“I would like to present to you…” said the worthy-looking man, all grey hair, patched elbows and the threadbare spirit of the educator “…the St John’s Boy for Schools!”
The Minister blinked, wetly and gave the old professor a smirk. “I think you mean School for Boys Mr Wick.”
“Oh no,” the professor smiled and swept aside the sheet, revealing a small boy in short trousers and a school blazer, skinned knees, snotty nose an entirely unremarkable child.
“Your son?” The Minister sighed and leaned forward, resting his three chin upon his interwoven sausage-fingers.
“No Sir. This is a Mark Two Molesworth. A genetically engineered, near-human replicant, designed to fix a major problem in education.”
This was all far beyond the Minister whose mind was already dwelling on whether to have the pigeon-breast salad or the pork loin for lunch. He was only half listening. “Some sort of robot? What’s it for?”
“Um, not really. If that helps you understand though yes, it’s a sort of robot.” The professor scratched his head and stroked his beard as he thought how to get his point across.
“The problem, you see, is that learning simply isn’t cool. Girls get all sorts of encouragement from each other and from society at large to learn in order to overcome the perceived ‘bimbo’ factor. Boys, however, get no such aid despite being far outstripped by girls in many academic fields.”
“Yes, yes,” said the Minister, picking waxy dirt from under his thumbnail. “Terrible business, white paper, special committee, more funding to subsidise private schools…” it was a mantra he’d learned soon after he took on the job. The same thing he trotted out to reporters.
“Yes, well, none of that does any good. We can’t change the culture that holds them back by such methods. We can’t make learning ‘cool’. We can’t make boys want to learn and any young lad that does take up the opportunities we present to them is in for a drubbing.”
“The Molesworth can fix that!”
The Minister’s attention was diverted from thoughts of lunch by the passion in the professor’s voice and the implications began to penetrate his thick skull, millimetre by millimetre.
The professor took his seat opposite the Minister and gestured wildly as he excitedly laid out his plan. “We produce large numbers of Molesworths and insert them into classes in large enough numbers to form the beginning of a clique or group. One that values education and good behaviour and applies a positive degree of peer pressure to counteract and overcome that of being an illiterate thug!”
The Minister paled and scowled, his jowly face crinkling like a boiled tomato. “Won’t that, ah, skew the classes to being predominantly male?”
“We also recognise the value of… ah… positive reinforcement for men coming from young ladies. We hope to have the Jessica and Elizabeth versions completed soon. They, of course, will be pretty and charming and will only have eyes for well-behaved and academically adept boys.”
“It all seems a little unethical.” The Minister hemmed and hawed, rocking back in his seat. The professor just looked at him.
“No worse than making up Father Christmas in order to get children to behave all year and we have to do something. Tests have demonstrated a marked improvement in the academic development of boys in such an environment. It wouldn’t be too expensive to implement and the potential rewards of a better educated and better behaved populace are…”
“…not as great as you might think.” The Minister interrupted and his frown deepened even further.
“What?” Cut off mid-flow the professor didn’t quite know what to make of this statement.
“Put, plainly Mister Wick, we need plebs. We need foolish, uneducated and dim-witted men to clean toilets, sweep streets, die in the army and keep the prisons nice and full – and profitable. Your plan would not serve that end and with immigration being so damn unpopular there’s no other choice.”
The Minister waved his hand dismissively. “Good day Sir. Your funding is cut.”
“But the future! Technology, science!”
“Good. Day.” The Minister pressed a buzzer and his aide came in, leading the professor and his young – artificial – charge back outside. Pausing at the door.
“Everything alright sir?”
“Fine Jenkins, fine. Honestly, some people. They seem to think the current state of affairs is unintentional.”
“I blame the education system sir.”
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