Friday, April 24, 2009


My school is old. Very old. Through its long existence, it has built upon its past, which remains strangely visible generations later.

I am walking out of my last class of the day, Latin class, when something strikes my eye in the next room over. I look inside and discover a humongous old wooden cart. On the front of the wooden cart are two mounted cassette players a dashboard with lots of little buttons, and an old headset with microphone. I look on the back, and discover a cabinet filled with two dozen other numbered wireless headsets with knobs and switches on their sides. Intrigued, I look to see that no one is coming, plug in the cart, and turn it on. The little red and green lights on the dashboard flicker to life. I put on the main headset, and hear faint static. "Hello?" I say, when a voice answers me: my own. I look on the side of the cart, and see built-in speakers. Neat.

I decide to read the knobs and buttons in closer detail. I have a number pad, and a main knob labeled with settings such as "teacher all-call" and "student response." I turn a few of the knobs, and hear some changes in the static. I then decide to check on one of the numbered headsets. Do they communicate? I slide on a pair numbered "12" and speak out loud. My voice doesn't come out of the cart speakers. Hmm.

I go back to the dashboard and look at the keypad. Does it have to do with the headsets? Curious, I input "12". Headset 12 springs to life! Plus the main headset and my headset can now talk two-way. Interesting.

I read the patent number off of the dashboard and pull up the patent info, patent #4048729: "Electrical teaching system". Apparently, the numbered headsets were to be given to students and the teacher would speak to all of the students one-way. When she wanted a student to answer a question, she could activate his microphone. The cassette players allowed the students to listen to different lessons wirelessly. The whole system was pretty cool and extremely ridiculous. The best part: the patent was filed in 1976. My school has has one of these things for 30 years. I go and find a few teachers who have been at my school since the 70s. I learn that the machine is still in use: it is used to record the oral section of AP language tests.

So there you have it. My school, not willing to learn how to record the oral tests digitally onto computer still records them onto cassettes using this machine.


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