Jack Clements took a couple of slow sips from his water glass, meanwhile getting a kick out of the show Oscar Davidson was putting on. The way Oscar was gesticulating with his fork, it was a wonder he hadn't catapulted his mashed potatoes onto his right-hand neighbor's head. He was completely oblivious to the homey clatter of the Thursday night community volunteers' dinner at the Methodist Church hall. He was just as oblivious to the traffic back and forth to the serving line or the grinning down-timers up and down the long table, listening to Oscar thrust and Jack parry.
Old Oscar had something altogether different on his mind, and he wasn't letting go of it. He wasn't letting go of Jack across the table from him, either. He leaned forward over his plate and thrust out his chin. "What do you mean, you can't give out an engineering degree?"
Jack had been on the school board long enough not to get flustered by somebody ranting at him. He liked people, and a lot of the things they did were entertainment, if you were willing to take them that way. So he just put on a poker face and answered it like any other question. "We teach high school. Not college. All we can issue are high school diplomas."
He caught the frown on the face of the down-timer sitting across the table next to Oscar. As far as Jack was concerned, the frown said the fellow knew better. Jack knew that Franz Schmitt had a child who was of an age to graduate and had gone through the graduation exercise and had not gotten a diploma but only received a certificate of attendance. The difference was significant. It was a compromise solution. The people who really did not like it were the up-timers who couldn't pass the new comprehensive graduation exam. But the school board stood firm. Anyone who ever attended could get a certificate of attendance and a course transcript. But no one got a diploma unless they passed the comp exam, regardless of how many credits they had.
"Or now, certificates of attendance," Jack added quickly, "since we've got so many new students who are never going to have enough time to study for everything on the comp exam or the G.E.D. Which is pretty much the same thing, but you don't have to attend any high school at all to sit for a G.E.D." Jack was careful to get the full talking point quote into the conversation.
"But we don't teach engineering." He set down his glass and speared another piece of sausage.
"Yes, we do! We teach the most advanced mathematics courses in the world. We teach the most advanced drafting classes in the world. We teach a building trades program. What do you think is involved in an engineering degree?"
"You ever talk to one of the engineers?" Jack snorted. "A heck of a lot more than that."
"Not in this day and age."
"Well, that's what's different, isn't it? If somebody wants to be this day and age's kind of engineer, they can go to Holland or Italy and learn it. Anyway, I'm not sure we teach the most advanced math in the world, and even if we do, we still aren't hardly teaching it at a college level, after all, now are we?"
"Jack. Wake up and smell the chaos! This is the seventeenth century! What university here and now does? One of our high school trades graduates could go to Jena and be examined in math and walk away with a degree."
Jack snorted again. "They couldn't even talk to the people at Jena without Latin and rhetoric, much less pass a—"
"What's Latin got to do with a degree in math?"
"Nothing, but it's what you need to study for a bachelor of arts degree from a university, because that is what the lectures are given in and that is what the books are written in."
"Have you been to the library? I didn't see anything in Latin."
"That's here. In Jena the books are in Latin. The lectures are in Latin. A bachelor of arts is what they offer and it's taught in Latin. And so are the exams." Jack paused and pointed his fork at Oscar. "Bachelor of arts. That's the seven liberal arts, plural. They don't offer a B.A. in a particular subject."
"You see, that's my point. They don't offer a degree in math, much less in engineering and design. So you can't go and take an exam over there because they don't have anyone qualified to give the exam."
"Well, Oscar, we don't either."
"Sure we do. Look, we can put together a panel. Grab Onofrio, he's your best math teacher. Grab the drafting teacher out of the shop class. He's also the guy teaching the building trades course, grab the city building inspector too. He knows the building codes. Then put together a test to see if the candidate knows his stuff, and if he can pass it, let him come before the board and see how he stands up to being cross-examined. If he knows his stuff, give him a diploma. Who in the world do you think is more qualified to do it?"
"You think it's easy to put together that kind of examination, Oscar? Be reasonable. Just slow down and think this through."
"I am being reasonable and I have thought it through."
This was getting to be a little over the top, besides making less sense the longer it went on. "Oscar . . ." Jack knew his voice carried so much annoyance that it was almost a whine. ". . . why are you making such a fuss about this?"
"Because. We've got people in town who know what they're doing. We know they know, because they're doing it in front of our eyes. At least we'd better pray they know what they're doing. It would be nice if we could give them a diploma admitting it.
"Back up-time, degreed idiots who didn't have any idea what the heck they were doing, and couldn't do the job, could still get a job. Meanwhile, people who did know what they were doing couldn't get the job because they didn't have a piece of paper hanging on the wall."
Oscar looked like he'd have liked to pound the table, and was barely remembering not to make a scene among their friends. He really did seem that wound up about it.
"Jack, I'll admit this is one of my pet peeves. But we have a chance to change the world and make the new one a better place. Okay, it's a small change. It wouldn't take away the pain of being passed over for a promotion time after time in favor of people who had degrees. But it's something we need to get done, before a whole new set of rules settles in and everything gets frozen in place again.
"The time years ago, when I was working in Pittsburgh as a machinist before coming back home, still bugs the life out of me. Tool and die makers made more than machinists. I had men coming out of the tool room asking me questions on how to get something done, but the company wouldn't let me work in the die shop because all I had was an informal apprenticeship program. Did it matter that I could machine circles around some of their tool and die men? No sirree, Bob. That didn't matter to the bosses and paper pushers. What mattered was that I didn't have a diploma."
Jack leaned back and cocked his head. It was as good a spot as any to play devil's advocate. "So, we've got qualified people who don't have a degree. It's not stopping them. It's not even slowing things down. It's working just fine. If it's not broke, why fix it?"
Oscar poked around in his peas with his dinner knife for a couple of seconds. "Working for now, maybe. We've also got people out there who don't know what they're doing! And, we don't have any way of telling them apart until they screw up. If someone wants to hire a design engineer, or a surveyor, or a building engineer, it might be real nice if we had some professional standards."
"Uh-huh. And if we screw that up, it might get in the way of getting things done, too."
"Yeah, it might. But it's more likely to keep someone with a slick tongue from bullshitting his way into a disaster. Look, we had someone walk into the machine shop yesterday with a set of drawings for a machine that would weigh a ton and take a month to build, and it still wouldn't have done what they wanted it to do. It took an hour to convince the customer that what he needed was a worm drive and a power takeoff, so the machine could be one-fifth the size at half the cost and would actually do the job. It took that long because the drawings were made by a 'master of arts' who studied under a noted natural philosopher. As if that qualifies him to be a design engineer! Somebody's got to be first. Somebody has got to set the standard. Listen, if you're worried about it, send a letter to Admiral Simpson, ask him to sit in on the first examining board. He's designed ships, and he has people he's taught to do it. Get one of them. The Swedes have combat engineers. Ask to borrow one for the board, but I'll bet you'll find out our candidates have forgotten more than he ever knew to begin with.
"But get it set up where you can pay a fee and take a test, and if you can pass it, you get a diploma."
Jack was easy-going enough, but he didn't like being pushed around or backed into a corner. Oscar had a full head of steam up and a hot fire to keep it going, and had pretty clearly forgotten about that. He didn't seem to notice the set of Jack's jaw, either.
"Oscar, the bottom line is, you need a charter to issue degrees, and we don't have one."
"Well, there isn't any accrediting agency out there that keeps track of colleges like there was up-time, now is there? Who in the world issues charters these days?"
"Well, the King of England does in England, so I guess any king can do it."
"Okay, then, it's simple. Send a letter to the King of Sweden and ask for a charter from the Captain-General."
"He'd be nuts to give us one. We're not qualified to give out degrees in the first place."
"Well, who in hell do you think is, in engineering? I mean modern engineering, not what they teach in Leiden. Who cares how to build forts? They got guys for that." Oscar slapped the table. "Jena sure isn't qualified, if they're even interested, which they ain't. They don't have anybody who can teach it, so they sure as hell don't have anyone who can supervise an engineering exam."
"Huh. Well, Oscar, tell you what. Maybe you should be talking to Mike Stearns about getting a charter from the king. I tell you what, you bring me a charter from the king, and I'll see about putting it before the school board."
"Is that all you need? A charter?"
Jack could tell that Oscar was only half-listening to what he was being told. The other half of his mind was off in his own little world where things were what he wanted them to be. Jack was sure Oscar thought that if he came back with a charter, he could have what he wanted. Which was not what Jack had said at all.
Still Jack's eyes twinkled. The thought of Oscar chasing around making an ass of himself was amusing. "It'd be a start."
"Then get ready to take it to the school board. I'll get a charter for you."
By this point in the conversation the dessert was about finished and a few people were starting to table-hop to buttonhole each other about this and that. Dinner was over. The down-timers at the table had gotten an earful; there'd probably be stories going around tomorrow. Oscar stood up and stuck out his hand. Jack shook it and Oscar headed for the door.
After he got home, Jack sat in the kitchen for a while drinking coffee, and thanking the good Lord that the Turks knew what the stuff was. He started to tell his wife Alice about the conversation he'd had at the dinner with Oscar Davidson, as much of it as he could wrap his mind around, anyway.
Alice gave him a look pretty much like one he'd given Oscar. "I don't know why you still go to those things. Me, I'd rather eat my own cooking, and sit on my own chairs instead of those ratty old folding things in the church hall. Every time I try to sit on 'em, I slide off. And for that matter, I don't see the sense of keeping the dinners up every week two years after we needed to welcome all those refugees into town affairs and get to know each other. They're sure all welcomed into Grantville's doings by now."
"I get to hear things. And you know I like people."
"Fff. I think it's just another hobby with you, like the school board. Not that you aren't doing some good there. Anyway, what was Oscar all hot and bothered about?"
"He wants the school board to issue college diplomas to high school graduates. He says we should because they know more about lotsa things than university graduates do here and now."
"Heh. He's got a point, doesn't he? He's not the first one with that idea."
"Yeah, but still, we're not running a college. We're not organized for any of that, and we're stretched as it is."
"Jack, he's right and you know it. We're already teaching things they never heard of, and we're teaching other things at levels they can't come close to."
"That's not a reason for us to be handing out college diplomas for high school work," Jack said.
"Jack, that kinda misses the point. We've already got some people in town studying at post-high school levels, and you know it. We're helping them as much as we can, even if it isn't much. The only reason you don't open up a college degree program is you're scared to. Okay, don't give out college degrees for high school work. But we've got a better library than any university in the universe. You remember that movie we saw about the Brit running a scam in Egypt, who claimed that he read for history in some school in England? You told me that meant he'd studied or taken a degree. Then you told me that back when people were allowed to take the architect's exam for a license, or the bar exam in law without a degree, it was said that they'd read for it. Well, let people read in the library and then find someone qualified to examine them! It won't cost the taxpayers a thing, because you can charge the applicant to take the test.
"Suppose you set up a reading list in different subjects? Encourage qualified people to offer lectures. Heck, some of them are doing it already. It won't be long before someone will start offering to tutor people for the exams. We've got more knowledgeable teachers, in anything that counts anyway, than anyone else in the world.
"Besides, there were un-accredited schools back home giving out degrees. Why can't an un-chartered school do it here and now?" She stopped talking and looked him in the eye.
Jack sipped on his coffee and looked across the room at the clock, thinking about it for a little bit. He set his cup down and said slowly, "Well, a lot of a university education these days centers around learning Latin. They don't teach it there, though. You've got to have it when you start just to study at a university. If someone has a bachelor's degree in this day and age, it's a bachelor of arts, and they can debate in Latin. They won't be taken seriously if they can't. If we issue degrees to people who can't, then we'll just be laughed at."
"Yeah, right. That was engineering and math you were talking about, wasn't it? Well, none of our books on that are in Latin, so what would be the point? And you wouldn't need to test them on English, either, because if they could pass an engineering exam, it would mean they understood the books.
"Besides, anything worthwhile that was ever written in Latin has been translated into English and is sitting in our library right now."
Jack chuckled. "Honey, I don't think I'd go quite that far. At least, not in public."
"Well, I would and you should. There are damn few university graduates out there, outside of the ones we brought with us, who can pass a high school basic skills competency test. And you know it." She wasn't waving her hands like Oscar had, which was a good thing considering she had a coffee cup in her hand, but her voice was rising some. "You're on the school board. If you all decide to start issuing degrees, who's going to stop you? The West Virginia State Board of Controls sure isn't going to turn up and tell you to stop. Shoot, I wish they would. If they do, we can all go home and you'll be a hero."
"Tell you the truth, it's tempting, but even if we really had the exams all put together, we don't have a charter to issue college degrees."
"Well, you don't have a charter to issue high school diplomas either, now do you? At least not one issued by anybody here and now."
"Hmm, you might have a point. We wouldn't be qualified back up-time, but like you say, there sure isn't anyone around these days who's any more qualified than we are. I'd sure rather have one of our medics or nurses taking care of me if I got sick than most of the so-called learned physicians the universities are turning out. At least a nurse wouldn't bleed a sick patient."
"There's no might to it, and you know it. You'd have already done it if you weren't scared. What I want to know is just what it is you're scared of! You ought to just go into the study and write out a policy and take it to the next school board meeting and get the members to vote on it."
"You've got chutzpah, Alice, that's for sure." He looked at her and smiled. "Well, that's one of the things about you that I fell in love with in the first place. It's probably worth a try, at that. And as much as I hate to say it, Davidson was right. We've been teaching some of the material, and there's students studying things we don't have anybody to teach. Not many, but some. We just haven't been giving out anything beyond a high school diploma. And you're right. There's no reason why we shouldn't, once somebody finishes the courses or bulls through the books on their own. Not a college degree maybe, we haven't got a whole college program, but some kind of paper to show the world what they learned. Maybe I should call Davidson and tell him he doesn't need to go to Magdeburg."
Alice's hand looped through a dismissive gesture. "Let him waste his time! He was rude to you."
Jack broke up laughing and then patted her hand. "You're right. He was. All right, why not? It'll take him a week to figure out who to ask for an appointment. Then he'll have to go back whenever he gets on the schedule, and it will probably be postponed and rescheduled. By the time he gets through chasing all over the place and gets his appointment, the next board meeting will have come and gone, and maybe we'll have some kind of a plan figured out. Heh. The city council has as much right to issue a charter as anybody."
A couple of weeks later Oscar Davidson, his shoes shined and wearing his weddings-and-funerals suit, walked into the hustle and bustle that condensed around the king of Sweden wherever he went. He gave the guards with their halberds an eyeball inspection. He didn't think of keeping the way he looked at them from showing the first thought that came into his head—that they needed to get rifles.
The court official inside naturally observed the arriving visitor's air of judgment and condescension. It marked him as a man of authority who should not be impeded. Coming straight to his post, the man asked in a polite tone of voice, "Excuse me, I'm Oscar Davidson. Can you direct me to King Gustav's office?"
He took in the suit at a glance. It was nearly new, but not pristine-new, which meant it was not made for the occasion. So the exceptional garments were ordinary to the man, which meant he was someone important. Not just someone trying to pass as someone important. Simply announcing his name without title or explanation said the man knew he was someone important, and assumed that everyone else knew who he was. The attitude that he had every reason to walk into the presence of the king, which no one would do if they did not have an appointment, was the third and settling point. This was someone who was accustomed to being accommodated and therefore should be accommodated. This was somebody who had an appointment, because he wouldn't be walking in on the king if he didn't.
"Certainly, sir. Better still—" He turned his head toward a small group of rather young men off to one side of the main doors. They stood near the desk where anyone not accustomed to the ways of power and presence would normally have stopped. He called out, "Page!"
In a metaphorical blink of an eye, one of the lads was standing next to the two men.
"Ja, mein Herr?"
"Herr Oscar Davidson has an appointment with the king. Escort him there."
The page walked into the private quarters past the guards inside the door with the words, "This is Oscar Davidson. He has an appointment to see the king."
"He does?" the receptionist asked the page's back. But the boy was gone. He stood up behind his table and called into the next room to the king's clerk. "Alver, did you miss an appointment on my schedule?" The exchange was in the Swedish they used amongst themselves instead of the German they used in Magdeburg to deal with the public. It was a convenient way to carry on a private conversation in public, at least most of the time. There was no response for a few seconds. He repeated the question. "Alver, did you miss an appointment on my copy of today's schedule? I've got an up-timer here, a Herr Davidson."
There was a momentary flutter of papers.
"No, Alberg. There's no Davidson on the schedule. Anyway, Meister Ratke is next. Perhaps Herr Davidson is here without an appointment."
"Don't be ridiculous. That couldn't happen. He would have been stopped at the door when he was challenged by the guards. Then he would have been stopped again at the entrance to the private area. He must have an appointment. He couldn't get this far without a letter."
"Well, ask him!" Alver called back.
"I'm sorry, Herr—" He started in German and switched to English—Shakespeare's English with a Swedish accent. "—or is it Mr. Davidson?" Alberg asked. The man's clothes said Grantville, and they weren't fresh from a tailor. "But you do not seem to be on the schedule. May I see the letter from His Majesty's clerk granting you an audience?"
"I don't have a letter."
"Then I am sorry. It seems your appointment didn't get on the schedule."
"I didn't make an appointment."
"And you got all the way here? Didn't they ask to see your letter? How in the world did that happen? The king is very busy, you know. No one sees him without an appointment. What did you want to see him about, anyway?"
Looking only slightly befuddled, the unexpected visitor answered, "I never said I had an appointment."
"Then how did you get in here?"
"I told someone I needed to talk to the king, and he asked that helpful young fellow to bring me here," Oscar answered.
"Who?" Alberg inquired.
Davidson shrugged. "A short little man with white hair and bushy eyebrows."
"And it was just that simple?" Alberg laughed. "That is truly amazing! There are any number of people who have spent a lot of time or paid a lot of money, or both, who never got this far. King Gustav is in the room beyond the next one."
Oscar started that way.
"But, you really don't want to go in there without an appointment! They might call for the guards, and you could even get killed if you didn't stop right away. Besides, he's busy with someone else. Why do you need to talk to the king anyway?"
Davidson stopped in his tracks at the tone of voice and looked back at Alberg quizzically. "Could I really end up getting killed?"
"Well, Oscar Davidson, it seems you are here without an appointment. Nobody here knows you. You could be an assassin, not that we really think so. But what is it you want?"
"A charter for the school board in Grantville to issue college degrees."
Alberg raised his eyebrows. "A college? A college is part of a university, which already has a charter. So why do you need another one?"
"Because Grantville does not have a chartered university," Oscar answered.
About this time someone came out of the inner offices and dropped a note on Alberg's table. Alberg glanced at it, signaled his understanding, put it down, and continued the conversation. It was getting amusing.
"Does Grantville teach the seven arts? Or the four doctoral curricula? Why do you think you should be allowed to issue degrees? I understand that Grantville teaches only in English and in German. Without Latin and rhetoric, how can you even teach the arts? Surely you don't think you can study theology or medicine or law or philosophy in English and German."
"Who the hell cares about the arts? Leave them to artists! You don't need them to study engineering, design and architecture. I don't care if a builder knows Latin. I just want to be sure the cathedral doesn't collapse with me in it. Don't you think it would be a good idea to know that the next time someone builds a bridge or a cathedral, they know what they're doing?" Oscar asked.
"Would you stop anyone who hasn't been to school in Grantville from building things?"
"No, but I do not want someone getting a job they are not qualified to do just because they came from Grantville. I'm a machinist. I'm sure I could convince someone I was qualified to build bridges. But I'm not. If Grantville has a degree program we can stop that sort of thing before it starts."
"Yes, but you are missing the point. A degree says you are trained in the arts."
"I don't care about art. For that matter, I don't see why you need a degree to paint pictures. I care about engineering and science. Leave the bachelor of arts degrees to the universities. Give us the right to establish a B.S. degree program! All I want is—"
Alberg doubled over in a deep belly laugh which brought Herr Davidson to a stop. The Swedish clerk called into the next room in English and said, "You had me going there for a minute, Alver. Your man from Grantville is here asking about a bull shit degree."
"What?" was the only reply.
"He wants a B.S. degree." Alberg said. "B.S. is bull shit. It was on that list of American English phrases we were told to study. Didn't you read it?"
"Oh, yes. B.S. Bull shit. But he is not my man. I don't know him."
"Huh? Not bull shit!" Davidson said. "A B.S. degree is a Bachelor of Science, instead of a Bachelor of Arts. You can keep your arts crap in Jena. Give us the right to examine and pass qualified people in the sciences."
"Hm. Now, that is an interesting idea, a science degree instead of an arts degree. But how would we know that your candidates were qualified?"
"Same way as arts degrees. With examinations. You can send the charter to the Grantville School Board. They're already issuing high school diplomas, and that's halfway to a science degree. Tell them they can give examinations and issue higher degrees in the sciences. There isn't any other institution qualified to give them."
"A B.S. degree?" Alberg said. "Rather amusing, really. Thank you, Mr. Davidson. Please accept my apologies. But His Majesty really does find it necessary to maintain the rule that he doesn't see anyone without an appointment."
Alberg called out in Swedish, "Page!" A young man appeared as if by magic. He had probably been waiting outside the door. "We're finished here. Show this man the way out of this maze of a beehive, and then go inform the major-domo that before he admits anyone else who unexpectedly pops up in front of him, he's to discover whether he actually does have an appointment."
Alberg and Alver were still trading witty remarks about B.S. degrees and who in their world was most deserving of Bull Shit certificates, when Meister Wolfgang Ratke came through the door a couple of minutes later with a curious look on his face. A controversial figure if there ever was one, but an educational thinker and sometime reformer His Majesty considered potentially useful. He had quite sensibly appeared with a good ten minutes to spare. Unfortunately . . .
Alberg broke off his conversation and rose respectfully. "Meister Ratke, I'm very sorry, but something urgent has come up. The king will be unavoidably occupied for at least two hours, and the rest of the day is full."
There was a momentary burst of raised voices from two rooms away.
"Alver, when can we find another opening?"
There was a brief whisper of pages turning. "Tomorrow. An hour after the mid-day meal."
Alberg turned again to Ratke. "Will that be possible, if you have plans to remain in the city until then?"
"Yes, certainly. If I did not have plans, I would make them. This is important. But are you sure nothing will change again?"
"Sure? We can never be certain. But we try very hard not to postpone anyone twice."
"Ah. Thank you. But if I am not to attend the king now, what was that I heard you speaking of just as I approached?"
Alver boiled down the whole encounter to a few incisive sentences.
Ratke suddenly took on the alert stance of a hunting dog catching a scent. "I see. A bachelor's degree of the sciences, without the preliminary course of study in the trivium and the quadrivium. A radical expedient." He paused for a moment, staring at the window. "I believe I have heard something of this. I think I would like to hear what this man has to say."
"You would? Page!"
One of the ubiquitous young men appeared from just outside the door.
"Catch up to Mr. Davidson. Inform him that Meister Ratke grants him an immediate meeting. Then find them a quiet place to talk and see that they are made comfortable."
Wolfgang Ratke emerged from the meeting with King Gustav with a bemused expression on his face. Alver looked up from the papers in front of him. "Good afternoon, Meister Ratke. I trust your audience with His Majesty went well?"
"Oh, yes, the main business went quickly enough. But then I gave a summary of the notes I took yesterday, when I spoke with Mr. Davidson. The king was amused at first by the pun in English, but then he fixed me with a sharp look, and said, 'Either that man wasted two hours of your time, or he has dropped yet another muck-encrusted gold nugget into your hands.' Then he commanded me to find out which. And quickly, he said. Therefore I must write to a friend who is carrying on studies now in Grantville."
Alberg cocked his head. "Quickly? Page! Show Meister Ratke the way to the radio room."
A month later Jack ran into Oscar at the bank and asked, "I never heard anything back from you. How'd your trip to see King Gustav go?"
Oscar turned a bit red in the face. "Not as well as I would have liked."
"That's too bad. And you missed a real lively school board meeting while you were gone. Alice stood up during the public discussion period and told everybody what you said."
"Oh, yeah? What happened?"
"Well, that really got a lot of people going. Some of them said, 'He's right, we got to do something. It's only sensible,' while another bunch said, 'We've got to do something before buildings and stuff start falling down,' and the rest were going on about, 'How in hell are we going to get to where we can hand out honest-to-goodness college degrees? That'd take us years and cost a fortune. Which we don't have.'
"Meanwhile, Sarah Reardon was sitting there waiting to talk about something to do with the social studies curriculum. Her head was going back and forth like she was watching a ping-pong match. She didn't say anything, but she didn't miss anything, either."
"Well, how'd it turn out?"
"Oh, it went on for over an hour. We finally had a motion to postpone it, because we weren't getting anywhere. Somebody else moved to call a special meeting in a week instead of waiting 'til next month. That got voted down. And then we went on to the next thing on the agenda.
"Well, the whole thing got into the papers, and people were arguing about it all around town, without agreeing on anything. Next week, in waltzes Sarah with a moldy old set of exams and study guides for the Indiana Professional Engineer's license that Norris Patton had lying around in his cellar for thirty years. I don't know what the heck he wanted them for, he's an electrical engineer, for Pete's sake. But we leafed through the pile, and she and I decided to bring it to the board again next month and ask Congress for authority to give the exam and issue PE licenses."
"You're kidding," a pleased Oscar Davidson replied.
"Nope. But you are not going to believe what happened next. No more than a couple of days after Sarah and I talked, someone named Wilhelm von Calcheim Genannt Lohausen, came around with a Swedish artillery officer in tow along with a Scottish sergeant to translate if need be. He was asking all kinds of people all kinds of questions. First he buttonholed every last one of us on the board. Then he started out asking each and every one of us the same questions. He wanted to know everything about the high school: what we did, what we didn't do, why we did it, and why we didn't. Then he talked to Sarah and her husband, and after that Bill Porter and a couple of mechanical engineers at the Steam Engine Company, and a bunch of the math and science teachers. Then he started in on the trades. Machinists, electricians, and all kinds of technicians and mechanics.
"Huh. That's a heck of a lot of sudden curiosity all of a sudden from the Swedish army."
"Yeah, well, maybe. But when Sarah's husband asked him, flat out, why he was, all of a sudden, so interested; he said that you had talked to someone named Ratke when you were in Magdeburg. Apparently he's famous, under his Latin name, Ratichius. And he was assigned to follow up on the questions you brought up. So everyone knows it was all your fault for stirring up the fuss that was taking up so much of everyone's time. And let me tell you, Calcheim really did seem to want to know everything about everything. And he took his time seeing to it that he got it. But with the artillery officer and a sergeant in tow, you couldn't just tell them to get lost. Now could you?"
Jack chuckled at the look on Oscar's face. "Yeah. You've got it. There were an awful lot of people who were not at all happy with you.
"But next thing we knew, back he comes and hands us an imperial charter for the School Board to appoint PE examiners and give out certificates in the name of the Captain General. It wasn't any fancy parchment with ribbons and seals all over it. It was just a radiogram. Signed G.A.R.S. Ol' Gus, it seems, is in some kind of a hurry."
"Huh. And it didn't say anything about B.S. degrees?"
"Nope. Not a word."
"Well, it's better than nothing."
"Oscar, I'd say it's damned near everything you asked for. I think you will find the next school board meeting worth attending."
At the next board meeting the first thing on the agenda was the imperial decree the radiogram had said was on the way.
By the Command and Charter of the Captain General: The Grantville School Board is hereby instructed and required to issue a license to anyone who can pass a qualifying examination, written and oral, proving their competence in their field to the full satisfaction of the school board in any and all branches of engineering, but also in any other fields the school board feels would benefit by such a program of examination and review for which they can assemble a reviewing body they find to be qualified to undertake the purpose of certifying the competence of the candidates for a license.
When the meeting was over Jack buttonholed Oscar and gave him a sly look. "Well, I got you put on the oversight committee for the examining boards."
"Put up or shut up, huh?" Oscar replied. "Well, I guess maybe I better, if I want to see to it that it's done right." Oscar hesitated. "That's fine as long as you don't insist that a fellow has to have a high school diploma before you let him take the test. There are a lot of bright people out there who will never have the time to go to four years of gym classes."
"Good grief, that'd be backwards, wouldn't it? No, if someone thinks they're qualified and wants to pay the examination fee, we should let them take it."
Oscar smiled. "Good," was all he said.
The rain rattled sideways against the windows in the fading light. Wolfgang Ratke stood and stretched, then at the sound of the door opening, turned from the sideboard where the wine decanter rested. He flourished the dog-eared report, as Wilhelm von Calcheim entered his working office. "Now we know, old friend. A muck-encrusted nugget it was, for certain." He let an ironic half-smile cross his face. "B.S. degrees! Perhaps this is a lesson that I should make time to listen to muddle-headed visitors now and then."
"Yes, Wilhelm, our errant and intrepid Mr. Davidson who caused such merriment. He wasn't wrong, but he certainly failed to grasp the magnitude of the problem. For that matter, the urgency of it! But the king did. When I presented the report you and Captain Lindgren compiled, his thoughts ran far ahead to the inevitable conclusion. He sends you both his thanks."
Wolfgang sat back down and waved his visitor to a chair. "And now, he and his councilors are worried. They suddenly see that all that has been accomplished in the last two years hangs by a thread, or at best, a slender steel cable. These things Grantville has been furnishing that strengthen us so greatly, the new radios, the steam engines, the airplanes, all call somewhere during their creation upon the work of their engineers. At least four new kinds of engineers, stuffed full of skills and knowledge never before seen in our world. Until you and Lindgren counted them up, I don't think anyone realized just how few of them there are. At least, no one among the king's circle. If even two or three should die without passing on their knowledge— We need many more of them, and soon. And you tell us it takes years to train them properly. And worst of all, you reveal that the Grantvillers are not acting in anything like an organized fashion in this."
"Well, there are some new classes and study groups. And the king did send them a charter to give examinations."
"Yes, there are, and he did—more in hope, I tell you, than in expectation. The Professional Engineer examination is the very limit of what they can put into effect for now. And that is woefully insufficient to the need, pitifully insufficient, shockingly insufficient, even criminally insufficient. The most we can expect from their scattered efforts is a dozen new engineers in the next three years.
"No, Wilhelm, we cannot rely on the Grantville School Board. At least for now, they're overwhelmed teaching the children and running the high school."
"For now? You think they will do more in time?"
"In time, yes, they will, but His Majesty made it abundantly clear that time is what we cannot squander." He bent down his head and rubbed his eyelids for a few moments. "He has given me work to do, but as to this: he decrees the creation of a proper school to give our realm engineers, lest all that Grantville is doing falter and trickle away to nothing. And having decided so, he has commanded me to find someone who can make it happen, and quickly." He paused, and looked his friend full in the face. "Wilhelm, are you that man?"