Summary – Chapter Five
The next day the students drift into the history class as usual. Robert is by the window, tying knots in the blind cord, and his ‘incessant tormentor’ Brad walks past and pats him. In so doing, he puts a sticker on Robert’s back that says ‘kick me’.
As the other students enter, they notice Ben has written ‘Strength Through Discipline’ on the blackboard. Someone asks what this means and he says he will explain when they are all sitting down. There is a ‘collective groan’ when he says he is going to talk about discipline as most of the students expect him not to give lectures on this. He explains that when he talks about discipline he is also talking about power and makes a fist to accentuate this. He says he is also talking about success. He asks what they would say if he told them they can create power through discipline.
They become interested finally and curious and he says discipline begins with posture. He uses Amy to exemplify this. He instructs her on how to sit and asks if she can breathe more easily now. Some of the others follow suit. David makes a joke and a few laugh, but they still try to improve their posture. Ben encourages David to try and he does. Ben walks down the aisles and notes everyone is trying it and thinks ‘somehow he’d hooked them’. Even Robert is joining in. Ben praises Robert to the others for the way he is sitting and the others try to copy him.
At the front of the room, Ben tells them he wants them to walk around and return to their seats when he gives the command and they must assume the ‘“proper seating posture”’. They do as he says and he does not let them walk for too long as he knows they will lose concentration. He gets them to do it again, but more quietly and controlled, and they do so.
They do this for 20 minutes and he shouts orders, ‘more like a drill sergeant than a teacher’. He adds a twist and asks them to move from the hall to their seats and times them. Before the last attempt, David has the idea that they line up in the hall with the ones at the front being the ones who have furthest to travel. The class agree and notice Robert is at the front. Someone whispers that he, Robert, is the new head of class.
Ben has been timing them and he says they only took 16 seconds this time (compared to 30 seconds previously). The class cheer when he tells them this. He tells them to quieten down and silence fills the room. He thinks it is only usually this quiet when it is empty.
He informs them there are three more rules they have to obey. Firstly, they must all have a pencil and paper for note taking, Secondly, when asking or answering a question they must stand at the side of their seats. Thirdly, the first words they say when answering or asking must be ‘Mr Ross’. They nod in agreement with these rules.
He asks Brad who was the British Prime Minister before Winston Churchill and Brad remains seated as he attempts to answer. Ben cuts him off and says ‘“wrong”’ and that he has already forgotten the rules. He tells Robert to show Brad the ‘“correct procedure”’. He then has Brad answer correctly two more times and tells him to quicken up.
Ben asks others questions and if they follow the procedure but do not know the answer he still praises the student for using the correct form. Laurie answers her question correctly, but because she does not say ‘Mr Ross’ first, Ben shouts ‘“no”’ and bangs his ruler on the desk. He tells her to do it again correctly and Laurie sits down and looks confused. David leans over and tells her and she answers in the expected way.
All the students are asked questions and they are eager to show their knowledge and the ‘correct form’. It is a far cry from the casual atmosphere they usually have in his class, but neither Ben nor the students notice.
They leave after receiving the ‘final orders’ of the day for their homework. In the corridor, Brian is ‘in uncharacteristic enthusiasm’ and says how the class was ‘“like a rush”’. David says that when they acted together they were more like a unit than a class. He says he can see the power Mr Ross spoke of and Brad says he is taking it too seriously.
Alone in the toilet, David wonders if this same unity could be used to bring the football team together to make it a better team. When he comes out of the stall, he sees Robert looking in the mirror, tucking in his shirt and straightening some of his hair. He also sees him snap to attention and move his lips silently, ‘as if he was still in Mr Ross’s class answering questions’. He sees him do this again and again.
The narrative cuts to Christy and Ben late that night. He tells her how the students took to his commands and that everyone enjoyed his class. He says they wanted to be disciplined and thinks it is more than a game to them. She grins and says he has ‘“created a monster”’ and he chuckles and says ‘“hardly”’. Before he goes to sleep, he thinks that although he did not admit it to Christy he was also caught up in the game: ‘The fierce exchange of questions and answers, the quest for perfect discipline – it had been infectious and, in a way, mesmerizing. He had enjoyed his students’ accomplishments.’
Analysis – Chapter Five
The sinister elements of Ben’s experiments are made evident to the readers as he takes on the role of leader rather than teacher. He tells students they are wrong when they answer with the incorrect form, even if they are factually correct, and so sets the tone for the experiment. The class has become one that admires discipline and speed over learning and when Christy says he has created a monster, she unwittingly speaks the truth. The majority of the students are seen to enjoy this new style of teaching, and of being controlled in a way that makes them feel united (even if this sense of well-being is created at the cost of them giving up their independence).
Even on this first day, Robert is seen to thrive in this new atmosphere and it as though he has found purpose in the atmosphere of order and control. Ben also makes a point of highlighting his successes and, therefore, shows the others that he has value too. Prior to this experiment, Robert was left to sleep or was bullied or left alone.