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The School Room

Novelist and essayist George A. Birmingham was in his nonliterary life a clergyman in Ireland where he was pestered by bishops and other authorities to fill in recurring questionnaires. He took particular umbrage against the annual demand from the education office to report the dimensions of his village schoolroom. In the first and second years, he duly filled in the required figures. The third year he replied that the schoolroom was still the same size. The education office badgered him with reminders until Birmingham finally filled in the figures. This time he doubled the dimensions of his schoolroom. Nobody queried it. So he went on doubling the measurements until “in the course of five or six years that schoolroom became a great deal larger than St. Paul’s Cathedral.” But nobody at the education office was at all concerned. So, the next year, Birmingham suddenly reduced the dimensions of his colossal classroom “to the size of an American tourist trunk. It would have been impossible to get three children in that schoolroom.” And nobody took the slightest notice, for nobody needed the information. But the system did, and the system had to be satisfied.

Patrick Ryan in Smithsonian