Symphony 49

Neil was rapidly losing patience. “Carlos,” he said, “I will always try to have good materials to teach you with, and I will never intentionally embarrass you. You’ve been with me long enough to know that. But this is the best book I could find for you right now. Maybe it won’t work and I will get rid of it, but I will make that decision, and you will read what I give you to read. Do you understand?”

Carlos did not reply and did not open his book.

“Carlos, this is the only warning you will get. Open your book and participate.”

Carlos looked out the window.

Neil got up, went to his desk, and returned silently with a detention form. He filled out Carlos’ name and in the line marked offence, he wrote, “Defiance. Refused to open his textbook.” The room had become completely quiet. He pushed the slip in front of Carlos and said, “Sign it.”

Carlos jerked the form angrily to him and read it. His face went pale at the word defiance. For a moment Neil thought he would start to cry, but even at eleven years old he was too macho for that. He scrawled his name angrily across the paper and spun it back across the table. Neil tore the top sheet off and handed it back and put the second copy into his shirt pocket.

“Now, everybody open to page eleven.”

This time Carlos opened his book.

It was easier when the children read at something closer to their own level, but the stories were even more insipid. Worse, they revolved around the interests of fourth graders, making it clear in subtle ways that these children were reading below their level. Even at that, Brandy and Pedro were unable to read.

After half an hour, Neil sent them back to their regular seats and called his poor readers together. He also called Carlos and Dixie back. This time there was no rebellion, even though most of these children had already read the fifth grade book. Tony Caraveli said, “Mr. McCrae, we read this book last year.”

“I know.”

“Do we have to read it again?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see. Let’s just read today and we’ll see how it goes.”

After Carlos’ rebellion had been summarily smashed, no one else gave him any trouble. Neil felt badly about riding roughshod over their very sensible objections, but he had to see for himself and decide for himself. They might be unhappy with his methods, but they were getting nowhere with the present system. Something had to change and that change was sure to make somebody unhappy.

Dixie and Carlos had been the best readers in his other group. He had not explained why he was having them read again, but they could guess, and they did their best. Even though he stumbled, Carlos put more effort into his reading than he ever had before. He would do anything rather than endure the shame of reading out of a fourth grade book.

When the bell rang, Neil motioned for Carlos to remain behind. He said, “Carlos, I am the teacher and I won’t ever let a student tell me how to run my class. But I understand why you didn’t want to read out of the fourth grade book.”

Carlos looked fierce and said nothing. Neil had no intention of trying to break down his machiso. He doubted that he could anyway. “You worked pretty hard today when you read out of that fifth grade book. Do you think you could keep up that kind of effort?”

“Yes.” Carlos was the picture of an eleven year old Chicano boy in trouble, with a stiff, solemn face trying to protect his image, but close to tears. more tomorrow

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