“So I had to have like three years of math in high school to get into college,” Brielle was telling us, “even though I’m getting an art degree. And I have to take more math in college, for, like, an art degree. But I was reading this guy in, like, the New York Times or something, and he was saying nobody should have to do algebra to get into college, cause it’s like keeping out people who would be really smart in other subjects, and most people will never have to do it in real life.”
“I don’t think algebra is the only problem,” Mr. Magundi said. “I think the problem is that, when you come right down to it, all the necessary subjects have been learned, or should have been learned, by sixth grade. By that time, every child who’s gone though school should know how to read, write, and leave a tip at a restaurant. But then what do we do with them? They have to stay in school, because they’re too young to work and too stupid to be trusted at home all day.
“So they end up in high school. But every high-school class is unnecessary for most of the students in it. No one I know who isn’t in a scientific or engineering field uses algebra, and no one I know who isn’t in an academic or literary field uses English Lit. And apparently no one at all uses World History, to judge by the way we keep repeating it. I suppose it may be true that you’re a better person for learning all that algebra. But I might also argue that you would be an even better person if you had spent all that time on developing your artistic skill, which is what you really love, rather than on math classes that you hated, and that taught you things you will never use again after your last math test.
“But I suppose I should keep my mouth shut. If we start questioning whether high-school kids have to learn algebra, pretty soon we’ll start asking whether they have to go to school at all.”
“But they can’t possibly really believe that,” I said. “I know they’re not that stupid. So I think we have to ask, What are their real motives?”
Mr. Magundi shook his head a little sadly. “That’s the thing we always tell ourselves when we’re faced with the unaccountable obtuseness of the other side. We know for a fact that we are right and they are wrong, because we are sure the truth is blindingly obvious. So either they must be so stupid that they can’t think straight, or they must be only pretending to believe what they say they believe for the sake of some hidden motivation. We have hope for the stupid ones, because we may be able to explain the truth to them; but we can only conclude that the intelligent ones are actively evil.
“The existence of God is perfectly obvious to a Christian; the absence of God is perfectly obvious to an atheist. The inferiority of the female is so transparently clear to a fundamentalist Muslim that he knows no intelligent man can deny it; the wickedness of sequestering women is equally clear to an ordinary American. If anyone does deny these obvious truths, therefore, it must be from wicked and selfish motives. And that ought not to be allowed. People who preach falsehood ought to be stopped; they ought to be punished for allowing their wicked selfishness to prevail over truth.
“We get very angry about that kind of deliberate falsehood. And we can never admit to ourselves that it is not deliberate, because the alternative is simply too dreadful to think about: that intelligent people, having examined the very ideas we know to be correct, can come to different conclusions; and that it is possible, however remotely, that some of the very ideas we hold as most fundamentally important and immutably true are false.”
“She decided they were going to write their own wedding vows,” Brielle was saying.
“Did she sew her own wedding gown, too?” Mr. Magundi asked.
“But I don’t think our president should worry about what they want,” Mr. Bates was saying. “His job is to serve our country, not theirs. America first, that’s what I say.”
“I agree,” Mr. Magundi said. “In fact, I apply the same patriotic principle to my own everyday life. Whenever there’s a long line over at the IGA store, I always push my way to the front, shouting ‘Magundi first!’ all the way. Other people don’t like it much, but I don’t think I should worry about what they want.”
“So I’ll be glad when the whole thing is over,” Mrs. Bowman told us, “so I can stop answering the phone every five minutes.”
“I get those phone calls, too,” Mr. Magundi said. “It’s always some candidate for state representative telling me how honest and aboveboard he is, how his whole record is an open book. But the Caller ID always says ‘Unknown Number,’ which I think tells us more about his real honesty and aboveboardness than any of his rhetoric does.”