The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Teachers and Students

Finally, I get to talk about something other than the farm!

This past week, Dan took Ka'te to meet his old mentor, an electrical engineer named S'Nadesinoru. The "S" is an honorific analogous to our "Dr." Mentors, as I think I mentioned, are more important than parents. Dan is Ka'te's mentor. He mentors several other kids, but they are older; two have already molted to second instar and gone off to school, and the third is about to go this year. Ka'te is the only one he is leaving behind, and she is young for it. I think Dan wanted to reassure her by showing her that he and his mentor are still in touch; she's not going to get abandoned. He asked me to come with on general principles, and because I hadn't been to the University campus yet, and wanted to go.

Dr. Nades is a male flyer in his sixties. He must have been very young when Dan was born, but Dan was only seven when Nades left the family to go to college. The school was in the same town, so they saw each other a lot, but I'm sure it must have been hard. I'm trying to think of Dan as a child, a little red-brown ant-child sponging up whatever he could learn. And in less a year he'll be a third post-pupal, maybe a male flyer like Dr. Nades, exoskeleton glossy black under the four membranous blades of the wings. I think Ka'te is not the only one Dan wants to reassure. What must it be like to go through puberty in your forties? And I'm not sure Dan in really close to any of the La'heli third post-pupals, and as happy-go-lucky as he acts sometimes, Dan has his dignity. When Dan crawled out of his pupal skin, the first moving being he saw was a twenty year old clerical worker named Nadesinoru--a volunteer, of course, these things are not left to chance. The young worker gave him water, taught him to eat, to talk, everything. Myrmeoids are born knowing nothing except how to walk and how to follow their mentors. To eat, food must be placed against their mouths. Nades did all this, and forty-six years later it is to him that Dan goes to talk.

Dr. Nades is a bit of a local big-shot, I think. He certainly caries himself with dignity, and his speech to me was quite formal--Imperials often stand on ceremony, I've noticed. But Dan ran to him like a puppy. Dan and Nades see each other a few times a year, but Ka'te had never met Dr. Nades before. She'd never seen Dan as anything other than a casually competent adult. Myrmeoids can't have three-way conversations, so I told Ka'te what they were saying to each other. It was nothing very dramatic, but she was curious. Dr. Nades spoke with Ka'te next, and afterwards told Dan that she seemed very intelligent, for a country-kid, and that she ought to go to a school in town, not the family school the neighbors run. He was obviously trying to compliment Dan on the child, though the conversation seemed kind of strange to me.

I had a favor to ask of Dr. Nades. I'd always wondered what Myrmeoid classes are like, but I can't fit inside any of their classrooms. The solution, as usual, was Dan's. My netpad has a cell insert, of course, but I have no occasion to use it here. It's small enough for a Myrmeoid to carry, though, and Dan's idea was that Dr. Nades could use it to get video of his classroom. He graciously agreed, though he looked funny walking off with it in his jaws like a leaf-cutter ant with her leaf. I could see him itching to figure out how the thing works, and I doubt anything in it is beyond him--Myrmeoids have their equivalent of quantum theory--but it has no tactile readout. From his perspective, it's inert. Playing around with it would tell him nothing. I've sent in a request for a batch of translated literature on the subject. When it comes in, I'm going to have to get Dan to find a way to print it out in tactile notation and send it to Dr. Nades.

I've watched the video. The sound is poor, but there's not much to listen to. Fifteen second post-pupals take their places at desks and read hand-outs and begin work on something. Dr. Nades moves from desk to desk answering questions. He can't lecture, so the whole thing looks like a supervised study hall. I guess this explains the Myrmeoid emphasis on practical learning, and also the expense of education; all teaching must be essentially individual when you can't talk to more than one person at a time.

Dan and Ka'te spent the night with Dr. Nades and I set up my tent on the campus green--campus looks exactly like one of our college campuses, by the way, except the buildings are smaller and papered rather than brick, and the trees are some weepy thing with strings of yellow flowers, not American elms. They're flowering now, and the scent is heavy and sweet, especially at night. The odd thing about them is that one flower grows out of another in a chain--I'm not sure why, botany is not my thing, but there is something distinctly alien about those flowers. I didn't get much sleep because students kept coming out to ask me questions, but the night was lovely.

Dan told me Nades is why he got interested in engineering to begin with. When Nades was in school, Dan would go up to campus to see him every few days, and Nades would do his best to explain what he was learning, just so the child would feel involved. And Dan understood it. By the time he was ready for high school he knew things some of Nades' classmates did not. The family was very disappointed when Dan didn't go to college; he could have gotten lineage easily, and college carries a great deal of weight with Imperials.

But Dan was approached by the La'heli's within a month of high school graduation. They were upgrading their distillery at the time, and they needed an engineer to help them upgrade their capacity. Dan never looked back. College doesn't mean much to country-folk; they seem to exist outside of Imperial society as much as they can, and Dan has dedicated himself to his adopted culture. He invented a pulley and press system they use all over the country now; he has a National Office patent,which is not easy to do in this country, and two years ago he received an award for his work that carries a huge cash prize. He divided it among the kids he mentors, and kept none for himself. So Ka'te can afford to go to any school she wants to, when she gets older, including college. And she is smart. Her thing is botany; she figured out on her own that crab-apples don't breed true, and she's already talking about learning how to graft in case she spots a useful new cultivar. Half of what she says is over my head.

But somehow, I don't think she's going to college.

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