Dear Reader,

In the tradition of American Folklore legend, John Henry, I am starting this serial piece:

The Computer That Beat the School Teacher

Part 1

Kat stared at the pile of tests to be graded and sighed.   She’d been at it for hours.   Exhaustion and frustration were her new best friends.  It seemed like just when she was at the limit for the number of students she could possibly handle, the administration gave her more.   The Second Great Depression was taking its toll.

Kat was never one to quit.  After making herself a fresh pot of coffee, she sat back down with renewed energy to the task at hand.   Here was Henry’s test.   She was worried about him.    She could not give him the extra attention he needed and losing him to failing grades would be an injustice.

She got to the end of his test and was pleased.   He had managed to pull his grade up!  His parents must have gotten him some tutoring.  She took the next test in the pile – John’s.   Henry’s best friend.   There was a good kid!   Smart and hard working.  She began breezing through grading his test.

Kat wasn’t sure exactly when her stomach dropped out.   Probably about halfway through grading John’s test when she realized it was identical to Henry’s.   Two good kids cheating to get through school because there was no help available to them.

The next day, Kat, sat despondently in the morning teachers’ meeting.   She heard the news:   A new computer system was being put in place to grade tests.   The teachers’ workload would be lightened beginning next fall.

“S*&t, That’s just great! “, thought Kat, “Now the kids don’t stand a chance – thrown to a machine.”   Kat reminisced about how well her PC ran.  Then she heard the worst news – in addition to grading the tests, this was a smart machine.   It could catch cheaters.   She had no chance of helping the Henrys in her class that could be saved from cheating.

Kat couldn’t quit.   No matter what – the kids needed her.

Next Fall, Kat anxiously logged back into her educational account to collect the first test results.  It had been a long first term with the kids.  Instead of Henry and John, she was now worried about Emma and Alexis.  She slumped when she saw the results.   The computer had flagged the girls’ tests for further investigation by the teacher for cheating.

Read tomorrow for the next installment.

This piece inspired by:

Judge Jeffrey White
The New York Times: Cheaters Find an Adversary in Technology
John Henry: The Steel Driving Man