By: Summer Koester
As the students in Mr. Dempsey’s English Language Arts class take notes, the face of their teacher is projected onto the large screen in the front of the classroom.
Like many teachers across the country, Mr. Dempsey is simultaneously teaching via Zoom to students finishing up the school year remotely while also teaching several students in person. It’s a practice some schools are calling “Blended” or “Hybrid Learning,” and it’s eerily reminiscent of the projection of the face of “Big Brother” in George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984.
“I’m reading  right now,” sophomore Dwayne Stenerson told us from behind a cloth mask with the changing voice characteristic of a pubescent teenager. “It’s weird how everything in the book is basically our reality at school right now.”
Dwayne was quick to point out other odd similarities between his English Language Arts class and the dystopian novel. For example, the strict enforcement of social distancing, and how the required masks inadvertently conceal everyone’s identities.
“Yeah, everyone’s in masks, but we’re still the same people,” Junior Carol Menendez said. “Right, Jen?”
“I’m Valeria,” Valeria Johnson said.
“The masks are also extremely effective in silencing the students,” Mr. Dempsey added.
“What’s the quote? Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood?” pondered Carol Stevens. Or at least we think that’s what she said from behind her double mask.
“I guess the difference is Big Brother was something of an enigma, but I know my teacher, and he drives a beater car,” Dwayne said.
A teacher, who requested to remain anonymous to protect her job, drew comparisons between how in 1984, citizens were expected to blindly accept paradoxes. For example, that black is white.
In 2021, the expectation is that tying school funding to standardized test scores will result in improved learning.
“If we fail these benchmarks and our school loses funding, we’re expected to believe that we will somehow be able to raise our test scores next year—with fewer teachers! I mean, it’s Orwellian.” the anonymous teacher said.
Carol and Dwayne claimed that sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between 1984 and school. “If we do anything wrong, like take a mask break or sit too close to our friends, someone always rats us out,” added Dwayne. “It’s just like Big Brother in the book. Always watching, and there are moles everywhere.”
We asked the students about the consequences of breaking school rules. “They send you to Room 101,” Carla said. “Detention.”
“And trust me, bro,” Dwayne added, “there are rats in there. You do not want to go there.”
“It’s true,” Principal Nancy Hightower said, throwing her head back and cackling when we asked her if there were actually rats in Room 101. “We had to lay off most of our custodians last year due to budget cuts.”
Summer Koester’s work has been featured in McSweeney’s, Slackjaw, Widget, and The Belladonna. You can read more at summerkoester.com.