Mr. Ichthus

He’d introduced himself and gotten to chatting the man that chaired the local board of education. He’d been to the meetings and was invited to events and then a ceremony and then a barbecue. So he donated money that bought books for the library, and ran himself a successful seat on the board. He still went to the meetings only this time behind the long, broad desk on the dais the board members sat behind, seated in office chairs they sometimes twisted in when reading off notices to the public. His time passed a 4-year term and other matters in life bade him to pass the torch and a like-minded friend received his seat.

The board of education meetings told the passing of the year: it was August 12, 2023 and the M_____ City Board of Education – Regular Meeting was in session to a full house for the coming school year. The rows of chairs and the back walls were occupied by citizens concerned over the passage of a bill at the highest levels to overturn, undo, repeal, remove excise eliminate some routine practice known to time like striations in the bedrock.

Faces that had fumed grew quiet with their huffs and an exhaustion calmed the packed-in, overheated crowd.

“Mr. Ichthus,” said Benjamin Trowle, who had a jacuzzi on a rustic deck overlooking hillsides. Excellent whiskey hours.

Mr. Ichthus rose from his seat, waited a moment, and then strode to the counsel table, facing the board. He cleared his throat and adjusted the microphone and without consulting the sheets of paper he’d carried along, he began.

“I would like to propose two new programs for grades 10 through 12 at the M_____ City and U_____ high schools: farming and philosophy.”

He continued. “The world faces however-so-many problems — and it always will, that much isn’t going to change. Forget everything else. There are ways to keep society going along in peace and prosperity, and there are ways we know — from tradition and history and story, that society’s typically fail.

“Just so as a man lives and dies do nations and states and empires. We are always under threat, of some menace or barbarian, plague or the unknown horrors of our own vast existence. The unexpected cataclysm, the blindspot before our eyes. A plague, a famine, a catastrophe of man’s own making.

“Call it tyranny, if you will. The cruelty of power pressing down till you and yours no longer breathe. That is, among all else, the ever-present death at the door of liberty. Democracy. Equality before the law. And it is history and tradition, the steady river feeding society, replenishing it in regular intervals, that make it possible for a way of life, for the values on which that society is built, to be ensured for the generations that follow.

“Is it not worth the price for our distant children to enjoy a bill of indisputable rights? To have at their own disposal their own resources and will?

“Well, then, we must assure it. We must assure that those learnings which granted us liberty from tyranny are not lost in the shadows of generations past. The dust of a history book.

“And among those lessons we know of two to be foundational: a wise mind and a self-sufficient capacity. Few louts resist the call of demagogues and despots — most take the tyrant’s promises and creeds as honest. You need to know how to think to notice propaganda and spin. And, again, the man who can’t feed himself or fix his own house or balance his own accounts quickly finds himself in a corner credulous to bite any man’s promise to get out.

Mr. Ichthus paused. At some point he’d turned to address the crowd as well and, assured the crowd was listening intently, turned back to face the board.

“For these reasons, I’m willing to guarantee two-million dollars over the next 10 years to establish farming and philosophy courses in both high schools, grades 10 through 12.”

Mr. Ichthus had done his homework. He’d met with board members who’d bought his plan and helped him work out the accounting. Two-million dollars would be enough for books and gardens and pay raises for instructors to teach the classes. Mr. Ichthus turned to face the gathered crowd again to scan and understand the commotion that had taken hold. It seemed to Mr. Ichthus that a large portion liked his idea, and that a sizable group as well had questions — least not a few who sat with crossed arms and shouted brief rejoinders at their neighbors.

“Before we turn this to the board,” said Mr. Ichthus, repeating himself a second time, louder, to get the attention everyone present, “Before we turn this to the board, I’d like to open the floor to any questions or comments.” Mr. Ichthus turned and bowed to the board. “If that would be alright with the board.”

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