“The Fun They Had” takes place in the year 2155 where traditional school has been replaced by individualized, mechanical teachers and computerized learning. Children learn and read on television and computer screens and print books are seemingly absent and unfamiliar to this futuristic society.
In her diary, 11-year-old Margie writes that her 13-year-old friend Tommy found a real book. Margie feels extremely excited and shocked by the prospect of reading a real, old-fashioned book and quickly becomes intrigued by this peculiar, ancient object. Tommy shares the book with Margie and the two children read and examine the very old book together. Margie remembers that her grandfather once told her about how his grandfather would read books printed on paper, just like this one. The book’s pages are still intact after many years but are yellow and crinkly. The children are accustomed to computers that scroll through text and hold many different eBooks, so the immobile words within the printed book are baffling to them. They wonder if the printed book is supposed to be thrown away once it has been read.
Tommy tells Margie that he found the book in his attic, and that it’s about school. At first, Margie doesn’t understand why anyone would write about school because she hates it so much: her mechanical teacher is too difficult for her, and she hates doing her homework in punch code. One time when her geography lesson was too challenging for her, the County Inspector had to come and reprogram her teacher. Margie’s mother was disheartened that her daughter was doing so poorly in school, but the County Inspector was compassionate and understanding, and explained that sometimes the computers are geared to be too quick.
Margie asks Tommy why anyone would want to write about school. Tommy believes Margie is too naïve and explains to her that school from many centuries ago was extremely different that their computerized school. Margie is shocked to learn that in the old schools, the teacher was a human and not a computer. The children question if a human knows enough to be a teacher, but Tommy concludes that his father knows just as much as any teacher. Continuing to read the book, the children also discover that in the olden days, all children went to a special building to learn and learned the same thing if they were the same age. At first, Margie doesn’t understand because her mother always says that education has to be individualized for each boy and girl; however, Margie and Tommy realize that the fun of the old schools was that students got to learn together, and that education wasn’t just about learning facts, but also social interaction and human connection.
Margie’s mother interrupts the children before they’re done with the book because it’s time for school. Margie asks Tommy if she can read the book with him later, and he responds nonchalantly with a maybe. Margie goes into her schoolroom, but she is still thinking about the book, filled with curiosity, daydreaming about all the kids playing and laughing in the schoolyard, sitting together in the classroom, going home with each other after school to play and help each other with their homework, and the teacher who is a real, live human. The mechanical teacher begins to drone on about fractions while Margie descends further into her imagination, fantasizing how in the old days, kids must have loved school, and she wonders about all the fun the students used to have.