This story by Isaac Asimov is a futuristic interpretation of the advanced and technical mode of education some hundred years from now when books and schools are just histories. This story brings into limelight the insights of a child who is made to learn from a mechanical teacher in a virtual classroom and her views on the fun of studying in an actual school with other children.
Summary of “The Fun They Had”
The story begins with Margie writing down “Today Tommy found a real book!”. She heard from her grandfather that when he was a little boy, his grandfather told him that all stories were printed on paper. They turned the yellow pages of the book and found it funny to read the words that didn’t move like they are supposed to move on a screen. When they turned back to the page before, it still had the same words on it like the first time.
Tommy felt that when one is through with the book, it’s supposed to be thrown away. Margie was eleven and Tommy was thirteen and naturally, Margie hadn’t seen as many Telebooks as Tommy had. Tommy had found the book in his house, in the attic and on asking, he informs Margie that the book is about school. Margie always hated school but now she hated school even more as the mechanical teacher had been giving her tests repeatedly and she had been going worse in the tests till her mother sent for the Country Inspector.
The Country Inspector was a red-faced little round man with a box of tools with dials and wires. He used to smile at Margie and give her an apple, and then took the teacher apart. But right after an hour or so, it was there again with a big screen on which the lessons were shown and the questions were asked. But Margie hated the part where she had to put her homework and tests papers on the slot. She was made to write them in a punch code that she was taught when she was six years old. Then, the mechanical teacher would calculate the marks very quickly.
After finishing, the inspector would smile and pat Margie’s head. Then he said to Margie’s mother that he thinks that the geography sector was geared too quick and that it wasn’t really Margie’s fault that she was doing badly in the tests. He further added that he has slowed it up to an average ten-year level and the overall progress of Margie is satisfactory.
Margie was upset about the whole thing and she hoped that the teacher would be taken away altogether. Because the history sector was blanked out totally, they had once taken Tommy’s teacher away for about a month.
On asking Tommy why someone would write about school, he replies that it is not about their kind of school but about the kind of school that existed centuries ago where the children were taught by a teacher who was a man, who used to ask boys and girls questions and gave them homework. Margie is surprised and is unable to comprehend how a man can be a teacher. She is of the belief that a man isn’t smart enough. She says that she wouldn’t let a strange man in her house teach her. However, Tommy finds it hilarious and tells her that the teachers didn’t have to live in the student’s house. They had a building where all the kids went to learn from them. Margie is curious to know if all the kids learned the same thing as her mother told her that a teacher has to adjust himself to fit the mind of each kid as each kid is meant to be taught differently. Margie wanted to read about “those funny schools” so she asks Tommy is she could read the book with him after school.
It was time for Margie’s class so she went into the schoolroom that was right next to her bedroom. The mechanical teacher was waiting for her there. The lessons were always on at the same time every day except Saturday and Sunday because according to her mother, little girls learned better at regular hours.
It was time for the arithmetic lesson on the addition of proper fractions and Margie was asked to insert last day’s homework in the paper slot. Margie followed the instructions but she couldn’t help but think about the old schools where all the kids from the neighbourhood came and sat together in the schoolroom, laughing and chattering, and went home together at the end of the day. All of them learned the same thing which meant that they could help one another with the homework. She was still making peace with the idea that in old schools the teachers were people.
The lesson was flashing on the screen but all Margie could think about is how the kids must have loved the old school days. She kept thinking about the fun they had in those days.