, the De-Re-Stressinator. What this does is take the distress from the good students, converts it to eustress, and gives it to the under-performing students. The high-performing ones are relaxed and happy, and the slackers are doing what they should. Win-win.”
He paused as the room erupted into a standing ovation. The superintendent had done it again. Was there anything the district office didn’t know?
The first trial was held with the Nick Riviera High School’s AP Honors Aeronautical Neurosurgery class and the Remedial Spelling class. The two classes were put in adjacent classrooms, with the De-Re-Stressinator in a broom closet between them. The teachers wore special goggles to keep from being either de- or re-stressed. They told the students they had recently had eye surgery.
“Who’s that having the panic attack in the front row?” the superintendent asked, pointing the AP class. He was watching the progress on hidden cameras from the principal’s office.
“That’s Arthur Dempsey,” the principal said. “He has a 5.5/4 GPA. He gets like that if he comes within 48 hours of a deadline without passing an assignment in.”
The superintendent looked into the other room. The students were either sleeping or throwing large foam letters around. Someone had just gotten a lower-case L in the eye.
“Turn it on,” he said. The principal pushed a button and turned a knob. The result was immediate. Arthur Dempsey relaxed and smiled. The ambient blood pressure in the room (measured by another gadget from Long-Con) went down 10 points (6 diastolic). In the other room, the foam letters stopped flying. Someone spontaneously formed a diphthong on their desk. The Ambition-meter ticked up a notch. A girl in the front row thought about starting her own business after graduation.
“This is great!” the superintendent said. “Let’s get lunch.”
They returned to the school to find the English teacher in tears in the hallway. “They just won’t stop,” she cried.
“The Remedial Spelling class. They’re in there, spelling every word they know. Jessica Brenner is reading the dictionary and trying to use every big word she sees. But the context is all wrong!”
“How about the AP Aeronautical Neurosurgery class?”
The teacher sniffed. “Last I heard, they were smoking weed behind the gym.” The superintendent sighed. “You know, I never thought Long-Con would steer me wrong. Live and learn, I guess. Well, get rid of the De-Re-Stressinator. We’ll just go back to controlling everyone with medication, like normal.”