Symphony 100

As a class in literature, it had been a great success, and those who could already read had advanced far in their understanding. But those who could not read — and that was nearly half of his class — had only learned what those two books could tell them. They had made no progress toward becoming independent readers. They were no closer to being able to take a book from the library shelf and get from it what it had for them. They could understand it if someone read it to them, yes; but they could not read.

Neil thought, Damn you, Anne Marie Chang!

# # #

Jesse Herrera made it through the last half of January without raising Neil’s ire, but it was a chancy thing. Neil had to invent all kinds of in-class punishments to take the place of the regular discipline system. Now he realized what had been wrong with his decision to champion the boy. By giving him “one more chance”, he had chosen to punish himself. Jesse had used up his “one more chance” within the first week of January, and he used it up again twenty times that month. Yet each infraction was small — a paper wad here, a little shove there, a snotty comment to someone else. Neil could not bring himself to expel Jesse for one paper wad, even if it was the last action in a long series of actions. By taking Jesse on after he had already run the gamut of the normal discipline system, Neil had put himself in a no-win situation.

So it went into February. In the general atmosphere of seriousness with which the teachers and students alike approached the CAT test, Jesse had held it together for three days. When the testing was over, he went on a brief orgy of misbehavior. Neil physically carried him to the back of the room — which was quite illegal, but he was committed now to extraordinary measures — and forced him to stay there, isolated by direst threats. He called the boy’s mother, and when the day was over, he personally drove him home.

When they arrived, Mrs. Herrera was red eyed from crying. She sent Jesse to his room while they talked, and it was not a pleasant interview. Mrs. Herrera had told the counsellor of her husband’s violent last years, and the counsellor had begun to work from that angle. But he had also told Mrs. Herrera that she was making a bad situation worse by her lack of discipline.

“The boy was abused,” the counsellor had said, “but that is in the past. It is the present we have to worry about, and in the present his problem is that he doesn’t know what the limits of acceptable behavior are.” His father had “disciplined” him for everything, and now his mother was refusing to discipline him for anything. The boy simply did not know what was expected of him.

And it was getting late in Jesse’s life to teach him. At eleven, he was already much formed. If they did not get to him now, they never would.

Neil explained what Jesse had done that day, and Mrs. Herrera broke down. That was not encouraging; if she could not control herself, how could she ever hope to control Jesse? They discussed her options. Some punishment was essential, but she could not spank him. Even if she could have brought herself to strike the boy, his father’s last days had hardened him against that kind of punishment. more tomorrow


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