Performance Review

Knock-knock-knock!

“Come in,” called Mother Julian, not even looking up from her papers. There were advantages to being the headmistress of the school. Her reputation was fearsome without her having to do much about it, meaning that very rarely did Sims interrupt her just for the hell of it. If somebody was knocking at her door, it was either important, or she had asked them to come.

Like Galahad — who meandered in with his nose still in his book. Mother Julian shook her head and clucked her tongue, the better to cover up her smile.

He must have come to a stopping place, for he nodded once at the book, brought a bit of twine out of his pocket and carefully left it between the leaves before looking up. He grinned, the same grin he had had since he was but a little boy in her class, the boy who could only be kept from asking distracting questions by handing him a book that ought to have been much too complicated for a boy his age. Mother Julian was never sure whether it was the precocity or the grin that did it, but try as she might not to play favorites, she had always had a soft spot for little Galahad du Lac.

She supposed now she could let her soft spot have its way — within reason, of course. If she had had a larger staff, then she could have never done so, but when the only other Sim working under her was her own daughter … well, Mother Julian supposed it was a battle of teacher’s pets.

“You wanted to see me?” asked Galahad.

“Indeed, yes,” Mother Julian replied. “Just let me finish up this last paragraph. Have a seat, Brother Galahad.”

He sat, still wearing that little smile. It didn’t take Mother Julian long to finish reading her paragraph, cluck her tongue, and push the papers and inkwell off to one side. “Pray, Brother Galahad, that nobody ever puts you in charge of anything.” She shook her head. “Before you know it, you’re buried under a mountain of administrative nonsense and paperwork, and you forget why you ever started doing this in the first place.”

She stopped, waiting for the reaction. She thought it had been a mistake to put Galahad in charge of a parish so soon, even if she hadn’t taken that thought to anyone but the Lord. Brother Tuck ought to have gotten that parish, the better to keep him out of everyone’s hair. But it was no use fuming over that now — not when she could be watching Galahad for a reaction. Did he have buyer’s remorse over his parish already?

If he did, he didn’t show it. Since Galahad’s expression tended to be as easy to read as the books his classmates were struggling with when he was leaping feet-first into theology, Mother Julian would reckon that he was liking his parish just fine … for now. “I’ll keep that in mind, Mother Julian.”

He didn’t say anything after that, just kept smiling that little smile. One who didn’t know him would claim he was perfectly content to sit there all day until Mother Julian explained why she had called him to her office. Mother Julian wouldn’t fall into that trap. More likely, Galahad’s mind had slipped away, pondering the moon or the stars or some other heavenly body or spirit, and it would be content to stay there until somebody pulled him back to earth. Mother Julian had had the pleasure and pain of pulling Galahad back to earth since he was four years old. She ought to know the trick of it by now.

“So, Brother, you were doubtless wondering why I asked you to come by,” Mother Julian stared. “I just want to know how things are going with you and with the class — what successes you’re having, what problems those kids are giving you, anything I can do to help you out.”

“Oh, the kids aren’t giving me problems!” gasped Galahad. “I — I hope you don’t think they are! I know we can get a little loud, sometimes …”

Mother Julian leaned back, her eyebrows slowly going upward into her wimple.

“But, but, I think that’s a good thing! I mean, as long as we’re not disturbing Sister Margery and her class. We’re not, are we?”

She had pity on him. “Brother Galahad, Sister Margery has the joy of having students ranging from four to eleven years old in her class. You’d have to be teaching a herd of elephants to have a prayer of matching the din.”

Again, Galahad flashed that smile, this time out of pure relief. “Oh, good! Because, you see, I think learning happens best when all the students are — are active, and engaged, and talking through the ideas. Not just reading silently at their desks.”

“So you like to lead them in conversation, is that it?” asked Mother Julian.

“Yes, exactly!” replied Galahad, a quick sigh of relief escaping. “It’s the method espoused by Placrates of Mysimae, you know!”

“Oh, I know it,” replied Mother Julian. “So, you would say that your teaching philosophy revolves around the Placratic method?”

“Oh, yes! I think — I think at the age our students are at, it’s the prefect method. They’re just starting to begin growing — growing into themselves, you know? Starting to know who they are and what they want out of life, or at least, starting to ask the right questions in their own heads. And teaching them through the Placratic method, asking more questions, forcing them to truly think about the material they’ve been assigned — I think that is likely to help them get farther than just rote memorization, don’t you?” That last bit was completely guileless, innocent. He would be shocked if Mother Julian disagreed.

And she did disagree. Yes, the Placratic method had its advantages. Given the right students and the right teacher, it would work brilliantly. But those students weren’t a bunch of young Sims putting the last polish onto their education before going into their father’s business or to be married, or else trying to prepare for the Camford examinations. Those students were men, grown men, in steady pursuit of Truth.

But Mother Julian didn’t say that. Instead — perhaps rather like Placrates herself — she asked another question. “How is the class taking it?”

That — that was what Mother Julian really wanted to know. How was the class taking Galahad? And for that matter, how was Galahad taking the class? He had a rather diverse bunch, far more diverse than was the norm outside of Albion. In most cathedral schools, Galahad would have been teaching a group of wealthy — but not too wealthy — merchants’ sons. That wasn’t the case here.

On one end of the social scale were the Gwynedd twins. In any other country, they would have been educated at home, or perhaps in a convent. They might have even been sent to court to be maids of honor, although given Lord Pellinore’s insistence on the importance of education, Mother Julian privately doubted that — unless, of course, the court or queen in question had a strong scholarly bent. In any case, they wouldn’t have been hobnobbing with the commoners.

Then on the other end were the Andavri brother and sister, Cherry and Jack. Perhaps “other end” was the wrong term for it; their parents were at any rate doing well enough to afford the fees for the school. But they were newcomers to the classroom, newcomers to the country, from the freewheeling northern isle of Bledavik. The other students clawed for status. The Andavris — Cherry in particular — laughed at the whole race, and then effortlessly turned around and befriended one of the two highest-ranking students in the class.

Then there was the mass of students in the middle — the Florencia Dyers, the Morgan Capenums, the Christopher Swanns. The ones who had a father with a thriving business or two and who wanted to give his children a leg up in the world. If they were boys, they were expected to learn as much as they could, and as much as seemed useful. If they were girls, they were expected to learn the social graces, and hopefully meet a boy with a bigger shop than her father’s.

That was what Galahad had to deal with — and that wasn’t even getting into the intellectual differences among the students!

“I think things are going splendidly!” replied Galahad. “I get a lot of good discussions with them. I think we’re making excellent progress with the Alexander the Goth‘s Rule.”

“Oh, are you?” asked Mother Julian, sitting up. The Rule — that was always on the Camford exam. Not surprising, since the exam was written and administered by monks and Sims in minors orders, and just about everyone used either Alexander’s rule or a variation of it. But because of that, any student who wanted go to to Camford had to be familiar with the Rule. The orthodox rule, not whatever spin Galahad might want to put on it, brilliant though it might be.

“So, er,” she continued, “what — what kinds of discussions are you having?”

Or in other words, how much damage control am I going to have to do tomorrow?

“Great ones!” Galahad grinned.

“Yes, I know — Brother Galahad,” Mother Julian replied, barely biting back the “dear” she would have used when Galahad was eight, “but … more specifically, what kinds of discussions are you having? Which — which points have you gotten to?” Before Galahad could get offended, or worried, she added, “So I know which ones I don’t need to go over in my lecture tomorrow.”

“Oh! Oh, well …” He blushed. “We started with ora et labora and, um, didn’t get much farther.”

Well, it could be worse. If Mother Julian ended up doing the majority of the Rule herself, that meant that the students would know exactly what was going to be on the exam — and wouldn’t get bogged down in controversies and disputes that wouldn’t be on the exam, and would only confuse them … or else give them an answer that would only serve to annoy the grader.

She nodded. “That’s fine, that’s fine. Pray and work — it’s a good place to start, don’t you think? So, what did you end up discussing?”

“Well, we started with the history of it, and why it was so revolutionary,” Galahad replied.

History! Mother Julian beamed. Oh, that would be excellent! Knowing the history of the Rule would give the students an edge, something to really impress the graders. And best of all, the history of the Rule and of Alexander’s life was very well-documented, and there weren’t very many controversies there. Well — Mother Julian backtracked. There were, of course there were controversies. But they weren’t the types of controversies that would interest a Pascalian like Galahad, and so he would be content to teach the official version and have done with it.

“Because, you see,” Galahad continued, probably encouraged by her smile, “back when St. Alexander was alive, there were some monks and monasteries that gave themselves completely over to contemplation, and prayer, and who didn’t focus on the material world at all. And then there were some who were very active, making converts, feeding the poor, tending to the sick, and they were scarcely praying more than ordinary Sims. So St. Alexander was one of the first to realize that there ought to be some kind of balance between the two, and to model his rule around that.”

“Yes,” replied Mother Julian, “yes, indeed, he was.”

“So of course when we talked about that,” Galahad went on, “that led to a discussion of what the students see every day here in Albion, with us monks and with your nuns, Mother Julian.”

Mother Julian’s eyes went wide. Oh, bloody hell!

“The students were very eager to talk!” continued Galahad, cheerfully as ever. “I don’t think anybody ever asked them to talk about what they see us doing, and what they think about it.”

“Well,” Mother Julian demurred, “there are only so many hours in the day … I usually have enough of a time getting through the day’s planned lesson without  … going off on a tangent. But go on, Galahad–Brother Galahad. What sorts of things did they say?” And, more importantly, what topics of conversation had Galahad allowed — or worse, encouraged?

“Well, Delyth Gwynedd was one of the first to speak up,” replied Galahad. Somehow Mother Julian was not surprised. “She said that we here seemed to have divided the ora and labora among the monks and nuns respectively — which is to say, the monks pray and the nuns work.”

Mother Julian blinked, momentarily speechless. And who could blame her? The thought was so near to what she herself had contemplated many a time that she had to wonder if Delyth had somehow seen it and plucked it from her head.

“And do you know what happened next?” Galahad asked, breathless with the anticipation of whatever he was about to say. “I got Dilys Gwynedd to speak! She never talks!”

That, if anything, was even more surprising than the thought of Delyth reading Mother Julian’s mind.

“What on earth did she say?” asked Mother Julian, realizing just after the words left her mouth that perhaps that was not the most politic way of putting the question.

“She said her sister was oversimplifying the matter,” Galahad noted proudly. “Er, well,” he added, frowning, “that was the gist of it. There was a lot of stammering and ‘you knows’ and ‘ums’ around it.”

There generally is. And the sad thing was that that was not just a problem with Dilys, or other students half as shy as she.

“Still, it was an excellent insight!” Galahad continued, beaming. “She pointed out that we monks see to a lot of the spiritual needs of the populace — um,” he blushed, “not that you nuns don’t, of course, but –”

“Brother Galahad,” Mother Julian interrupted, “please, don’t fret about offending me. We nuns run a school, an orphanage, and are raising almost half-a-dozen orphans at the nunnery. Believe me, other than taking confessions and offering advice when we’re asked, we truly do not have time to be doing much else.”

Galahad grinned in relief. “Oh, good! Because — because as Dilys said, we monks tend to run services every week, and Brother Tuck checks in on many of the poor — there was one man in particular she mentioned, but I don’t remember the name — on top of all the administrative work he does, and of course Father Hugh and Brother Andy see to the sick. So, she said, it’s not really fair to say that the monks aren’t doing any work.”

Perhaps it wasn’t — although on days when Mother Julian was run off her feet and finally collapsed into bed having accomplished only half of what she wanted to that day, it wasn’t hard to be unfair in the privacy of her own thoughts. The Lord would never tell.

“And then,” Galahad went on, eager as a child the adventures of his day, “Cherry Andavri spoke up, and things got really interesting!”

Oh, hell! Mother Julian was sure they did.

Cherry Andavri … the problem with Cherry Andavri wasn’t that she was a bright girl, or even that she was an outspoken one. The problem wasn’t even that she thought for herself, even on those matters where the Church had said quite clearly that the laity need think no more about those matters.In a way, the being bright, thinking for herself, and talking about it was being like Galahad had been when he was younger, which might well explain why Galahad encouraged her so. But while Galahad had never been able to understand the idea of forbidden topics of thought, and so spoke when he felt he had something to say, Cherry understood the concept quite well. She just didn’t care.

“She pointed out,” Galahad went on blithely, “that while Father Hugh and Brother Andy’s medicine was one thing, and so was running services and such, that running the church — I mean all of Brother Tuck’s administrative duties — ought not to count as ‘work.’ Because, you see, the Church made that sort of work — if it chose to run itself differently, then it wouldn’t have to do all that work! That’s rather brilliant, don’t you think?”

“No,” Mother Julian replied flatly. What that was was dangerous.

Galahad’s face fell. “Oh …”

“Oh, it’s quite a clever remark for one so young,” Mother Julian replied. “But it’s quite … misguided. Mistress Andavri is a very clever girl, you see, but from what I understand, her education to this point has been rather haphazard. She did not attend any sort of school with qualified educators, you see, but learned at home, reading what books she could. Now, you might point out that there is nothing wrong with reading in order to educate oneself,” Mother Julian continued, “and most of the time, I would agree wholeheartedly. But when it comes to religious instruction … well, then you need an instructor, someone to help you interpret the books you read. Especially when you are very young.”

“You … do?” asked Galahad.

“Yes,” replied Mother Julian, brooking no argument. “Remember, Galahad–Brother Galahad, she grew up in Bledavik, a very remote outpost of Wrightendom. There is scarcely anyone there to watch over the orthodoxy of the populace. Imagine what kinds of heretical tracts and ideas they might foster there, all unknowing!”

“Oh!” gasped Galahad. “Oh, I — I never thought about it that way!”

“Of course you didn’t,” replied Mother Julian. “And any mistakes on Mistress Andavri’s part are just that: mistakes, and innocent ones. Now, as to what she said … well, like I said, it’s a very clever statement for one so young. And there is a grain of truth to it, you know. All of the things we do — the great cathedrals and abbeys we build, Camford University, all of the lands and offices that the Church controls — they do cost money, and they do take time to administer. Now, reasonable and orthodox Sims can disagree about whether we divert too many resources to that sort of thing, resources that would be better spent serving the poor or simply in prayer. But — but Ga–Brother Galahad, how on earth is the Church to see to the salvation of all souls without some sort of large infrastructure?”

“I … I never thought about it like that,” Galahad gasped.

“Of course you didn’t, not in the spur of the moment,” Mother Julian replied. “And if you didn’t — a grown, Camford-educated man! — how would you expect Mistress Andavri to?”

“I suppose … she wouldn’t,” murmured Galahad.

“Exactly, exactly. And that is why she needs instruction — careful instruction. Indeed, all children do. We’re all apt to fall into traps like that, especially when we’re young and of a kindly disposition, and see enormous cathedrals towering into the heavens while babies starve. And believe me, Brother Galahad — reasonable Sims can disagree about how the Church should allocate her resources. But what we cannot disagree about is that there must be a Church, and she needs many resources in order to accomplish her sacred mission.”

“I didn’t even think of that,” Galahad muttered miserably. “When she said it … I was just so excited that one of them was thinking, really thinking — I think I might have been too enthusiastic with her …”

He probably was, given how he favored the Placratic method. Teachers like that tended to jump all over any sign of cleverness and ingenuity, no matter to what end that cleverness and ingenuity was aimed.

But so what? thought Mother Julian. He was young. He was himself clever — indeed brilliant. He just needed time and a little more training, and he would learn eventually what was permissible and encouraged in the classroom and what wasn’t. Give him that time, and he would be a fine teacher.

“Ah, Brother Galahad,” Mother Julian replied. “So you made a mistake with her. So what? You’ll make plenty of mistakes with your students. The good Lord knows I’ve made more of them with my students than I can count! But you do know what’s more important than the mistakes you make, aye?”

“Um …”

“It’s what you learn from them,” Mother Julian replied. “And the more mistakes you make in the classroom, the more you’ll learn … and before you know it, Brother Galahad …”

Mother Julian grinned. “You’ll be as clever in front of the classroom as you were learning in it — and that, my son, ought to be your finest accomplishment yet.”

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4 thoughts on “Performance Review

  1. Oh phooey! Not that I don’t think that Galahad can be a brilliant teacher, but I think that for him to truly be as clever in front of a classroom as he was in it, he’d have to find his own way, his own views and beliefs and where to step in and where not to.

    And his way will probably never be 100% Mother Julian approved. He’s classic “The Fool” (from Tarot) dancing on the edge of the chasm, too interested in the sun and the sky and whatnot to see how close his feet are to the edge.

    I think at this point in his life, with the way he is, the only way he’ll bring himself down is if somehow he or someone else manages to tip him off the edge. But I think in a way that’d break his brilliance. So much of that is tied to how he is naïve and head in the clouds. A cynical Galahad would still be smart, clever, but I think he’d toe the line more with wariness than with the sort of understanding that Mother Julian wants.

    It’s like she wants that line, that edge to be a sign. Understand without crossing it that “If you’re here then you’re where monsters are”. And never mind that more than a few of those monsters are created especially at the hands of the church, who doesn’t want their flock of complacent sheep questioning the rules, questioning the church, questioning the man in the robe with the lousy haircut and/or funny hat on the pulpit.

    Never mind that a lot of those monsters out there are nothing of the sort and never mind that the church doesn’t acknowledge so many true monsters in their midst. Freewheeling Jessiah is more a monster in the church’s eyes than Bors, because Bors plays by the churches rules and never mind that he’s done his best to break the spirits of his wife and his daughters. He’s not publicly drunk.

    But it is interesting to see Galahad and Mother Julian and how they view things differently. He with “Children ought to be encouraged and think for themselves and be clever and make their own conclusions.” And she with “Children need to be guided, sheltered, protected from themselves and their own thoughts and questions. Here’s the spoon, take it like a good little child, it’ll tell you all you really need to know.”

    • Interesting that you peg Galahad as “The Fool.” In a way he really is dancing on the edge of the chasm, and though he is quite brilliant in the scholastic realm, outside of that … yeah, not necessarily so much.

      Your thoughts on a Galahad who understood where the line is and knows not to cross it are also intriguing. It is questionable whether he would be able to be so brilliant if he put up a mental “do not enter” sign in his thoughts. If he’s not free to think what he thinks — if he can’t follow his logic wherever it leads — then he might very well lose that brilliance. He’s never going to accomplish anything great if he’s hemmed in and kept out of the lines of thinking that he knows instinctively are right.

      But Andavri, even though some of the monsters are of the church’s making, does that make them any less real? Heresy is a big deal, and in a way it almost doesn’t matter whether you’re right or the guy in the funny hat is … if the guy in the funny hat holds all the power and can have you killed. Mother Julian is responsible for children. She’d like all of them to live long and healthy lives. Blowing raspberries at church authorities is not a good way to do that. So she’s trying to keep them on the straight and narrow as much to keep them safe as to keep them obedient little sheep.

      And that’s not even getting into what Mother Julian perceives as her educational mission vs. what Galahad sees as his. There’s really a fundamental divide here. It ought to be interesting to see how that plays out in later posts.

      Thanks, Andavri! 🙂

  2. At least Galahad seems to enjoy teaching more than he enjoys running his parish. I like that he’s encouraging their independent thought–hell, most of my grade school teachers never did that, and I started grade one in 1997. It’s too bad that the de Ganises wouldn’t have had a teacher like him. Who knows, maybe he’ll still be teaching when Evette and Lionel get to that age?

    That said, I can see why Mother Julian would want more concrete methods. She does have to teach to the Camford exams, and with an open-ended, largely student-directed teaching style, there’s a chance that critical information might get missed. I don’t think we see eye-to-eye on religious interpretation, but I like Mother Julian as a character enough to let that slide.

    Hey, isn’t Cherry going to Camford next round? She’s a year older than Delyth and Dilys and Other Associates, isn’t she?

    • He does enjoy teaching a lot. 🙂 Give him the right bunch of students and both he and they will thrive. As for teaching the kids to think for themselves, well, that’s just Galahad. The idea that you could or should teach kids to do anything else would boggle his mind. 🙂

      … His mind will probably be in for a lot of boggling eventually …

      And with your pointing out part of Mother Julian’s endgame (high scores on the Camford exams), we may have a reason why some of your grade school teachers (and mine!) didn’t necessarily encourage independent thought! Independent thought only works if it gets the student to the correct answer on the high-stakes test. If it doesn’t, well, better to teach them rote memorization and regurgitation, to please the corporate overlords.

      Yes, yes, Cherry is going to Camford next round. I do look very forward to seeing what kind of trouble she gets into. Should be fun!

      Thanks, Van! 😀

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