The schoolhouse has begun to burn, slowly but steadily.
The kids wonder what will happen to them.
And then a man steps into the classroom. He points to little Johnny and asks him to stand up.
"Johnny, your parents want the choice to send you to a different school," the man says. "They have filled out the paperwork, so you can leave and go to the private school on the other side of town.
"On your way out, make sure you pick up a check for $5,000."
A look of bewilderment grows over the kids who remain in the class. Little Sally politely raises her hand and asks, "How come Johnny gets to leave but we have to stay?"
The man smiles and says, "Johnny's parents are engaged and truly concerned about his education. They believe in choice, so he gets to leave."
Sally responds: "My mama cares. But she's working two jobs and she doesn't have time to come down to the school.
"My older sister watches me at night because my mama is at work. But she cares. She said the law guarantees me a good education."
Little Mary chimes in: "Instead of letting people leave this school, why don't you put out the fire?"
The man explains to Mary that he and his friends will do everything they can to put out the fire, but in the meantime, some select students will get to leave and go to the private school down the street.
Another student asks a question. Little Jimmy says his teacher told him she could put out the fire if she didn't have to spend so much time worrying about the FCAT and paperwork and new standards.
The man tells Jimmy he shouldn't listen to that teacher's excuses. He insists she can do both. He explains that every teacher must be held accountable.
Jimmy asks, "Do the teachers at the private school have to worry about the FCAT?"
"No they don't," said the man, growing agitated. "But they have tests and they do a better job than your teachers."
"How do you know that if they don't have to teach to the test?" Jimmy asks.
Now little Robert, who had his head on his desk, perks up. He says to the man, "I guess that's why they don't have fires at the private school."
Mary chimes in again. "I think you should just put out the fire. Then you won't have to send kids to the private school."
The man explains again that they're doing all they can to put out the fire. He says they have long meetings in Tallahassee about how to put out the fire. He shares with the students that it takes a lot of money to put out the fire.
Sally asks, "But if you need money to put out the fire, why are you letting Johnny leave with a check for $5,000?"
The man says, "Good question. The more students who leave this school, the more pressure we put on the teachers, principals and administrators to put out the fire."
Sally responds: "That doesn't seem fair. You tell them to put out the fire, but you don't give them the money they need to put it out? Do you give them water?"
"Okay, that's enough from you," says the man.
Mary chimes in again: "You should just put out the fire."
As the kids grow more restless, little Robert — now wide awake — raises his hand.
"I've got a question," he says to the man. "Do you really want to put out the fire? Or do you want the school to burn down?"
The man grimaces and walks out, leaving the kids to wonder if anyone will ever put out the fire.
That's all I'm saying.