Symphony 45

At that point, Larry Whitlock broke in, “But Mr. McCrae, wasn’t David white?”

“Yes, he was,” Neil replied, “but at that time whites as well as blacks could be sold into slavery. Slavery is older than America, and every race has been enslaved at one time or another.”

Larry said, “Oh,” and asked no more. His world had suddenly become just a little less safe, and his horizons just a bit wider.

After Neil had finished, the children read. Neil had wrestled with the problem of teaching reading to his students, but he had found no satisfactory solution. After four weeks, he was just beginning to realize the immensity of the task. He had gone through the reader to choose the least insipid stories, but simply avoiding two-thirds of the book was no answer. Those who could read were gaining practice, and those who could almost read were able to struggle through with a lot of help from him. The other half of the class was lost.

Tanya Michelson read first:

There once was a far country called Avalon, where knights lived and fought in the service of their King. Serving these knights were young men of good families who were taught courtesy and obedience by being squires, so that when they became knights they would not be too puffed up with their own importance.

Neil had to stop to explain what puffed up meant. Then Casey Kruger continued:

“Among these knights was a kid named . . .”

“Lad. Lad, not kid.”

“Among these knights was a lad named Peter . . .”

Whoever had written the story must have forgotten what else Peter means. The children had not. A giggle ran through the room at the name, and Neil had to patiently explain, “A lot of  words in the English language have more than one meaning. This one doesn’t mean what you think it means, except when you want it to mean that. So read it as just a name and don’t try to make anything else out of it.” He had made that speech twice already; before the year was over he would make it dozens of times more, and it would never do any good. He motioned to Casey to continue.

“Among these knights was a kid named Peter . . .”

“A lad named Peter.”

“Sorry.” Casey stifled a giggle. It was just embarrassment; he was not trying to put on a show. He tried again, “Among these lads was a kid named Peter . . .,” and then he broke down.

The class laughed with him, and Neil smiled. There is a fine line between honest mistakes and goofing off for effect. By not joining them in their laughter, Neil could just keep them on the right side of that line. He said, “Stephanie, you try it.”

Stephanie read beautifully; he kept her in reserve for moments like this, or for when a string of clumsy readers had almost put the class to sleep. She carried them through the introduction of the main character, then Neil called on Richard Lujan.

It was cruel to make Richard follow Stephanie, but Neil had to alternate skillful and unskillful readers to keep the class from bogging down altogether. Richard read, “One day Peter walked . . .”

“Was walking.”

“. . . was walking th . . . thr . . . through the . . .”  Now Richard was completely stumped.

“Courtyard,” Neil said. “It’s the part of the castle inside the walls, but outside the main building. Start again.”

“One day Peter was walk . . . ing through the court . . . yard of the castle when he heard . . . some . . . one call his name.”

“Calling his name, Richard. Thank you. Raul, your turn.”

Raul read, “It was his friend Hollygirth . . .”


“Holingsworth. It was his friend Holings . . . worth. He was going down to the river to swim and he . . . “

“Try it, Raul. You know that word.”

Raul just sat and stared at the book miserably, until someone whispered, “Invited.” more tomorrow


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