In the grand scheme of things, the Perspective 101 class was still fairly new, having only been introduced into high schools nationwide three years earlier, in 2026. After witnessing a marked decline in morality and a greater divide between races from 2015 to 2025, the federal government took matters into its own hands by requiring all states to include Perspective Education in their ninth grade curriculum. As part of this education, students would be paired with an elderly person whose childhood was vastly different than their own based on a variety of factors, including race, home life, and socioeconomic status. The student would then be exposed to that person’s life experiences through the use of an innovative technology called Targeted Cooperative Retrospection, or TCR for short. With this technology, a student becomes an inactive witness to one of his or her partner’s childhood memories, which is specifically chosen by the TCR technician for its dramatic or profound nature to give the student some perspective on humanity.
Although TCR had been effectively used by military psychologists in the treatment of PTSD for several years prior to 2026, there was still much debate as to whether or not the technology was suitable for taxpayer-funded public education. There had been many positive reviews from students who had taken Perspective 101 in the first two years of its existence, but there had also been a few negative ones that had received major media attention. This vocal minority claimed that the class’s TCR experience felt false, like a simulation as opposed to a playback of reality, which rendered it ineffective as a perspective-giving tool. Conservative politicians used this feedback to call for the defunding of Perspective Education. However, it had been recently decided that more time was needed to determine its true effectiveness.
Feeling deflated by the potential uselessness of TCR and the thought of interacting with people who still used landlines, the students advanced toward the nursing home as though they were on the final leg of a death march—their heads and shoulders drooped forward and their feet dragging through the rain that had puddled atop the walkway. And as soon as they had all entered the building, their teacher delivered the mortal blow.
“Okay, students. It’s time for you to join your partners,” she said. “And remember: You are required to interact with them until the TCR technician comes to get you for the procedure. You may talk to them, play board games together, or even just listen to what they have to say. For many of them, the only visitation they get comes from this class, so try to make your interactions memorable.”
Turning to move away from the group, Ethan rummaged around in his messenger bag and pulled out his phone to text his friend, Mia, who had been standing a few people over: WTH do old people have to talk about? The flavor of Jell-O they ate?
Mia replied: Lol, IDK. My lady’s name is Beatrice, so she’s prob gonna talk about quilts and water aerobics. TTYL!
Ethan took his sweet time getting to room forty-seven, stopping occasionally to stare at the generic landscape paintings that dotted the pale green walls. But when he finally arrived, he was surprised to find that there was no one in the room waiting for him. As he stood there, wondering whether he should mention his partner’s absence to someone or just play games on his phone, an elderly man was wheeled in by a rather large, male nursing assistant.
“Sorry about that. Mr. Jackson forgot that he was going to have a visitor today. Isn’t that right, Mr. Jackson?” the nursing assistant asked as he looked down at the man in the wheelchair.
Mr. Jackson’s face lacked any signs of understanding, but he nodded anyway. Having never seen anyone that old in person before, Ethan couldn’t help but stare at the many lines that coated the man’s mahogany skin—from the canyon-deep ones in his forehead to the crepey ones on his frail arms—and the thick glasses that doubled the size of his eyes. Even his clothes, though clean, appeared to be quite worn, as Ethan spotted a nickel-sized hole in his argyle vest and could see that time had faded his black pants to a chalky gray.
After silence hung awkwardly in the air for some time, Ethan extended his arm and said, “Hi, Mr. Jackson. My name is Ethan. Nice to meet you.”
“Hello,” Mr. Jackson replied as he reached up and gingerly shook the boy’s fingers. “Are you one of the nurses?”
“No, I’m just a visitor.”
“You’re visiting me?”
“Uh, yeah. I’m visiting you as part of my class. For TCR, remember?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, I remember now. I’m sorry. I forget things sometimes, but no more than the rest of these old ninnies.”
Ethan chuckled upon hearing this, despite not really knowing what ninnies were. Then, with only a nod for a warning, the nursing assistant silently excused himself from the room.
Feeling a little more awkward than before, Ethan asked, “So…how are you doing today?”
“Oh, I’m fine, thank you. Just fine. They gave us pudding for dessert.”
Ethan laughed to himself. Okay. Apparently they’re into pudding—not Jell-O. He then replied, “Nice. What flavor did you have?”
“What flavor of what?” Mr. Jackson asked.
“What flavor of pudding did you have?”
“Today,” Ethan replied with a raise of his eyebrow.
“Oh yes, I had vanilla pudding today. It was fine, just fine.”
Unable to think of anything else to say, Ethan just stared at his partner in disbelief and wondered, How are they going to pick an important memory from this guy’s childhood when he can barely remember a conversation that happened a few seconds ago?
Suddenly, an attractive woman, with cat-eye glasses and a tight brown bun perched high on her head, entered the room alongside the male nursing assistant from before. After glancing down at the tablet in her hand, she asked, “Calvin Jackson and Ethan Ossley?” Ethan nodded affirmatively, and she continued, “I’m Dr. Laila Richards, your TCR technician for today. We are ready for your session, so please follow me.”
The nursing assistant grabbed ahold of Mr. Jackson’s wheelchair and began to wheel him into the hall. But before they could even make it out the door, Ethan jogged past them and positioned himself beside Dr. Richards. “Hey, I’m not sure if you know this, but Mr. Jackson seems to have some memory problems,” he said to her in a hushed tone.
Dr. Richards replied, “Yes, we are aware, but they will not affect today’s procedure. Mr. Jackson has late-onset Alzheimer’s—so late, in fact, that at eighty-six, he is still in the early stages of the disease. This means that he has difficulty remembering recent conversations and events. However, his long-term memories and legal capacity are still intact.”
“Oh, okay,” Ethan replied with an air of resignation.
When they finally reached the hall’s end, Dr. Richards opened an unnumbered door to reveal a room that was only slightly larger than Mr. Jackson’s. On the right side of the room was a large steel table that held a laptop and an unfamiliar, boxy machine whose dull metal faintly glimmered in the soft fluorescent lighting. A variety of cables snaked their way out of the machine, with one hooked directly into the laptop. The remaining cables led to the middle of the room where a handcart holding various items stood before two average-looking chairs—the kind you’d find in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. And on the left side of the room was a young woman with red hair, smiling at the group as they entered.
Dr. Richards pushed one of the chairs off to the side and told the nursing assistant, “You can just wheel him over here. Makes no difference whether he’s in our chair or his own.” Then, turning her sights to Ethan, she placed her hand on the remaining chair and added, “And you may sit here.”
Once Ethan and Mr. Jackson were seated side by side, the nursing assistant left the room, and Dr. Richards positioned herself beside the redhead. “This is my colleague—Rachel,” she explained. “She will be supporting me throughout the procedure.”
Rachel nodded with a shy smile and then turned to grab a couple of items from the cart. When she turned around again, she was holding a mesh skullcap covered in electrodes and some virtual reality glasses featuring built-in speakers, both of which were connected to the cables that led back to the TCR machine on the right side of the room. After handing the glasses to Ethan, she carefully positioned the skullcap on Mr. Jackson’s head and nodded to Dr. Richards.
With the tablet still in her hand, Dr. Richards knelt down in front of Mr. Jackson and asked slowly, “All right, Mr. Jackson. Are you ready to proceed with the TCR procedure?”
“What’s that now?” Mr. Jackson replied, his confusion magnified by the thick lenses of his glasses.
Dr. Richards rephrased, “Are you ready to share one of your childhood memories with Ethan here for his Perspective 101 class using the TCR procedure that was previously discussed with you?”
Oddly enough, a look of lucidity swept over Mr. Jackson’s face in that moment, and with clear eyes, he replied, “Oh, that’s right. TCR. I remember now. Yes, ma’am. I’m ready to share one of my memories with this young man, and I sure hope it helps.”
“There’s a great chance it will, so thank you. Now, before we begin, let me give you a quick overview of the procedure. Although it used to be believed that the synapses stored memories, it’s actually the neurons themselves that store them, so the first thing we need to do is locate the specific set of neurons in your brain that hold the memory you have chosen to share with Ethan. Your forms here say that you want to share the memory of your first day of your freshman year in high school. Does that sound right?”
“Yes, ma’am. It does.”
“Okay, perfect. So we are going to use hypnosis to help you recall that memory so that we can pinpoint the set of neurons that house it,” she said. “Then, using a highly secure closed transmission network, we’re going to copy that memory over to our computer. Are you with me so far?”
“That’s a lot of scientific talk there, so you might have lost me. But it sounds like you’re going to hypnotize me and take my memory using your machine.”
“That’s not a bad recap, Mr. Jackson. But I want to be clear that we’re not taking the memory from your brain. We’re simply making a copy of it. It’s also important to note that we will be deleting that copy immediately following the procedure to comply with federal privacy guidelines.”
Mr. Jackson nodded once more.
“Now, to ensure that the data that we copy over is complete, the memory must stay active during the copy process, and we’ll achieve this by using the electrodes in that cap on your head to send electrical impulses to the source neurons. While this is not a painful procedure, you may experience a warm, tingly sensation as a result of the electrical impulses.”
“That’s just fine,” Mr. Jackson said. “I hate how cold they keep it in here anyway.”
“Wonderful,” Dr. Richards giggled. She then turned to Ethan and continued, “And Ethan, your part is a lot less involved than Mr. Jackson’s. Once we’ve copied over the memory, we will push it to your virtual reality glasses, and then all you have to do is watch. Think you can handle that?”
Just relieved that his part didn’t involve any more small talk with Mr. Jackson, Ethan nodded with a smile, which prompted the two women to commence the procedure.
With Rachel seated in front of the laptop, Dr. Richards began hypnotizing Mr. Jackson as she said she would, which Ethan was surprised she could do without the use of a dangling pocket watch or a spinning spiral. She simply told him to close his eyes, relax, and remember all of the details—every sight and every sound—of that first day of high school.
As soon as Mr. Jackson was soundly under, Rachel pushed a couple of buttons on the TCR machine and used the accompanying laptop to activate the electrodes on his cap. Ethan was amazed by how peaceful his partner looked despite the electrical impulses that were being sent to his brain. Dr. Richards told Mr. Jackson to nod once he reached the end of the memory, and after roughly ten minutes, he did. She then told him that once she snapped her fingers, he would open his eyes, feeling awake and refreshed. She snapped, and Mr. Jackson came back.
“How are you feeling?” she asked him.
“I’m all right. Not as refreshed as you said I’d be, but I’m doing all right.”
“Well, if you would like, we can have the nursing assistant take you back to your room. He should be right outside the door.”
“My room? Oh, yes. That would be nice.”
Rachel, standing closer to the door, thoughtfully interjected, “I’ll get him.”
“Perfect, thanks!” Dr. Richards replied with a smile. The nursing assistant then entered, and she continued, “Mr. Jackson is a bit weary from his portion of the procedure and would like to return to his room.”
“Getting tired in your old age, huh, Mr. Jackson?” the nursing assistant playfully asked.
“Oh, you just wait ‘til you’re my age, boy. You’ll be lucky to have half the energy I do.”
“Mr. Jackson, I’ll be lucky if I even make it to your age,” he laughed as he grabbed ahold of the handles on the back of the wheelchair. “All right, let’s get you back to your room.”
After Mr. Jackson had been wheeled out, Dr. Richards instructed Ethan to put on the virtual reality glasses as Rachel prepared the memory for transfer to them using her laptop. As instructed, Ethan slipped on the glasses, which were flashing a TCR logo.
“Are you ready?” Dr. Richards asked.
Now feeling a little excited, Ethan gave her the thumbs up. But after about thirty seconds of nothing but the TCR logo flashing and the TCR machine humming, his excitement turned to anxiousness. The least they could do is show me some previews, he thought.
Just then, the TCR logo slowly faded into a first-person, three-dimensional view of the inside of a near-empty school bus and the low hum of the machine was replaced with the sound of distant shouting. Ethan attempted to look out the window to his right to find the source of the shouting, but despite moving his head in real life, his virtual reality glasses continued to reflect the inside of the school bus—reminding him that he was merely along for the ride of Mr. Jackson’s memory.
From his partner’s perspective, Ethan could see that there were only three other passengers on the bus, all seated in the same row as Mr. Jackson: two black girls and one black boy. The girls were wearing A-line dresses that came down just past their knees, and the boy was wearing a short-sleeve button-up shirt tucked into cuffed jeans. Just like Mr. Jackson, all three of them were glancing at each other anxiously, refusing to look out the windows.
Suddenly, a rosy-cheeked sheriff’s deputy boarded the bus and said, “All right, listen up. There’s quite a crowd out there. The first thing you need to do when you get off the bus is pose for the press. They’re going to want to take your picture. Then, you need to make your way to the steps that lead to the double doors of the school. As you do this, you will notice a crowd of protestors to your left. Do not do anything to rile them up. Is that understood?”
All of the children nodded, and then the other boy timidly asked, “Excuse me, officer. Just how many people are out there?”
The officer abruptly answered, “That’s not your concern. Just do as I instructed, and there won’t be any problems. Now let’s go.” Placing his hat back on his sweat-covered head, he made his way down the steps and off the bus.
What a dick, Ethan thought. He was shocked that the officer had responded so poorly to such an innocuous question. He thought someone—maybe even Mr. Jackson—would have said something, but instead, they all just got up from their seats and began following the officer.
As soon as they stepped off the bus, camera flashes bombarded them from the right. Ethan could hardly see, but it was evident that no one was posing. It seemed to him that the press was treating this more like a sideshow than a news story.
“How does it feel to be the first black students to attend this school?” shouted one of the many reporters.
“Are you concerned that you may be treated differently by the white students and teachers?” shouted another.
Dozens of other questions were hurled their way, but in the madness of it all, no one answered.
The next thing Ethan knew, all four of the students were being corralled through a sea of faces to get to the school’s entrance. There were dozens of reporters still lining the right with many camera flashes going off. However, the memory seemed to focus mostly on the protestors to their left, who were being held back by rifle-toting National Guard soldiers. In that group, there were white people of all ages screaming obscenities and hanging the black students in effigy.
But there did appear to be one friendly face in this crowd of cruelty; it belonged to an elderly woman who was standing near the steps leading up to the double doors of the school. Wearing a cross brooch on the collar of her dress, the woman looked at the students with what appeared to be empathy. And as they drew closer, Ethan half-expected her to say a prayer for them. Instead, she did something far less virtuous: Narrowing her eyes in disgust, the old woman opened her mouth and spit in Mr. Jackson’s face.
Ethan closed his eyes and turned his head, as if to dodge the spit himself, and when he looked again, the heinous image he had just witnessed was replaced with the TCR logo.
“So what did you think of the TCR experience?” Dr. Richards asked, prepared to take notes on her tablet. “Did it feel real to you?”
“It did and it didn’t,” Ethan replied. “I mean, most of the time—with the exception of the end—I felt like I was watching a movie. But I also knew that Mr. Jackson actually experienced what I was watching, so that made it feel so much more real. Like, I felt the reality of his pain, you know? I think you’d have to be inhuman not to.”
“So you felt for Mr. Jackson as you watched his memory play out?”
“Yeah, it sucked—seeing that much hate. I feel bad that he even has to have that memory. Isn’t there some way for you to erase it?
“We don’t have that capability right now, but we can still use TCR to treat the trauma of the memory, which, according to his forms, is something we are doing for Mr. Jackson as part of this program.”
“I don’t get it. How does this stuff help treat the trauma of the memory?” he asked, gesturing to the TCR equipment.
“Well, in the past, psychologists had to rely on the patient’s verbal communication of a traumatic memory in order to determine treatment. However, anytime a memory is communicated through speech, the communicator tends to streamline the message, both consciously and subconsciously, leaving out anything they consider to be superfluous. But what psychologists have discovered is that it’s often those omitted nuances that hold the key to resolving the primary issue. Through TCR, psychologists are able to access all parts of the memory—even the nuances—to provide the most effective treatment, and patients take further comfort in knowing that someone else out there truly understands what they went through.”
“Man, this technology is a lot cooler than I gave it credit for before.”
“I know you are still processing what you just experienced, but do you feel that it’s given you a greater perspective?”
“Yeah, I think it has. I mean, we learned about the Civil Rights Movement in school, but I never understood just what black people had to go through until I saw it through his eyes. I’ve never experienced anything even close to that. It’s also shown me that even though he’s so much older than I am, we still have some things in common. He was in high school at one point, too, and he even rode a school bus that looks almost identical to the one I came here on today. So yeah, we’re different, but we’re also the same, you know?”
“I do know. Though, it took me a lot longer in life to figure that out,” she smiled.
It just so happened that Mia was exiting a room a couple of doors down at the same time Ethan was making his way out of the TCR room. “Hey!” she shouted. “What’d you think of your TCR experience?”
“It was pretty cool. What about yours?”
“Same! I learned a lot from ol’ Beatrice. I’m actually going to head out to the front to jot down my notes.”
Just then, Ethan saw an unattended cart full of various foods, including cups of pudding, and an idea popped into his head. “All right, I’ll meet you out there in a few. There’s something I gotta do real quick.”
“K, see you soon,” she said.
Once Mia was no longer in sight, Ethan snagged a vanilla pudding cup off the cart and made his way to room forty-seven. When he arrived, the door was wide open, but Mr. Jackson was sound asleep. Tucked into his twin bed, he looked as peaceful as he had during the TCR procedure. Not wanting to disturb him, Ethan set the pudding cup down on the nightstand and scribbled a quick note using a pen and paper he pulled out of his messenger bag:
Your memory taught me a lot, and I look forward to our next lesson.
Your TCR buddy,
Although he knew that Mr. Jackson probably wouldn’t remember their interaction right away, he hoped that the note might lead to a moment of clarity at one point or another. Then, with a newfound clarity of his own, Ethan took one last look at his kind, gentle partner before making his way to the door. Reflecting on the generosity and courage that Mr. Jackson had displayed in sharing such a painful memory, he found himself thinking of a few ways he could make the world a little bit better. And as he walked through the doorway that led to his future, he softly uttered, “Thanks for the perspective.”