You will possibly shudder, but you will certainly remember for a long time,
this story of what happens when Tomorrow's gently implacable teachers are
faced with a problem for which there seems to be only one solution....
by ... V. E. Thiessen
There is a quiet horror to
this story from Tomorrow....
Evening had begun to fall. In
the cities the clamor softened along
the streets, and the women made
small, comfortable, rattling noises
in the kitchens. Out in the country
the cicadas started their singing,
and the cool smell began to rise out
of the earth. But everywhere, in the
cities and in the country, the children
were late from school.
There were a few calls, but the
robotic telephone devices at the
schools gave back the standard answer:
"The schools are closed for
the day. If you will leave a message
it will be recorded for tomorrow."
The telephones between houses
began to ring. "Is Johnny home
from school yet?"
"No. Is Jane?"
"Not yet. I wonder what can be
"Something new, I guess. Oh,
well, the roboteachers know best.
They will be home soon."
"Yes, of course. It's foolish to
The children did not come.
After a time a few cars were
driven to the schools. They were
met by the robots. The worried parents
were escorted inside. But the
children did not come home.
And then, just as alarm was beginning
to stir all over the land,
the robots came walking, all of the
robots from the grade schools, and
the high schools, and the colleges.
All of the school system walking,
with the roboteachers saying, "Let
us go into the house where you can
sit down." All over the streets of
the cities and the walks in the country
the robots were entering houses.
"What's happened to my children?"
"If you will go inside and sit
"What's happened to my children?
Tell me now!"
"If you will go inside and sit
Steel and electrons and wires and
robotic brains were inflexible. How
can you force steel to speak? All
over the land the people went inside
and sat nervously waiting an explanation.
There was no one out on the
streets. From inside the houses came
the sound of surprise and agony.
After a time there was silence. The
robots came out of the houses and
went walking back to the schools.
In the cities and in the country there
was the strange and sudden silence
The children did not come home.
The morning before the robots
walked, Johnny Malone, the Mayor's
son, bounced out of bed with a
burst of energy. Skinning out of his
pajamas and into a pair of trousers,
he hurried, barefooted, into his
mother's bedroom. She was sleeping
soundly, and he touched one shoulder
The sleeping figure stirred. His
mother's face, still faintly shiny
with hormone cream, turned toward
him. She opened her eyes. Her voice
"What is it, Johnny?"
"Today's the day, mommy. Remember?"
"The day?" Eyebrows raised.
"The new school opens. Now
we'll have roboteachers like everyone
else. Will you fix my breakfast,
"Amelia will fix you something."
"Aw, mother. Amelia's just a
robot. This is a special day. And I
want my daddy to help me with my
arithmetic before I go. I don't want
the roboteacher to think I'm dumb."
His mother frowned in deepening
irritation. "Now, there's no reason
why Amelia can't get your
breakfast like she always does. And
I doubt if it would be wise to wake
your father. You know he likes to
sleep in the morning. Now, you go
on out of here and let me sleep."
Johnny Malone turned away,
fighting himself for a moment, for
he knew he was too big to cry. He
walked more slowly now and entered
his father's room. He had to
shake his father to awaken him.
"Daddy! Wake up, daddy!"
"What in the devil? Oh, Johnny."
His father's eyes were sleepily
bleak. "What in thunder do you
"Today's the first day of roboteachers.
I can't work my arithmetic.
Will you help me before I go to
His father stared at him in
amazement. "Just what in the devil
do you think roboteachers are for?
They're supposed to teach you. If
you knew arithmetic we wouldn't
"But the roboteachers may be
angry if I don't have my lesson."
Johnny Malone's father turned
on one elbow. "Listen, son," he
said. "If those roboteachers give you
any trouble you just tell them you're
the Mayor's son. See. Now get the
devil out of here. What's her name—that
servorobot—Amelia will get
your breakfast and get you off to
school. Now suppose you beat it
out of here and let me go back to
"Yes, Sir." Eyes smarting, Johnny
Malone went down the stairs to
the kitchen. It wasn't that his parents
were different. All the kids
were fed and sent to school by
robots. It was just that—well today
seemed sort of special. Downstairs
Amelia, the roboservant, placed hot
cereal on the table before him.
After he had forced a few bites past
the tightness in his throat, Amelia
checked the temperature and his
clothing and let him out the door.
The newest school was only a few
blocks from his home, and Johnny
could walk to school.
The newest school stood on the
edge of this large, middlewestern
city. Off to the back of the school
were the towers of the town, great
monolithic skyscrapers of pre-stressed
concrete and plastic. To the
front of the school the plains
stretched out to meet a cloudy
A helio car swung down in
front of the school. Two men and
a woman got out.
"This is it, Senator." Doctor Wilson,
the speaker, was with the government
bureau of schools. He
lifted his arm and gestured, a lean,
The second man, addressed as
Senator, was bulkier, grey suited
and pompous. He turned to the
woman with professional deference.
"This is the last one, my dear.
This is what Doctor Wilson calls
the greatest milestone in man's education."
"With the establishing of this
school the last human teacher is
gone. Gone are all the human weaknesses,
the temper fits of teachers,
their ignorance and prejudices. The
roboteachers are without flaw."
The woman lifted a lorgnette to
her eyes. "Haow interesting. But
after all, we've had roboteachers for
years, haven't we—or have we—?"
She made a vague gesture toward
the school, and looked at the
"Yes, of course. Years ago your
women's clubs fought against roboteachers.
That was before they were
"I seem to recall something of
that. Oh well, it doesn't matter."
The lorgnette gestured idly.
"Shall we go in?" the lean man
The woman hesitated. Senator
said tactfully, "After all, Doctor
Wilson would like you to see his
The brown-suited man nodded.
His face took on a sharp intensity.
"We're making a great mistake. No
one is interested in educating the
children any more. They leave it to
the robots. And they neglect the
children's training at home."
The woman turned toward him
with surprise in her eyes. "But really,
aren't the robots the best teachers?"
"Of course they are. But confound
it, we ought to be interested
in what they teach and how they
teach. What's happened to the old
PTA? What's happened to parental
discipline, what's happened to—"
He stopped suddenly and
smiled, a rueful tired smile.
"I suppose I'm a fanatic on this.
Come on inside."
They passed through an antiseptic
corridor built from dull green
plastic. The brown-suited man pressed
a button outside one of the
classrooms. A door slid noiselessly
into the hall. A robot stood before
them, gesturing gently. They followed
the robot into the classroom.
At the head of the classroom another
robot was lecturing. There
were drawings on a sort of plastic
blackboard. There were wire models
on the desk in front of the robot.
They listened for a moment, and
for a moment it seemed that the
woman could be intrigued in spite
"Mathematics," Doctor Wilson
murmured in her ear. "Euclidean
Geometry and Aristotelean reasoning.
We start them young on these
old schools of thought, then use
Aristotle and Euclid as a point of
departure for our intermediate
classes in mathematics and logic."
"REAHLLY!" The lorgnette
studied Doctor Wilson. "You mean
there are several kinds of geometry?"
Doctor Wilson nodded. A dull
flush crept into his cheeks. The
Senator caught his eyes and winked.
The woman moved toward the
door. At the door the robot bowed.
The lorgnette waved in appreciation.
"It's reahlly been most charming!"
Wilson said desperately, "If your
women's clubs would just visit our
schools and see this work we are
carrying on ..."
"Reahlly, I'm sure the robots are
doing a marvelous job. After all,
that's what they were built for."
Wilson called, "Socrates! Come
here!" The robot approached from
his position outside the classroom
"Why were you built, Socrates?
Tell the lady why you were built."
A metal throat cleared, a metal
voice said resonantly, "We were
made to serve the children. The
children are the heart of a society.
As the children are raised, so will
the future be assured. I will do
everything for the children's good,
this is my prime law. All other laws
are secondary to the children's
"Thank you, Socrates. You may
Metal footsteps retreated. The
lorgnette waved again. "Very impressive.
Very efficient. And now,
Senator, if we can go. We are to
have tea at the women's club. Varden
is reviewing his newest musical
The Senator said firmly, "Thank
you, Doctor Wilson."
His smile was faintly apologetic.
It seemed to say that the women's
clubs had many votes, but that Wilson
should understand, Wilson's
own vote would be appreciated too.
Wilson watched the two re-enter
the helicopter and rise into the
morning sunshine. He kicked the
dirt with his shoe and turned to
find Socrates behind him. The
metallic voice spoke.
"You are tired. I suggest you go
home and rest."
"I'm not tired. Why can they be
so blind, so uninterested in the children?"
"It is our job to teach the children.
You are tired. I suggest you
go home and rest."
How can you argue with metal?
What can you add to a perfect
mechanism, designed for its job,
and integrated with a hundred
other perfect mechanisms? What
can you do when a thousand schools
are so perfect they have a life of
their own, with no need for human
guidance, and, most significant, no
failures from human weakness?
Wilson stared soberly at this
school, at the colossus he had helped
to create. He had the feeling that
it was wrong somehow, that if
people would only think about it
they could find that something was
"You are tired."
He nodded at Socrates. "Yes, I
am tired. I will go home."
Once, on the way home, he stared
back toward the school with
Inside the school there was the
ringing of a bell. The children
trooped into the large play area
that was enclosed in the heart of the
great building. Here and there they
began to form in clusters. At the
centers of the clusters were the newest
students, the ones that had
moved here, the ones that had been
in the robot schools before.
"Is it true that the roboteachers
will actually spank you?"
"It's true, all right."
"You're kidding. It's only a story,
like Santa Claus or Johnny Appleseed.
The human teachers never
spanked us here."
"The robots will spank you if
you get out of line."
"My father says no robot can lay
a hand on a human."
"These robots are different."
The bell began to ring again. Recess
was over. The children moved
toward the classroom. All the children
except one—Johnny Malone,
husky Johnny Malone, twelve years
old—the Mayor's son. Johnny Malone
kicked at the dirt. A robot proctor
approached. The metallic voice
"The ringing of the bell means
that classes are resumed. You will
take your place, please."
"I won't go inside."
"You will take your place,
"I won't. You can't make me take
my place. My father is the Mayor."
The metal voice carried no feeling.
"If you do not take your place
you will be punished."
"You can't lay a hand on me. No
The robot moved forward. Two
metal hands held Johnny Malone.
Johnny Malone kicked the robot's
legs. It hurt his toes. "We were
made to teach the children. We can
do what is necessary to teach the
children. I will do everything for
the children's good. It is my prime
law. All other laws are secondary
to the children's good."
The metal arms moved. The human
body bent across metal knees.
A metal hand raised and fell, flat,
very flat so that it would sting and
the blood would come rushing, and
yet there would be no bruising, no
damage to the human flesh. Johnny
Malone cried out in surprise. Johnny
Malone wept. Johnny Malone
squirmed. The metal ignored all
of these. Johnny Malone was placed
on his feet. He swarmed against the
robot, striking it with small fists,
bruising them against the solid
smoothness of the robot's thighs.
"You will take your place,
Tears were useless. Rage was useless.
Metal cannot feel. Johnny
Malone, the Mayor's son, was intelligent.
He took his place in the
One of the more advanced literature
classes was reciting. The roboteacher
"The weird sisters, hand in hand,
Posters of the sea and land,
Thus do go about, about:
Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
And thrice again, to make up nine.
Peace! the charm's wound up."
Hands shot into the air. The metallic
voice said, "Tom?"
"That's from Shakespeare's Macbeth."
"And what is its meaning?"
"The weird sisters are making a
charm in the beginning of the play.
They have heard the drum that announces
"That is correct."
A new hand shot into the air.
"Question, teacher. May I ask a
"You may always ask a question."
"Are witches real? Do you robots
know of witches? And do you know
of people? Can a roboteacher understand
The thin metal voice responded.
"Witches are real and unreal.
Witches are a part of the reality of
the mind, and the human mind is
real. We roboteachers are the repository
of the human mind. We
hold all the wisdom and the knowledge
and the aspirations of the human
race. We hold these for you,
the children, in trust. Your good is
our highest law. Do you understand?"
The children nodded. The metallic
voice went on. "Let us return to
Macbeth for our concluding quotation.
The weather, fortune, many
things are implied in Macbeth's
opening speech. He says, 'So foul
and fair a day I have not seen.' The
paradox is both human and appropriate.
One day you will understand
this even more. Repeat the
quotation after me, please, and try
to understand it."
The childish voices lifted. "So
foul and fair a day I have not seen."
The roboteacher stood up. "And
there's the closing bell. Do not hurry
away, for you are to remain here
tonight. There will be a school
party, a sleep-together party. We
will all sleep here in the school
"You mean we can't go home?"
The face of the littlest girl
screwed up. "I want to go home."
"You may go home tomorrow.
There will be a holiday tomorrow.
A party tonight and a holiday tomorrow
for every school on earth."
The tears were halted for a moment.
The voice was querulous.
"But I want to go home now."
Johnny Malone, the Mayor's son,
put one hand on the littlest girl.
"Don't cry, Mary. The robots don't
care if you cry or not. You can't
hurt them or cry them out of anything.
We'll all go home in the
The robots began to bring cots
and to place them in the schoolroom,
row on row. The children
were led out into the play quadrangle
to play. One of the robots
taught them a new game, and after
that took them to supper served in
the school's cafeteria. No other
robot was left in the building, but
it did not matter, because the doors
were locked so that the children
could not go home.
The other robots had begun to
walk out into the town, and as they
walked the robots walked from
other schools, in other towns. All
over the country, all over the towns,
the robots walked to tell the people
that the children would not be
home from school, and do what had
to be done.
In the schools, the roboteachers
told stories until the children fell
Morning came. The robots were
up with the sun. The children were
up with the robots. There was
breakfast and more stories, and now
the children clustered about the
robots, holding onto their arms,
where they could cling, tagging and
frisking along behind the robots as
they went down into the town. The
sun was warm, and it was early,
early, and very bright from the
morning sun in the streets.
They went into the Mayor's
house. Johnny called, "Mom!
Dad! I'm home."
The house was silent. The robot
that tended the house came gliding
in answer. "Would you like breakfast,
"I've had breakfast. I want my
folks. Hey! Mom, Dad!"
He went into the bedroom. It
was clean and empty and scrubbed.
"Where's my mother and
The metal voice of the robot beside
Johnny said, "I am going to
live with you. You will learn as
much at home as you do at school."
"Where's my mother?"
"I'm your mother."
"Where's my father?"
"I'm your father."
Johnny Malone swung. "You
mean my mother and father are
gone?" Tears gathered in his eyes.
Gently, gently, the metal hand
pulled him against the metal body.
"Your folks have gone away, Johnny.
Everyone's folks have gone
away. We will stay with you."
Johnny Malone ran his glance
around the room.
"I might have known they were
gone. The place is so clean."
All the houses were clean. The
servant robots had cleaned all night.
The roboteachers had checked each
house before the children were
brought home. The children must
not be alarmed. There must be no
bits of blood to frighten them.
The robot's voice said gently,
"Today will be a holiday to become
accustomed to the changes. There
will be school tomorrow."
This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe November 1956.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.