They pace the marbled halls pondering the ground beneath their feet or else staring into the spaces above their heads. Sometimes they are enwrapped in a furious silence, at others they walk in groups of two and three their voices intent. To the outside eye they can seem like philosopher kings debating the verities spiritual and temporal.

In fact, they are teachers trying to work out precisely what the new agreement with government means to them in dollar terms. It is a calculation proving beyond some. Humanities staff in particular are at a disadvantage.

Some have even requested the loan of a graphic calculator from their students. Certainly they regret ever discarding those old books of logarithm tables, tatty with use.

“hat is the cosine of bugger all?”they inquire anxiously of their mathematical colleagues. “The tangent of better than nothing,” comes the reply. “I see,” the humanities teachers say but really they don’t. “I think I might have forgotten to carry the remainder. Or does one carry the 1?”

The very real problem is that the industrial agreement is couched in such gnomic terms that no one can quite agree what exactly it entails. Like the lost language of the Maya it is nigh impenetrable.

The union says it means a bonanza for teachers. (Well they would.) The government says it is fiscally responsible. (Well they would.) Arcane tables and comparisons are produced as evidence and conspiracy theories abound. There was more than one shooter. The moon footage is faked. Elvis lives.

Rumour spreads like a virus in the digital ether and net time allotments are seriously tested. The common theme is this: the figures are rubbery.

Meantime, our charges engage with the universe. “When will the oil run out? Is there a difference between art and pornography? Is someone really considering assassinating Barack Obama? Mr Diogenes? Sir?” Hmm? I’m sorry, I was just contemplating my increment.

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off