Symphony 94

Neil reached down and took Jesse by the back of the shirt and lifted him a foot off the ground. Slowly, the boy unkinked until he could put his feet on the ground again. Neil let go and Jesse stood facing him; fear and hatred were at war in his face, and hatred was winning out. Neil did not care. He said, “Jesse, go home! Don’t come back until I call for you.”

Jesse stood up to him for one more moment, then turned tail and ran, across the campus, across the parking lot, and down the street toward his house.

# # #

You don’t do things that way. You don’t grab a student by the arms. You don’t yell at a student until he cowers at your feet. You don’t pick him up off the ground. You don’t send him off campus on his own. If he must be sent home, you do it through channels, with documentation, and you make the parent come in to get him. The law requires it, and self-preservation requires it. Parents will sue schools and teachers if they are provoked.

Above all, you do not lose your temper.

Neil sat in his room after school, cataloging his failings and feeling low. For a person who had come here to prove himself, he was not doing very well. For a person who had “saved” Jesse from expulsion, he was doing even worse.

Yet he had learned a lot about self-preservation during the last year.  If something like this had happened at his previous school, he would have gone to Dr. Watkins with his problems and asked his advice. This time he kept the incident to himself. He did not even tell Bill Campbell that Jesse had left campus. There was a bare chance that he could salvage the situation; if not, then would be the time to confess.

First, there was one hard question to face. Why did he want to salvage the situation? Because he still believed that Jesse was worth the effort, or just to keep from having to admit his failings? If he was only trying to cover himself, then he had better let the boy go. Maybe in some other school he could make a new start.

In the last analysis, what Neil had to do now hinged on one question: could the boy be saved? And Neil did not know the answer.

# # #

He sought out Carmen at her apartment. “First of all,” Neil said after he had outlined the problem, “did I overreact to what Jesse did? He is only eleven years old. Maybe his was just a natural, stupid reaction to the incident in Stockton.”

Carmen shook her head. “If I had seen him do that, I would have written him up, and that would have been the end of him. I wouldn’t tolerate that from any student.”

“Of course his behavior wasn’t acceptable. I’m not asking that. I’m asking what it means. Is he growing up to be another Patrick Purdy?”

“Oh, Neil, how could we ever know that? Stop trying to play God. You just have to teach them and do the best you can to help them, and then let them become what they become.” more tomorrow


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