Randy Doyle was swimming. Strong, rhythmic strokes. Over and over again. And with each stroke he felt better. With each stroke he felt more alive, more excited. He could hardly wait to get to the other side. But as he swam, the water grew colder and thicker. It became more and more viscous, like swimming in a pool of 10w30. The oil was everywhere. It stuck to everything. His arms, his face, his feathers. The more he tried to get rid of it, the more it stuck to him. He crawled out of the water and tried to run. It was so hard to breathe and he was being chased. At first he didn’t know what was chasing him. He was in a maze, a corn maze, no it was made of football players then the football players turned into percentage signs and he could see what was chasing him. It was the numbers 25, 35 and 45. Why those numbers he didn’t know. But they were evil. They had claws and sharp teeth. They were getting closer and closer. He tried to call for help but his mouth wouldn’t open. Finally it did and he yelled “Bunny, Bunny” over and over again. Bunny appeared dressed as a rodeo clown. He came right up to him. But instead of diverting the numbers away like a rodeo clown was supposed to do, he looked Doyle right in the face and laughed “Give it up” over and over again.
Doyle started to wake up. He was aware that something was different. The bed felt different. He was naked and he never slept naked. The room felt different. Still with his eyes closed he reached around the bed as if he was looking for something. His left hand stopped up against something soft and round. It felt good. He stroke it. Then came the voice.
“Morning, Tiger. Don’t tell me you’re up for another go? You know I am if you are.”
Oh my god thought Randy. I know that voice. It was Kathleen. He remembered being with her in the restaurant…Then the rest started to come back to him.
She pulled herself closer to him, kissed him on the forehead, the cheeks, the lips. He felt the warmth of her body. She was older than him, maybe by 5 years, yet she had kept herself in shape. He was starting to get excited.
At little while later, he looked at the radio-alarm clock on the night table.
“We missed breakfast. “
“I’m not hungry. Are you?”
“No, it’s not that. The keynote speaker was supposed to be there to discuss his latest book.”
“Who’s the keynote speaker and what is his latest book?” asked Kathleen. Then she added “And why should I care?”
“William Vandonkersgood. Author of ‘Reinventing the School: Tearing down to Build up’ and founder of the Phoenix movement.”
“Yeah, Phoenix as in the bird that rises from the ashes, not the city in Arizona. He believes that the whole education system is rotten at the core and can only be changed by tearing everything down. “
“So he’s an anarchist.”
“They never use that term. But they have bulldozed a few inner-city schools in New York and Philadelphia.”
“How do you get away with bulldozing a school?”
“Apparently they show up on a Sunday morning. The neighbours assume they have permission. Any way they do it in neighbourhoods that aren’t in the habit of calling the authorities. And they have official looking papers on hand if anyone asks.”
“What would he put up in its place?”
“That’s the beauty of it. He doesn’t propose anything. He thinks the new system should just rise up from the ashes of the old. It should be created co-operatively.
“Let’s grab something for breakfast before the first session.”
“Thought you weren’t hungry.”
“That was a few minutes ago. Now I am.”
In the coffee shop downstairs they went over the program for today.
“Let’s see what I should go to,’ said Kathleen as she perused the program.
“Didn’t you pre-register?”
“Of course I did. But I never go to these things unless they look good. Let’s see…
‘From Caterpillar to Butterfly’, ‘Making your Staff Do the Crap Jobs and Thank you for it’, ‘Literacy: ItsEverybodies Business’, hmm a couple of mistakes in the title. No irony there. ‘Liberation Teaching: Releasing the Inner Guerrilla in all of us.’ ‘The Hip-Hop Principal’, ‘No one fails: Modern Assessment andEvaluation’. What do you think, Randy?”
“I signed up for ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom up.’ I think I should go to that.”
“That’s sounds a lot like ‘From the Classroom to the Director’s Office in Ten Years’ I wonder what the difference is.”
“You know what sounds good ‘Fromthe Whip to the Jelly Bean Jar: a History of Persuasion’’
“I’m going to ‘When Teachers Go too Far: How to Deal with Unwanted Staff’. It sounds useful.”
“Do you have problems with your staff?”
“Look at the time. Tell you what, let’s meet for lunch and compare notes about the sessions.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The big conference room was abuzz with conversation. 500 Principals in one spot all talking shop. 250 Principals telling 250 other Principals what they thought of their morning sessions. 250 Principals trying to listen over the din of 250 Principals all talking at once. Apparently some sessions were very good, some so-so and others a total waste of time. The session entitled, ‘Casting a Broad Shadow: How to Promote yourself to your Superiors’ was very well attended and seemed to be well worth it. ‘Building a Fair and Balanced Timetable’ drew three participants. Normally it would have been cancelled but apparently 35 people had signed up for it and 32 were no-shows. That’s the problem with going at 8:00 a.m. after a night of Principals cutting loose.
Eventually Kathleen and Randy found each other and found seats together, near the back and a long way from the head table.
“So where did you end up going?” asked Randy.
“What sessions did you go to?”
“I decided on ‘Military Techniques Applied to a High School Setting’ and ‘Speaking Their Language: Howto Rap with the Groovy Kids of Today’ ‘Military Techniques’ was good. It focused on the concept on dividing a staff into cliques who spend all their time and energy fighting each other and allow you to do what you want to them. I came away with several ideas I am going to apply when I get back to St. Kilda’s. The second one on the other hand was so bad it was funny. I think that the guy has been doing the same presentation since the 60’s. If we had listened to acid rock and smoked dope, it would have been a complete nostalgia trip. What about you?
“I’m just trying to picture you as a hippy.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, could I have your attention please. I would like to introduce the head table. On my right are Helga Overmeyer, Principal of Central Winneposis High School and Chairperson of the Conference Organizing Committee and Hugh Really, Past President of High School Administrators’ Association of Canada and on my left is Alma Ludwigshafen who is the current President of the HSAAC and who is going to introduce today’s keynote speaker.”
Polite applause followed as Ms Ludwigshafen walked up to the podium.
“I went to ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom’ like I signed up for. Then I took a page out of your book and went to something that looked interesting. ‘Keeping your Ambitions in Check. When the Guy You Work for Leaves Something to be Desired’
“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to tell you the background of your distinguished guest. He was born and raised in Cinderella, a coal mining town in West Virginia. He attended many underfunded public schools where he earned marks good enough to win a scholarship to Duke University. There he met many students from vastly different backgrounds than his and realized the unfairness of the public school system.”
“What was ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom’ like?” asked Kathleen, who could barely hear the speaker at the podium.
“It had a lot of good ideas about the art of what he called sycophantism. How to play your cards right and at the right time. Whose favour you should curry and how. How to maximize your profile in the Board. I would recommend it to anyone with ambitions of going beyond the Principal’s office.”
“Throughout his career, first as a classroom teacher, then as an Administrator and finally as a Professor of Education at Slohand College in New Jersey, he has dreamed of finding a way so that every student will have an equal chance at success.”
“What about Keeping your Ambitions in Check?”
“Total waste of time. The guy giving the presentation had no idea of what it is like to work for a loser. I could have given a better presentation. I know what it’s like.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give our keynote speaker: William Jefferson Vandonkergood.”
“Who is this guy again?” asked Kathleen
“William Jefferson Vandonkersgood. He’s really big right now. He founded the Phoenix movement which destroys old decrepit schools so that new ones can be built. He’s so big they call him the new Lewis Peacock who created the Oreo Nation and the answer to Jessica Froem. I have all his books and I am hoping to get his autograph.”
Louder applause than for Ms Ludwigshafen followed as Vandonkersgood stood at the podium and adjusted the microphone upwards.
“I thank you. I thank you very kindly. But please wait for my speech before you shower me with all this applause. Make me earn it.” The crowd drew quiet then laughed at his last sentence. “It’s true. I started out in a one-room school house.” His accent made ‘I’ sound like a two syllable word. “Well actually we would have been happy if it was a one-room school house. The rain came in through the roof (rhymed with boeuf), the wind came in through the windows and the rats did purty much what they wanted. And that was on a nice spring day. In the winter time we would fight to get into the outhouse, where at least it was warm. I could tell ya that we might of been poor but we were happy. But it would be a lie to say that we didn’t dream of going to a proper school, with a proper roof, with proper windows. You know what I mean, huh?”
“Now didn’t I go off to college and see that not everybody went to a school without a proper roof and proper windows . And that set me to thinking what can I do for all those Bobbies and Betties in schools like the ones I knew. I started asking anyone who’d listen why some kids go to fancy schools with all the up-to-date technology, with happy well-paid teachers who are dedicated to their jobs and other have to go to, well let’s call them crap schools, with no supplies and over-worked, underpaid teachers who quit teaching on average after only two years. I asked why in a democracy do we not have equality of opportunity and I am still waiting for a satisfactory answer.”
“One good thing from Keeping your Ambitions in Check was the advice he gave about ignoring your boss if he has nothing but stupid ideas. At Lord Byron last year Bunny, our Principal, started a initiative where students who misbehaved were no longer sent to the office. They were told to take a walk and be back in ten minutes. Well, that meant that instead of disturbing one class, they were now disturbing all of them. And kids would try to get kicked out of class so they could wander the halls. It got to the point where there could be twenty or thirty kids in the halls at the same time.”
“So Bunny gave up on the idea?”
“Hell no. I just told the staff to go back to sending people to me and I would deal with them. Bunny is out of the building so much that he is totally unaware. In fact when he is there he comments on how well the program is working since there is nobody in the halls anymore.”
“Now didn’t I say to myself: This is America. We all deserve to go to a good school, with happy hard-working teachers, new test books and everything else that some people think of when they think of school. But how were we going to achieve that. There’s so much red tape. There’s so much politics involved in educational change that nothing ever seems to change. It’s not about merit pay and it’s not about vouchers. Other countries seem to be able to reform their schools. Why not us? Well I looked around at our manufacturing industry and I started to see some parallels. American factories are old and rusted out. This is especially true in the North-East, which we now call the rust-belt. For the most part German and Japanese factories are modern and efficient. What do their factories have in common? Well they both had the piss bombed out of them during the Second World World. That freed them to start a new. That’s what we need to do with our schools.”
“Your Bunny sounds like a real winner.”
“You can’t imagine.
“Of course, we couldn’t start a war in order to get our schools bombed. And we certainly couldn’t bomb our own schools. Think of the headlines if ever the USAF bombed poor defenseless school children. I mean poor defenseless American school children. Still there ought to be a way to get the old run down schools torn down and shiny new ones built in their place.”
“Now I reckon that some of you have heard that I go around tearing down schools. These are only vicious rumours. Bulldozing a school would be illegal and I wouldn’t be walking the streets as a free man if this were true, would I? Now that is not to say that there aren’t a lot of schools crying out to be bulldozed. And I could probably give you all advice on how to hypothetically bulldoze a hypothetical school.”
“Then there’s the idea that the Board had that we should answer all phone calls in both languages. I don’t know about other schools in the Board, but none of the secretaries at Lord Byron speaks French and nobody phones the school expecting to speak French. It’s pretty ironic coming from a Board that takes the $3 million dollar French grant and spends it on anything but French. Anyway our secretaries didn’t bother with that one and to the best of my knowledge no one has ever noticed.”
“Now if I knew of a school that needs bulldozing and I can think of a few, the trick would be to act as if you’re part of an official action. Wear all the proper uniforms; have all the official looking papers. People will not call you on it. This is all hypothetical, right? If you do it at the beginning of a summer, then the Board has some time to decide what they are going to do with all those students and no school. But unfortunately the Board doesn’t always notice right away. I’m not sure what things all those Trustees and Admin people do, but paying attention doesn’t seem to be one of them. Somebody bulldozed PS 444 in the Bronx, that’s in New York, at the beginning of July and I guess no one noticed until the middle of August. “
“Now the idea behind bulldozing a crappy inner-city or rural school is that they don’t build schools like that anymore. They have to replace the crap with something good. Okay maybe not necessarily good but at least new. Did I mention that all this is hypothetical?
“Probably one of the more stupid ideas coming out of the Board is…”
“You mean apart from your evaluation policy.” Interrupted Kathleen
“Well, that’s a hard call. They’re both in the same league. Anyway the Board has this idea to integrate grade nine English and science. The same teacher would do both. And they only want science teachers to do it.”
“That’s a bit of a force fit isn’t it? What sort of activities do they envision?”
“I’m not sure. Short stories about amoebas? It wouldn’t be my first choice of things to integrate.’
‘Is this backed up by any kind of research?’
‘I doubt it. We don’t do research.’
You would think that all this talk about tearing down schools would be met by a lot of incredibility, shock even. Teachers and Principals are pretty much conservative people. Not the kind of people who destroy things. But something happens to teachers once they get out of the classroom; they don’t want to go back. And they will do most anything to make sure they don’t. From the perspective of a recently liberated classroom teacher there are no bad ideas. At least not those of their superiors. So maybe that’s why no one got up and walked out on this man who was proposing so much destruction. He was the darling of the educational establishment. Or maybe it was just because they were polite Canadians with an American visitor. Maybe most were still feeling the effects of last night’s “conferencing” in the hotel’s Blue Moon Saloon. Whatever the reason, 500 Principals sat there and listened to William Jefferson Vandonkersgood outline how to bulldoze an intercity school.
“Now what is important to remember about the Phoenix movement is that entire schools do not have to be torn down. You can start small. You can tear down interior walls. Make sure you know which ones are load bearing ones though. Or you might as well just bulldoze the whole thing anyway. Tear down the interior walls and see what that brings. Force everyone to rethink the school. I know what you’re thinking. We all tried ‘Open Concept’ in the 70’s. But did you really? Or did you just try to teach the old fashion way in a room without walls? I challenge you to redefine what ‘tearing down’ means. Rip all the pictures off the walls and let the students cover them. Throw out the textbooks and let the students write their own. Get rid of departments. Get rid of department heads. Fire the janitors and have the teachers and the students take ownership of their classroom. Fire the secretaries and let the students acquire the necessary office skills.”
A buzz had been slowly building as his ideas seem to advocate laying a lot of people off. But there was nothing in that buzz to indicate that anyone didn’t approve of these ideas. In fact wild applause broke when Vandonkersgood reached the logical conclusion of his argument:
“Fire the teachers and let the students teach themselves.”
“Bravo, bravo,” came the cry from a table near the front. “Give ’em hell, Billy!” yelled a voice on the left. “Show no mercy.” shrieked the middle. Many in the hall had risen to their feet and the mood swept through the room until nearly everyone was up and applauding. Vandonkersgood put his hand up to quiet the crowd, but it was apparent that he enjoyed the applause. he continued:
“Throw out the old military-based command structure in your school, put the Principals back in the classroom and run the school collectively.”
With that the crowd grew quiet. What did he say? Put Principals in the classroom? What kind of a lunatic was this guy? Let teachers decide things? What did they know? “Billy, you’re crazy!” cried a voice on the right. The man who went with the voice got up and stomped out. “You should be bulldozed” yelled the table up front and walked out collectively. Tables on the left started chanting “Kill Bill, kill Bill!” One by one people stood up and left the room. Vandonkersgood continued, raising his voice over the din of chairs moving and feet stomping.
“Why shouldn’t Principals go back in the classroom? It keeps them grounded in reality. It makes them take ownership of their decisions. I know what you all are thinking. It’s what I hear all the time at home. It’s nothing but Communism. But it isn’t. It’s like Hutterites or kibbutzim in Israel. Don’t. Don’t .’ The crowd was probably a third of what it had been at the beginning. ‘Don’t close your minds to new ideas. Try to think outside the box.”
It was fruitless. No one was listening any more.
“School’s have to stop being factories which produce docile obedient sheep. We need to question everything and everyone.” “Schools should not be an agent of the government, but an agent of change.”
Vandonkersgood surveyed the room and realized there was no point in continuing. “I’d like to thank you all for inviting me to speak to you today and thank you for listening.” Vandonkersgood ended without a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Alma Ludwigshafen got up and started applauding. A handful of the remaining Principals joined in, but it really was a pitiful amount of applause. Randy and Kathleen continued their conversation. Since lunch was being served immediately after the speech, most of the Principals who had walked out on the keynote speaker began filing back in, the rest went to the Blue Moon.
‘Science-English integration is just one in a series of ideas that I have to sell to the staff. They never want to hear it. I don’t particularly want to do it. But Bunny always leaves me holding the bag.’
‘How did he ever become a Principal?’
‘Beats me. But there are a lot of things about the Board that I don’t understand.’
‘Would you like the chicken or the fish?’
‘Addison! I thought last night was your last day on the job.’
As dippy as ever Addison answered ‘Well it was supposed to be. But Daddy was short staffed and asked me to stay.’
‘I’ll have the fish.’
‘Poor Randy. You know you shouldn’t have to put up with this crap.’
‘Yeah, but what am I supposed to do about it?’
‘Run the school as if you were the Principal. Would Bunny notice? Would he care? You know he might even by glad that he doesn’t have to do anything. The school will be better run with a Principal who’s there in the building.’
Addison was back with the food.
‘Okay that’s one chicken for madame and one for sir.’
‘Thank you very much Addison.’ said Kathleen.
‘I thought you ordered the fish.’
‘I did. But I assumed that she would get it wrong so I ordered the one I didn’t want.’
‘Yeah, me too. I guess we’re good problem solvers.’
‘That’s why you need to take control of your school.’
‘Just do it. If you don’t like Science-English Integration, get rid of it. Don’t like Potential Intelligence, get rid of it.’
‘’Whoa, there. Hold on a minute. That’s not taking on an absent Bunny. That’s taking on the Board.’
‘If you are half the man you were last night, you’ll do it.’
“I was good last night? I mean I was good last night, wasn’t I?’ Randy was feeling manly and powerless at the same time. It was one thing to be good in bed. It’s another thing to go against Board policy. ‘Why don’t we discuss this over dinner tonight? What sessions are you going to this aft?’
‘I don’t like any of them.’
‘Yeah, they all look kind of lame. How about Keeping Them on Edge. How to Keep your Staff Guessing your Next Move?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe Delegate, Alienate, Subjugate. You know I don’t like any of them. I think there’s better things to do with our time. How about my room in five minutes?’
‘Sounds like a plan.’
Finally the day of the home opener came. The team had played two games on the road first and had shown real signs of improvement. In the first game against Kim Campbell the defence had done a good job in holding last year’s second best offence to just three touchdowns and Lane had managed to move the ball well and the Bengals had answered those three touchdowns with three of their own. In the end what cost them the game was a fumble in their own end late in the game which set up the winning field goal.
The next game was a heart breaker. They played the Sacre Coeur Crusaders. Like in the first game, the team started with a prayer circle. The players dutifully recited the words of wisdoms that Coach Ibrahimovich had prepared for them. He had made sure to remove all references to God or Allah and this time any mention of Jihad was removed as well. The irony of them reciting Muslims prayers before playing the Crusaders was lost on all, players and coaches alike. Padre O’Connor, the chaplain at Sacre Coeur, was surprised and a little bewildered to see a prayer circle from a publicly funded high school.
Soon after the game started the pleasant fall day turned into a meteorological nightmare. The skies darkened, wind increased to what weather men call gale force and rain started falling. Horizontally. Any hope of a passing attack was gone and even the ground game was very difficult. Both defences knowing that the pass was impossible, concentrated on stopping the run. Nobody could move the ball. With the score still 0-0 in the fourth quarter, the Crusaders were punting once again. The wind picked that particular time, with the ball in the air, to increase to what the weather men call hurricane force. Even though they had kicked it from their own side of half, the ball carried passed the goal line then passed the dead ball line for a single point. Try as they might, the Bengals could not answer. The final score of 1-0 sounded more like a soccer game.
Two games. Two loses. Even if the points difference was only -4, against Happy Valley things would have to be different.
Ryan had lost a lot of his innocence, but not his desire to fix things. The same enthusiasm that he brought to the fight to save the planet, he would bring to the fight to get rid of Potential Intelligence. He would just need a good game plan.
White and his lackeys and flunkies had told him in no uncertain words to be quiet. “Shut the fuck up” was how it was put. Still there was be a way to get around that order. He thought about it for weeks, even to the point of putting work on the overhead for his grade nine science classes to copy into their notes. While they quietly wrote, he brainstormed ideas. He could write letters to the local papers. Okay that wasn’t shutting up. Maybe he could write those letters and pretend to be somebody else. Like Barovsky, or Doyle. No, that was fraud or something. He could refuse to use PI. ‘Yeah, I’m going to Bunny right now and tell him I am not going to do this. Wait. Bunny’s not here today. I could… I could… I can’t shut the fuck up. They will just have to live with it. What are they going to do to me? Make me teach grade nine applied science. All those kids that don’t want to be there. I’m already doing that. Fire me? They don’t fire anybody. You have to molest a child to get fire. They can’t touch me.’
First offensive: a letter to the Granite City Times. No, an exposé to the Granite City Times. Who is Ken Smith and why he is ruining our schools? No, not eye catching enough Perceived Stupidity: The End of Western Civilization.
“Sir, we done copying. What should we do now?” said a girl from the front of the classroom. At the back of the classroom, the usual crowd had been throwing things out the windows for more than five minutes.
“Here’s a word search. Would you hand them out to the class, Aleisha.”
“Sure, sir. But I’m Chastity.”
Where was I? Ken Smith is a danger to your child.What you can do about it. Yeah let’s go with that. At home that night Ryan wrote a 5 000 word diatribe of Perceived Intelligence. He cited studies from as far away as Taiwan and Finland. He compared the Canadian school systems to schools good and bad. He had his point, proved his point, reinforced his point over and over and over again. He sent it off to the Granite City Times.
And he never heard back from them.
The weather was not going to be an excuse for losing this time. While the sun was not completely out-it was playing a game of peekaboo with the fans and the players, there was no rain and little wind. A larger than usual crowd had turned out to watch the Bengals take on the Happy Valley Vikings. The never-been-in-the-league-before Vikings. The-never-had-a-team -before-Viking. The-never-won-a-game Vikings.
It was going to be good. These guys had barely enough players to field a team. As it was most players had to play both defence and offence. The three girls from the synchronized swimming club had stuck it out and were dressed even if no one expected them to see the field. The guy with the club foot was there too. On the side lines he was practising kicking the ball off a tee and into a net.
The bus from Happy Valley had arrived late. When they did get there, most fans were already in their seats. The players were under strict orders not to make fun of their opposition. Any way they were busy praying when the bus arrived. The fans, on the other hand, were not at all hesitant about laughing at the Vikings. Unfortunately they lacked imagination and style.
“You suck!” “Where’s the rest of the team?” was the best they could do. Maybe it was because they weren’t used to being the ones taunting. In any other game they were the subjects of the taunts.
Warm ups, coin tosses and other formalities out of the way, the teams lined up for the opening kick off. Jordan White, who was also the kicker as well as being the middle linebacker, put the ball deep into the Vikings end. The kid who was supposed to run the ball back fumbled around with it and only got to the eleven-yard line before Jordan chasing his own kick stuffed him. The kid lay on the ground for a while but was able to continue. On the first play from scrimmage the Vikings ran up the middle for a couple of yards. On the second play the snap was fumbled. The Bengals recovered on the nine-yard line. Things had started just the way they were supposed to.
Unfortunately the two pass attempts were incomplete. But the field goal was good. After only a couple of minutes it was already 3-0 Bengals.
The Vikings chose to take the ball on the 35. They completed a pass for five yards, ran off-tackle for another four and gambled on third down. The Bengals were prepared to stop the one yard plunge. The Viking however faked the quarterback sneak, snapped the ball through his legs to the halfback who handed off to the wide receiver who ran an end around. Eleven of the twelve Bengals were completed fooled by the play. Fortunately Jordan White wasn’t. He eventually caught the ball carrier after a thirty yard gain. He hit him so hard the kid had to go off for a few plays.
They were now in Bengal territory.
The LBSS defence smarted up and managed to stop the Vikings at about the fifty. Head Coach Kidd sent on the punt return team. The Vikings Head Coach sent on the kid with the club foot and set up to kick a field goal.
Now with the seven or so yards that teams take in order to make sure the kick isn’t blocked, the ball would be placed beyond the 55 yard line which meant that the kick would come from the Vikings’ side of centre.
The punt returners were confused about where they should set up. They were on their 20, but Kidd signalled that they should stay where they were. There was no way this kick was going anyway near the goal posts.
The ball was snapped. The O-line was a bit shaky and Jordan came close to blocking it, but they got the kick off. The two kids on the 20 waiting to run the ball back got ready. They immediately realized that the ball was going farther than anyone anticipated.
Anyone on the Bengals that is.
What was at first a slow back pedal quietly into a full run. The ball was clearly going well past their heads. Past their heads and through the goal posts.
The reaction from the fans and the Bengal players was a combination of awl and fear. They had never seen a kick like that.
After one quarter it was 3 for the new look, bound for victory Bengals of Lord Byron and 3 for the hapless newbies from Happy Valley. Things were not going according to the script.
If the press wasn’t interested maybe the government would be. After all had Perceived Intelligence had not been approved by anyone at the Ministry. He started with his local MPP. Johnny Marre had represented the voters and the non voters of South Missachewopa for three terms. People pretty much knew what to expect from him and he knew what to expect from the voters. Ryan phone the local office. His secretary answered.
“Can I speak to Mr. Marre?”
“I’m sorry he’s not available.”
“When will he be available?”
So the next day when Ryan phoned it went:
“Can I speak to Mr. Marre?”
“I’m sorry he’s not available.”
“When will he be available?”
This continued for far too long. Ryan would phone and get the same answer and then phone again the next day. I suppose if the office of Mr. Marre was a more warm and fuzzy place, his secretary would have had the decency to say “next week” instead of “tomorrow”. But she didn’t. Finally Ryan asked why if Queen’s Park is not in session is he not at his office locally.
“He’s out in the riding.”
“What does that mean?”
“He is meeting constituents.”
“I’m a constituent.”
“Maybe he meet you someday.”
“I can’t tell you how helpful you’ve been.”
“You’re very welcome.”
Ryan would just have to go upstairs to the Ministry itself.
He went to the Minister’s website. There was a place to write questions to the Minister but after the disappointment with the Granite City Times he wasn’t sure if the written word was the way to go. Maybe he needed to talk directly to the Minister herself.
Edwina Mist had a fairly high profile. She had been Minister of several other things before her current role. And it was rumoured that she would be running for the leadership of the provincial party when the current Premier, Rushton Kappa stepped down. According to the pundits that was going to be sooner rather than later. Kappa was down in the polls and his hopes of re-election seemed faint.
After a lot of digging around, a few phone calls to friends from university, who had been Young Perpetuals and had gone on in the party and a bit of luck, he came up with the phone number to Minister’s office.
With his fingers trembling a bit he dialled the number and waited while the phone on the other end rang.
“Office of the Minister of Education. How may I direct this call?”
“Oh yes hello. I’d like to speak to the Minister, please.”
“And you are?”
“And who is Jason Ryan?”
“I’m a teacher at Lord Byron Secondary School.”
“Just a teacher?”
“And you want to talk to the Minister?”
“Yes, I do.”
To Ryan it seemed like five minutes of laughter that followed. When the voice on the other end finally stopped it said “Oh that was a good one. I haven’t laughed like that since the days of the Tories.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Why you were laughing.”
“The Minister doesn’t talk to teachers. If you have something to say, take it to your superiors. The Minister cannot talk directly to teachers. It muddles things up.”
“But things are seriously wrong in my school board.”
“Things are seriously wrong with all school boards. Put something in writing and send to the Minister.”
“And she’ll respond to it?”
“No, but it might make you feel better.’
“This is unbelievable.”
“Listen if you really want to change things, run for Trustee. They’re the people with the real power.”
No football coach is worth his salt if he can’t rant and rave. Head Coach Travis Kidd was worth the whole shaker. Practises were best described as long periods of physical exercise and even longer periods of verbal abuse. However sometimes you could say it was physical exercise followed by physical abuse. And sometimes it was just physical abuse. Fool around and you run hills. Screw up and you get a ball thrown at your head. Really screw up and have your gender identity questioned. But now in the locker room at half time he started with the silent treatment. Okay it wasn’t a locker room the teams stayed at the field and went to opposite end zones.
Given the proximity to the fans everything Travis Kidd said could be heard by the fans. They even heard the silence that started the half time talk. If was a silence filled by all the emotions, fears and desires that this game represented to the 0- for their high school career Bengals felt.
Forty-five players all with their helmets off and their left knee on the ground waiting, waiting for Head Coach Kidd to break the silence. Finally, there was a feeling of relief when he spoke.
“Ladies.” he barked then he paused. “That is the worse display of football that I have ever seen in all my years of coaching.” The feeling of relief was quickly replaced with a feeling of dread.
“If you want to be rhythmic gymnasts, be my guest. But I am here to win a football game and by God I am going to do that.” He paused again “Even if I have to run out on the field and do it myself. From now on there will be no more missed tackles. No more dropped balls. No more running the wrong pattern. We have not been working for months to lose to a team that can’t even use a toilet yet.”
Scottie Van Doornedorp had to fight the urge to say something about how he was pretty sure that they were potty-trained. But even Scottie isn’t that stupid.
The tone switched to one of motivation rather than vexation. “Look at the logo on your chests.” Above their numbers was a small tiger head. “You all are Lord Byron Bengals. You’re part of a long tradition. Remember that. Remember all the players who have come before you. Remember all the glory of past teams and accept your destiny. Now let’s go out there and be who we are.” A good speech. At least it was when he used it at Chevalier.
On to the field the players rushed ready to do their job. Happy Valley kicked off to them. The kid with the club foot booted the ball deep into the end zone where Stretch caught it. With the coaches all calling for him to go down on one knee, Stretch turned and started running down field. It was just too much to ask the kid to concentrate on catching the ball and listen to instructions from the side lines. The down field tacklers arrived and were so close to stuffing him. But Stretch had been put at kick off receiver for a reason. He was faster than anyone else on the team. He wasn’t very good at running patterns; he couldn’t tackle and he would get out of the way of tacklers rather than block. But he was fast.
So fast that he easily avoided any would-be tackler and made it out of the end zone. He gave a head fake to the one synchronized swimmer who got to play on kick offs and headed toward the sidelines. The Vikings had been too enthusiastic about making the tackle down field that no one stayed home just in case they were needed.
No one accept the kid with the club foot.
So the second half of the game between two hapless teams began with a show down between two unlikely heroes. Now the kid with the club foot had always known that if he was even going to have any success in sports it was going to be because of his brains and not his athletic ability. In house league soccer he soon figured out that his role was to stay near his own goal and clear the ball 50 yards down field any chance he got. He knew that if he pushed forward he would get caught up field and wouldn’t be able to get back in time.
When he saw Stretch head for the side lines he quickly calculated the angle he needed to take to intersect the trajectory of Stretch’s line. Slow as he was, as long as he got there before Stretch he could make the tackle. This is advance physics here as he needed to account for the difference in speed of the two objects. And his calculations found that the two lines would meet somewhere around the thirty yard line. The Vikings thirty yard line. That meant that he had to turn around and run toward his own goal line while Stretch was still on his own side of centre. On the surface it defied all logic; in reality it was brilliant. Anyone watching him would have thought that having kicked the ball he was returning to the bench. But no one was watching him.
They were all watching Stretch who was beating the Vikings one after another. He was going all the way. Or so everyone, including Stretch, thought. In fact Stretch was sure that he was on his way to scoring when the kid with the club foot got low and drove his shoulder into Stretch’s knee. It was more of a bump than a tackle but it did the job. Down went Stretch. The crowd all gasped and a collective “shit” was given off by the Bengal coaching staff. For their part the Viking bench went wild as the kid with the club foot came off the field. In fact, Fiona Lindenhauser, who was watching the game despite a rather large apathy toward the sport, thought the game had ended and the Vikings had won.
The happiness of Happy Valley was short lived. Even if he hadn’t scored, Stretch had given them excellent field position. Lane knew that their concentration would be lacking for a play or two. So he ran play action and went long to Scottie in the end zone who managed to hang on to the ball. Convert kicked. Score LBSS 10 HVHS 3.
“If you want to change things, run for Trustee.” That sentence spoke volumes about how much the Ministry of Education was out of touch. “Trustee” all sorts of people can run for Trustee. Eighteen year olds. Residents of mental institutions. Convicted criminals. But not teachers. If teachers were Trustees they would vote themselves outrageous pay increases. Lawyers regulate lawyers. Doctors regulate doctors, hell even investment bankers regulate investment bankers, well sort of. But here was the Ministry telling Ryan to run for Trustee. If only he could, he would sock it to the man. No more pulling the wool over the Trustees’ eyes. No more stupid BS like dogs in guidance, no more umpteen Supervising Principals without schools to be Principals of.
Ryan ran ideas over in his head for days. Days went by where his classes did nothing but copy into their notes or watch movies. Sometimes the movies had very little to do with science. Sometimes the movies had very little to do with anything.
At first it was just a vague notion. That it grew into a proper idea. He couldn’t be elected as a Trustee. But he could still run a election campaign. The fact that he couldn’t hold office might even help if it brought him more publicity.
The election wasn’t going to be until the fall of the next school year. Normally people don’t start campaigning until a month or two before. If they campaign at all. Some don’t have to. No one runs against them so they win by something called acclamation.
A full year before the election signs started appearing throughout South Missachewopa. Signs that said things like:
Vote Ryan.Even if they won’t let you.
A vote for Ryan. It’s a vote against Ed Smith.
When schools won’t fail our kids, they fail all of us.
0 plus 0 shouldn’t equal 50% Vote Ryan.
Ryan was smart enough not to use his full name. That way when the attack dogs that worked for Superintendent White went on the offensive, he could always claim that Ryan was a common name and it must be some other guy with a bone to pick with the school board. He imagined there must be quite a few in the category. But the attack dogs remained silent. Perhaps they hadn’t noticed or perhaps their attention was diverted.
Unfortunately the press didn’t notice either.
So after a couple of months of the sign campaign and a couple of thousand dollars spent, Ryan had to admit that he had very little to show for it.
There was no one about to admit defeat at what the other schools were calling the Loser Bowl. With a seven point lead and a quarter to go the Bengals of Lord Byron Secondary School were full of energy. They could smell blood. On the other hand the Vikings had never been so close to winning a game.
The third quarter had ended with a Bengals ball on the Vikings 35 yard line. One more score and they could count on this game showing up in the win column. Head Coach Travis Kidd felt they needed a little extra to push this game out of reach. So he called for a prayer session.
During the change over at the end of the third quarter, while the referees were changing ends the offence all dropped to one knee and following Lane’s lead recited the following. In keeping with board policy and to be sure not to offend Trustee Lindenhauser all references to God and Allah had been replaced.
“Football is great. Football is great.’
“Oh Football! Fill my request!”
“Hey, shouldn’t we be facing something?” asked Scottie in a moment of clarity.
“Yeah. That’s right. Let’s face the …” Lane looked around. “the goal posts.” He continued
“There is no Football, but Football and Football is the greatest.”
“Com’on Ladies. It’s time to play some football.” said Head Coach Kidd, who was worried about taking too long and pissing off the refs. “Bring it in and let’s have Knights on three.”
“Don’t you mean Bengals on three, Coach?” asked Scottie
“I said Bengals. Let’s have it, please. The refs are waiting.”
“One, two, three, Bengals.” came the cheer.
Whether it was because of the sanitized Muslim prayer or in spite of it, the Bengals took the ball and marched into the Vikings end zone. Bengals 17, Vikings 3 with 9.43 to play. From the insuring kick off the Vikings ran a fake double reverse which didn’t fool Jordan and the Vikings offence over on their 29 yard line. They managed a couple of first downs until they stalled on their own 52. once again they sent on their field goal unit. And the Bengals responded by putting Stretch on the ten. Off to one side hiding from the Bengals coaching staff and behind the kicker was the Vikings fastest runner. When the ball was snapped , the holder stood up and kicked the ball to the wide side of the field. The same side that the on side runner was on. The kick had enough height that the runner arrived in time to catch the ball in flight and race untouched into the end zone. It was a play never seen in North America. But one of the Vikings Coaches was an Australian on exchange for the year. For him it was a routine play in Rugby League. Bengals 17 Vikings 10 with 4:43 to go.
On the Viking bench there was a large argument about whether they should kick deep and hope the defence would hold them and get the ball back for their offence or kick short and hope to recover the ball. The proponents of the short on-side kick won out.. But with one concession; the kid with the club foot came on and lined up as if to kick the ball. He was on the right side of the ball. On the left side trying really hard to not look like she was about to kick the ball was one of the synchronized swimmers. A left-footed synchronized swimmer. With the whistle the kid with the club foot kick the turf beside the ball and the synchronized swimmer girl kick the ball for real; hard and low into the knees of Invisible.
Poor Invisible, who probably wished his name actually meant something, couldn’t get low enough, fast enough to snag the ball. It rebounded off his knees and into the arms of an on-coming Viking who had been instructed to do nothing but fall on the ball.
The Gods of Football appear to be fickle.
The Viking offence returned to the field and began to march down toward the Bengal end zone. With less than a minute to go they found themselves on the four yard line. First down goal to go. On first down they tried the double reverse again. It failed to fool Jordan who dropped the ball carrier for a lost. On second down they tried the double reverse yet again. Jordan assumed that they wouldn’t be so stupid to run the same play two times in roll, so he ignored the second hand off. He was certain it was a fake. He got to the ball carrier with his usual speed about the same time that the guy who actually had the ball was scoring. 17-16 with the convert to come.
What should the Viking coaching staff do? They could kick the convert and settle for the tie or go the riskier route and try a two-point conversion. Go big or go home they said and decided to go for the two points.
What they hadn’t considered was that they had really pissed Jordan White off. You know, ‘Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.’ Jordan wasn’t going to get fooled again.
From the five yard line they ran a draw play which meant that the quarterback drops back as if he is passing but hands the ball off to a running back. Again it fooled the entire Bengal defence except Jordan who got to the running back at the one. The ball carrier bounced off Jordan and dove for the line. Invisible, who had initially been knocked down and backwards into the end zone, was just regaining his feet managed to get a hold of the Viking running back long enough until others arrived to make the tackle. For a moment all action froze as everyone on both teams was waiting for the ruling on the field. Had he broken the plane of the goal line before being tackled? Where he was lying would indicate than he hadn’t. But it was his forward progress that counted. The two refs were stationed on the goal line, each hoping that the other would make the decision. Finally one of them waved his hands to indicate that the ball had not crossed the goal line and the other ref quickly mimicked his motion.
Bengals 17 Vikings 16 with 5 seconds left on the clock .
Would the Vikings try an on-side kick again. They had few other options. Again the kick off team lined up with the club foot kid on one side and the left-footed synchronized swimmer on the other. But this time Invisible was ready for the kick.
Only they didn’t kick it to Invisible.
The Bengals were all lined up ready to receive a short on-side kick. Only Stretch was back if the kick was long.
And the kick was long and a long way away from Stretch. Again the Vikings Coaches had put their really fast guy near the side lines where he raced toward the ball. Would Stretch, who had terrible hands and couldn’t tackle, make it there first? Or would the Viking speedy guy arrive in time to pick up the ball and race once again into the end zone.
Head Coach Kidd couldn’t tell. The Viking Head Coach couldn’t tell. From their seats in the scaffolding that passed for stands, Bunny or Doyle couldn’t tell. Lyndsey Baggott, who had started to see something she liked in the tall skinny kid who everyone just called Stretch, couldn’t tell who was going to get there first, but she was sure it was going to work out.
Optimism goes a long way. As the Viking fast guy bent down the ball bounced off his hands and towards Stretch, who, living up to his nickname, got down low and like a defender in soccer, hooked the ball away and out of bounds. It was a temporary solution as it meant that the Vikings would take over where the ball had gone out. But the clock had expired during the kick off. By the skin of their teeth the Bengals had won their first game in living memory.
Superintendent White was the second biggest dog in the pack that was Senior Admin of the Granite District School Board. Only the Director of Education was more Alpha than him But the position of Director kept changing hands. In the past few years the job had passed between Carl Holzbein, who had run off to British Columbia with an elementary teacher at least half his age, Angela Testaverdi, who had more or less been run out of town by the Trustees for suggesting that country kids weren’t getting the same opportunities as those in Granite City and Gilles Crapaud who had been running things for a few years now. Or so it seemed.
The reality was that White was running things as he always had. Sure the Director got the good office, the nice car and the bigger golden parachute when his time was up. But the Director’s position had become a lot like being the Governor General. You went to cocktail parties; you made appearances at important fund-raisers and you cut ribbons at important openings of new schools; well, you would if there were new schools to open.
Director Crapaud had arrived from Toronto. The Trustees, in a surprise move, had gone outside the GDSB for its current director. That had rubbed a few noses the wrong way. When a new director is named from inside the GDSB, a lot of people get bumped up the career ladder. If the director was a superintendent, then a principal is made superintendent, a vice principal is made principal and a department head is made vice principal. But when the Trustees go to another board for the new director, all that career bumping goes on in the other board.
Now don’t feel bad for Angela Testaverdi. When they run a Director out of town, they do it nice and gently. She got to keep her BMW, she and her husband got to go to two “conferences” in Las Vegas and Bermuda and she got a nice retirement gratuity. So don’t feel sorry for her. Could the Board afford all this? They just took it out of the French grant. After Testaverdi the next in line was Superintendent White. Now he would have to wait it out until Director Crapaud left and Crapaud was younger than he was. But Superintendent White wasn’t going to wait quietly.
A few years ago it was the dog plan. It worked like this. Put a big happy friendly dog in every Guidance Department in the Board. Students walk in with their problems and the first thing to greet them is a big goofy smile, a wet tongue and a whole big coat of fur just waiting to be petted. Who would care about their worries after that? And what a beautiful photo op. White next to a cute 15 year-old girl and an even cuter dog. That would make the first page of the Granite City Gazette-Times. And it did. Mind you anyone looking at it was going to pay attention to the girl or the dog and ignore Superintendent White, but the people who really counted would see him there and know who was responsible for the good PR.
Meleesa Cook walked slowly one day on her way to Guidance. She didn’t usually go to Guidance. It wasn’t because she didn’t have problems she could discuss with a counsellor. She didn’t feel right talking about her shyness with a stranger. But she was bursting inside. There was this boy that she liked, really liked. He didn’t seem to know she existed. She could talk to her mother about him, but what did her mother know about boys? She could talk to her father, but what did her father know about anything? Some of her friends went to Guidance when they had problems. Some of the girls at her school had a new problem every week and spent more time in Guidance than they did in class. She wasn’t friends with any of those girls though.
The cameras and reporters weren’t around when Meleesa, who was feeling a little more nervous than usual entered Guidance and was surprised to have a black lab jumping up on her. What was a dog doing at school? She didn’t like dogs, even the quiet ones. And this one wasn’t quiet at all. He was big and very excitable. An outsider might have said that here was one big ol’ friendly dog with a big ol’ wagging tail. Meleesa didn’t see it that way though. She saw paws as big as her face and a tail that could knock her right over. She screamed, the dog got excited and did knock her over, she screamed some more, the dog got more excited and you know that the only place this vicious circle is going to go is where she runs out of the room in tears and the dog pisses all over the floor.
Mr. Cook phoned the school as soon as he heard about the incident and demanded to know what the fuck the school was doing using dogs as guidance counsellors. Had they gone nuts? What idiot had thought that one up? Why can’t schools just do what they’re supposed to do? He was going to go to the press and see what they had to say about girls being attacked by school board dogs.
Bunny managed to calm him down and avoided the bad publicity but that was in end of the dogs in Guidance at LBSS. The program continued for quite some time at the schools in Granite City were perhaps dogs and 15 year old girls are less excitable.
Next came the obesity initiative. It hadn’t been his idea. The idea had apparently come from the phys ed head at Lord Byron, but he was quick to jump on the band wagon. When the idea proved popular, Tanker had been pushed aside and replaced with a more pliable newby. The obesity initiative brought in a lot of positive press and enquiries from other boards. Like most things in education it didn’t run long enough for there to be any measurable results. But of course that didn’t stop the Board from claiming victory before shutting down the program. Students who had lost weight were paraded in front of the camera. It was never really clear if it had been because of the program, in spite of program or the result of something altogether divorced of the program. In education you take credit for anything that appears to work and blame others for everything else. The most extreme case was the kid who had lost 48 pounds due to chemotherapy who was shown to the press as one of the success stories. They threw a baseball cap on his head to cover his lack of hair. Anything for good press.
But the obesity initiative was a cow that could only be milked so much.
So last year Phil White went looking for a way to hit the ball out of the park. He needed something big and bold. Something that would bring lots of positive press, would be associated directly with his name and would have all the appearances of being pedagogically innovative. After thumbing through some educational journals, Superintendent White came upon a brochure from the Colorado Institute of Learning. It was bright and glossy. It had colour pictures of good-looking, smiling students from racial diverse backgrounds having fun while learning. It promised great results. It seemed almost too good to be true.
So Superintendent White called the toll-free number and was impressed when it was Ken Smith himself who answered the phone. According to the brochure Ken Smith was a guru of evaluation. It was Smith who had invented the concept of Potential intelligence. And, for a small fee, he was willing to share the results of his research.
Superintendent White explained to Smith that he was looking for innovation, that he wanted to make a statement that would have a lasting impression and that he wanted to take the Granite District School Board in an entirely new direction.
Smith said that he had found his man. White had hardly put the phone down when there in front of him was the man himself, wearing a broad smile and a stetson hat. He had apparently got the first plane out of Colorado. Mrs Oliver, Superintendent White’s secretary showed him to a chair and set down herself. White wanted a written report of the negotiations.
“You bettya. We can put something together for you all. Our philosophy is that it’s not how smart you are that counts. It’s how smart you look.”
“I don’t get it”
“Are you the smartest person in the Board?”
“Probably not.” White forced himself to be humble.
“So why are you number two in all the Board?”
White thought about answering honestly. He was where he was today because he had kissed all the right ass, play golf-a really stupid game- with all the right people; because he knew how to take credit for the work of others. He had gotten drunk with the most boring people in the world, called them all by stupid nicknames and allowed them to do the same to him. He joined every committee going and lived by the rule of three meetings. It stated that if you had three places to be at the same time, you used each one as a reason to not be at the others and just went home early. It didn’t matter that you went to the meetings-nothing was ever accomplished at them anyway. It mattered that you had your name on the paper that the committee eventually would write. He had coached the right sports too. The ones like football that got plenty of good press. And here it mattered that you knew what you were doing, for it is a widely held believe that leaders come from the coaching ranks. Artsy-fartsy English teachers don’t make good leaders. Jocks do.
“Number two in the Board” how he hated being called that. Number two was the first loser. The silver medal is just a piece of jewellery. He was smarter than Crapaud and all the ones before him. He certainly worked harder than Crapaud. Hell, even the little statue of Buddha on his desk worked harder than Crapaud.
“You’re where you are in the Board ‘coz they’ll think you look smart. Don’t matter chicken’s teeth iffen y’are. Just so long as you look it. Now y’all listen up and I’ll explain how everything works. It ain’t rocket science, y’know.”
“You seem more like you’re from Texas than Colorado.”
“Oh yeah, that. Well y’all gotta understand that it might be called the Colorado Institute of Learning, but it’s located in Littletown, Texas.”
“Why not call it the Texas Institute of Learning?”
“Well y’all gotta understand that recent research has shown that people don’t associate ‘Texas’ with education very much any more. I dunno why that is. Colorado sounds a lot better. Any way lemme tell y’all about our research.”
“Go on, then.”
“Lemme tell all about P I Q.”
“P I Q?”
“Potential Intelligence Quotient. We judge students not by how smart they are, but how smart they look. Successful people look smart, whether they are or not. Y’all want to go to a doctor who hems and hawls. Even if he knows what he’s doing, he don’t make you feel confident. Who are the best politicians? The best bankers? The best lawyers?. As I say to my wife all the time: It’s not the meat, it’s the motion, baby!” And with that he slapped his knee.
“Y’all want success in life for your students?”
“Y’all want your schools to be the best in the country?”
“y’all want your parents to be happy with the job that the school system is doing?”
“Y’all want to be number one?”
Well, then lemme show y’all a couple of forms to fill out and we’ll git ya on your way to tomorrow. Now, y’ all will excuse me a moment.” he said as he walked out of the office. As soon as he was alone, Education Guru Ed Smith took out his cell phone and made a brief call: “Edwina, it worked like a charm. He bought it all, hook, line and sinker. It’s been a pleasure doing business with y’all. Got any other potential customers, like Phil here?”
About twenty minutes and $100,000 later, the Granite District School Board was on its way to the education nirvana that the Colorado Institute of Learning was promising. Now you might ask if a superintendent can just spend $100 000 like that without checking with the Director and the Trustees. Well he might not have the authority; but he does certainly have the ability. Neither the Director nor the Trustees were really watching what he did, so he did as he pleased.
After that followed a lot of training sessions for senior management, so they could get their minds around the idea that the kid who worked hard, did homework faithfully, studied for tests and handed assignments in on time was now the new delinquent of the school system. These training sessions couldn’t happen at the Learning Centre. The Learning Centre was full of offices and busy people running from point A to point Z. Anyway the Colorado Institute of Learning had a number of clients, mostly in the US and was running sessions almost constantly. Not in Colorado, mind you, or Texas. Hawaii seemed like a more appropriate place.
After Crapaud and White and their girlfriends or wives or whatever came back from being in-serviced in Hawaii, their assistants who also went to Hawaii, rented space in the best hotel in Granite City and trained the Principals and Vice-Principals. Now you might wonder how the Board Office became the Learning Centre at a cost of $3 million in renovations, which they didn’t take out of the French grant this time and yet there’s no space for Principals and Vice Principals to meet. You might wonder that and if you’re a tax payer in the area controlled by the Granite District School Board, you might want to phone someone in authority and demand an answer. Good luck with that.
Phoning the Learning Centre is an adventure and by ‘adventure’ I mean something you would do if you decided that your life was too good, you were too happy and you needed to feel like the majority of people who live miserable lives. If you enjoy frustration, please go ahead and attempt to connect with the appropriate person at the Learning Centre. First you’ll get a menu. Not a menu like in a fancy restaurant. You get a very mechanical sounding woman, who is on at least half of all phones in North America. Let’s call her Betty. I think you already know Betty. The first choice Betty will give you is press one for English and two for French. Why you are given that choice by the GDSB who by definition is an English language school board isn’t clear. Some Trustee obviously thought it was important for national unity. Perhaps Gilles Ducheppe and other Bloquistes have changed their entire view of English Canada knowing that the GDSB offers phone frustration in both official languages.
Now Betty will ask you if you know the extension of the person who you are calling. Of course you don’t. If you did, you would have dialled it. Don’t try arguing with Betty on this point. You won’t win. Next she will suggest that you punch in the first three letters of the person’s name. Of course the phone isn’t really good for spelling as each number has at least three letters. But Betty doesn’t give up easily. She’ll guess away until you find a familiar name or you give up. Betty must be hard of hearing because she says “I’m sorry I didn’t hear your selection.” an awful lot. Betty will also promise that you can talk to a real person any time you want. Don’t believe her. Of course you don’t know who to talk to. It’s not like there’s a Superintendent of Complaints. If you do get through to someone’s extension, they won’t be there. No it’s true. They are never there. Or at least they have taken a vow to never answer a ringing phone. You will be invited to leave a message in the voice mail box. But since they never answer their phone, their voice mail box is full. And you are kicked back to Betty who repeats “Thank you for calling the Granite District School Board. Press one for English et composez le numéro 2 pour service en français.” So there you are. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
You wanted to know why there isn’t room for meetings at the new and improved Learning Centre. The answer you would get, if you actually found someone to ask and this someone was prepared to tell you would be that there is in fact room at the Learning Centre, but that it’s nice to get out once in a while and hotels in Granite City are a good deal compared to those in the big city.
Principal Bunny loved the concept of Potential Intelligence. He thought that he would have done a whole lot better at school if he had been evaluated along Potential Intelligence lines. Bunny dressed well, spoke well and came across as a charismatic guy. If you can if fact be charismatic and at the same time afraid of people. In school, and especially at university he didn’t make every class or meet every deadline. It had had no effect whatsoever in his ability to do his job. Randy Doyle felt a little different about rewarding the lazy kids and penalizing the hard working ones. Doyle had always worked hard at school and on the job. He thought that so called ‘charming’ people got a free ride and this was just going to add to it. Why shouldn’t deadlines count? Why should kids get away with cheating or plagiarizing? Yet all this was part of Potential Intelligence. Oh well, he thought, at least I won’t be the one that has to sell it to the staff. Doyle looked forward to watching Bunny explain all this to the staff.
One of the students who should have benefited from Potential Intelligence was Jordan White, Phil’s second son. He could be best described by two expressions: gifted athlete and complete dink. As well as being middle line on the senior football team, Jordan played open side flanker on the school rugby team and was a champion wrestler. He had athletic ability to spare. As a linebacker he seemed to be a part of every tackle. There was a rage about him that on the football field or rugby pitch was directed and focused. He scored more points on interceptions than the team’s receivers did . When the team lost as it always did, the joke was that the defence hadn’t managed to score enough points. And by defence everyone meant Jordan. His coaches loved him, not because of who he was but what he could do for the team. Well most of his coaches loved him; his wrestling coach was a little afraid of him and was always glad when his bout was over and no one was hurt. Jordan was always on the edge and Coach Gillingham’s biggest fear that he would one day go too far and injure his opponent.
It’s hard to say what made Jordan a complete dink, assuming of course that dinks are made and not born. All the attention paid to him as an athlete since the age of six had certainly gone to his head. But there are a lot of gifted athletes who are humble, polite and friendly individuals. No one had ever accused Jordan of being humble or polite or even friendly. So it could have been that what made him the dink that he was, well was the fact that at school he got away with murder. Every teacher and every Principal that he ever had had realized early on who his father was. Even before he made Superintendent, it was very apparent that he was in the express line to promotion and it would be wise not to cross him.
Jordan had been recruited by several football programs, Queen’s, Ottawa U, Acadia among others. And by the University of Western Ontario. The Western football program had won six Vanier Cups and looked like a good bet for the next few years to come. Western was far and away his first choice. These days university players have to be good athletes and good students. Nowhere was this more true than at Western.
Problem was Jordan was not a good student. None of his teachers thought that he was smart and he spent so much time out of class-time he couldn’t afford to miss- that he never got good marks. And that was going to be a problem because as much as the football program at Western wanted him, he still needed to be accepted by the university admissions office. And his current marks weren’t going to do the job.
But what was the point of being Superintendent, if you couldn’t get your kid into the university of his choice? Years ago, when White wasn’t Superintendent White, not even Principal White just biology teacher White, the then Director of Education had come to White one parents’ night and asked what he had against his daughter, why he was giving her such low marks, why he wanted to ruin her life. White had been trying for several years to get into Administration. He was trying so hard that it had become a joke among his colleagues. They called him Brown nose White. There wasn’t a committee he wouldn’t join, including Status of Women and Aboriginal Education, even though as a black male, he was neither woman nor aboriginal. Even the Interdisciplinary Curriculum Initiatives. He never even found out what that committee did.
The Director’s daughter’s marks took a quick turn upwards and so did White’s career. The next year he was Vice-Principal at Chevalier.
Superintendent White didn’t see where things had changed. Jordan needed help in English and Biology. The other four marks weren’t going to be a problem. There were enough light courses on offer to give him a good average. Mrs Witherforce , his English teacher, was easy enough to influence. It only took one complaint to Bunny about a couple of essay marks. Could she justify such a low mark? Could he have them reassessed by another English teacher. When Witherforce heard of all this from Bunny, she could see the writing on the wall and just changed the marks upwards. She had always wanted to be in Administration.
Biology was another matter. He had Perkins for senior biology. Perkins had been around the block once or twice. He had seen all the games being played. He had seen the kind of people selected for Admin and he didn’t care what they did to him. They couldn’t touch him.
“He gets the marks he earns. Like everyone else in my class.”
“But he looks smart.”
“And I look rich!” which he didn’t unless dishevelled is the new chic.
“Things could get a little hot around here.” Bunny said without much conviction. He felt awkward about the whole thing. But White was good at putting pressure on his underlings. Bunny wasn’t the type to stand up to White or anyone else for that matter. Bunny liked being in charge of a school; he liked having an office; he liked the way people listened to what he had to say; but he really wasn’t a people person. At least not a people-with-a-complaint person. He wanted mostly just to be left alone. He really didn’t like dealing with all those problems that the students caused. Give them a punishment and the first thing they do as soon as they’re out of the office is phone their parents and start getting out of it. Sometimes they wouldn’t even wait to be out of his office. Take a firm stand with the parents and they just go over your head to the Board. If Bunny was afraid of students, the Board was even more afraid of parents. They always gave in to them. So what was the point? Bunny was really only happy being Principal when he wasn’t at the school.
“What exactly are you saying?”
“I think you understand me perfectly. Either the mark improves or…”
“Or what? Is that a threat?”
“Let me finish. Either the mark improves or White will be on my back.”
“Is that my problem? What is White going to do to me?
“Do you really want to find out?”
“Yeah, you know. I think it might be kind of fun to see where he goes with this.” Perkins was enjoying himself. “Tell him if he wants results he is going to have to talk to me personally.”
“Come on. Don’t make it worse than it is.”
“Worse for me or worse for you?”
The new day Mrs. P. informed Perkins that he had an appointment with Superintendent White.
“Four o’clock Tuesday.”
“Tell him I can’t make it. My mom is sick right now and I’m spending all my free time looking after her. Ask him to come here.”
“Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“I’d like to keep it quiet.” Perkins was a bit of a military history buff and he knew that the General who picked the good ground usually won the battle.
Sure enough, Tuesday at four o’clock White was there. Perkins was paged to come to the office. He phoned down instead and said he couldn’t leave the room as he was in the middle of setting up a lab and had a number of specimens about.
Begrudgingly, Superintendent White walked up to the second floor biology lab. The ripe smell of formaldehyde greeted him at the door. Throughout the room were fifteen or so dead cats waiting for dissection. Dressed in his old dirty lab coat, Perkins looked up from his front desk.
“Ah, Superintendent White, how are you?” Perkins wondered if it was going to be the carrot or the stick
His eyes started to sting. “Please call me Phil.” So it was going to be the carrot to start. “We need to talk about Jordan’s progress.”
“Oh, is Jordan your son? I didn’t realize.” Perkins lied. “Well it’s pretty easy to discuss his progress. There hasn’t been any. He started the semester slow and hasn’t changed.”
“Do you check homework very often?” White has looking for something to blame on the teacher.
“No, they’re in grade twelve. They’re almost adults and no one is going to make them do their homework next year. But he doesn’t appear to do it very often. Do you check his homework at home?” Perkins deflected the blame back.
“He’s very busy with football right now.”
“Too busy to come in at lunch for extra help?”
“There’s football meetings at lunch.”
“His choice. He gets the mark he earns.”
“How can we make this problem go away?”
“Well.” Perkins paused a moment before going on. “I’d like to go away to Montreal over the holidays. Stay at the Queen Elizabeth at Board expense.”
“That can be arranged. And my son gets an A?”
“Hold on. I’m not done. And I want a different hooker every night. Also at Board expense.”
White looked at him for a good minute. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Damn right I’m serious. If this got out, it could ruin my career.”
“I don’t know how we can arrange that. I mean it’s not like they take credit cards.”
“The upscale ones do. Just get me your Board credit card and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“And for all that my son gets an A.” Half question half statement.
“A plus.” And offered him his hand
“Pleasure doing business with you.” With that Superintendent White left the room. A minute later Barovsky walked in and” was surprised by the formaldehyde and the cats.
“You’re not leaving these cats out overnight, are you?”
“I’m at the dentist tomorrow first thing. I’m showing a movie. Help me put these cats back in storage.” Said Perkins as he walked over to a camcorder attached to a tripod and shut the machine off. “Say do you know anything about posting to Youtube?”
The Yearning Centre
While Superintendent White and his attack dogs were screwing the staff at L.B.S.S., Perkins was sitting in the Legion, drinking beer and talking about screwing of another kind.
“You know, Old Norm, most teachers are happily married.”
Old Norm looked up from his nap. He thought ‘Did I ask?’ No, he hadn’t, but Perkins was in a mood to talk and there was no one else in the bar at the Legion, except Old Norm and the Queen. And the Queen looked like she was totally uninterested. “Apart from the smart ones like me, who have seen the errors of their ways and gone and got a divorce, there are few single people on staff and those who are are likely to get married soon.” Perkins went on. “Staff rooms are considerably worse places than bars to meet new people of the opposite sex. Who, for example would you want to go home with from the high school? Barovsky? Jones? Maybe Rickards or Ryan?”
“Why would I want to go home with any of them? Just what are you implying?
“No, no. I didn’t mean it that way. I’m speaking in general. My point is they’re all taken.”
“How come you didn’t mention Miss Delpeca? Is she taken? I wouldn’t mind…”
“Steady, there Tiger. She’s young enough to be your granddaughter. You know, the high school is so devoid of action you would have better luck at the grocery store, the hardware store, even the old folks home than you would at the high school.”
“Oh, I know all about the old folks home. The one over in Happy Valley is full of action if you know where to look.”
“You know, Old Norm, people in the big city think that in a place like Byronville there are no secrets. They think that everybody knows everybody else’s business. If say, the librarian is having an affair with the young and good-looking English teacher, well most people would know about?”
“Is she? I got a picture in my head of a couple going at it between biography and visual arts. That’s so hot.”
“No, I’m talking hypothetically. People in the city think that folks out in the country are always in your face, always sticking their noses in your business, that kinda stuff. The fact is the most people in the country want to be left alone and most people leave them alone.”
Old Norm wished that Perkins would leave him alone or at least talk about something interesting: “D’you see the game last night?”
“Maybe it’s because most of what teachers do at home. Yeah, that’s right. At home. Those lessons don’t appear outta thin air and marking doesn’t do itself. Maybe it’s because most teachers work at home and therefore spend a lot of time with their spouses that most of them don’t get divorced. It certainly isn’t the 50% that sociologists claim it is.”
‘Just shoot me now.’ thought Old Norm. ‘Or at least let me go back to sleep.’
“But, Old Norm, whatever is true of classroom teachers doesn’t apply to the suits at the Learning Centre. Senior Admin demands their full time attention. Their work doesn’t happen at home. They spend the majority of their days in meetings or on the road or working on board interpretation of Ministry documents. You know, Old Norm, those documents are a lot like the Bible.”
“You mean not written in plain English?”
“Exactly. They always open to interpretation. So you’ve got your zealots on one side and zealots on the other side. People make their careers claiming this or that document means this or that. The whole thing easily gets confused.”
‘And you’ve confused me with someone who gives a damn’ thought Old Norm.
“Whole language, phonics, thinking skills, standardized testing, process as part of evaluation, not including process as part of evaluation, lots of homework,no homework, integration, segregation for girls math. The only thing that is constant in education is change. Don’t like an idea? Hold your nose and wait for it to go away. It will go away. The suits have to justify their positions. So new ideas have to be generated and piloted. Old ideas have to be repackaged and recycled. Teachers need to be retrained. Documents need to be written. It goes on and on. Busy work applies as much to the Learning Centre as much as it does to any elementary class. Those Learning Centre folks spend a lot of their time together and not a lot of time with their spouses.”
“You know, Old Norm, with the Obesity Consultant sitting across from the Phys Ed/ French Consultant for hours at a time, with all those working lunches and dinners, those shared trips to the Ministry in the back of a limo…”
“They travel by limo?”
“They have to. You need a limo so you can keep ‘working’ during the trip” he continued “With all that time spent together and apart from their spouses, one thing leads to another, and they lead to those things being in places they shouldn’t be if you get the idea. But for the most part, what happens at the Learning Centre, stays at the Learning Centre.”
“Would you like another?” asked Old Norm. “And here are some pretzels, on the house,” Old Norm figured the more time spent eating the less time spent talking.
“No thanks,” said Perkins. “The additives in those things’ll kill you.” Perkins continued “The most famous affair was Director Holzbein’s with a beginning kindergarten teacher. Now this wasn’t your classic Learning Centre affair. They didn’t spend hours together until something inside them popped and they threw themselves into each other’s arms. No, it was more he was in the market, having lost interest in his wife a long time ago. One of the perks of his job was he could go to any kind of meeting he wanted to, whenever he wanted to. If you call that a perk, that is.”
“His appearance at a meeting of science heads was unlikely; that just be boring and maybe a little hostile. But a new teacher orientation meeting could be fun. All those fresh faces, 80% female. He could go and play the big man and check out the potential action at the same time. Beauty thing was even if he said the wrong thing, no one would say anything. He was the Director.”
“Emily Ingenua was fresh out of teacher’s college. She had an angelic face and a smile that made you melt. She was slim and tall without being too much of either. She had dark brown hair which she grew to her shoulders and big brown eyes. Her voice bordered on the dippy side. But most men didn’t notice. At least not at first.”
“What Holzbein did notice was a lot of youthful energy combined with innocent charm. When he thought of his wife neither word came to mind. Years of the elementary classroom had taken their toll on Mrs. Holzbein. The vivaciousness and enchantment that had attracted him to her in the place seemed to be gone. Her smiles were fewer and fewer, having been replaced by sighs.”
“And she nagged.”
“Oh I know about nagging.”
“So do I, Old Norm. So do I.” Perkins went on. “When she didn’t like something, he knew. He didn’t suffer from the usual complaint that men have about women. He always knew what she was thinking, but usually wished he didn’t. One thing she thought was there ought to be some perks for being married to the Director. He was gone a lot. Up to the Ministry for this meeting or that one. Gone to conferences. Some wives would have gone with him, but as a classroom teacher she couldn’t miss that much time. Truth be told it wasn’t such a bad thing he was gone a lot, but still there ought to be some perks. And if there were going to be some perks for being the wife of Director Holzbein, she was going to get them.”
“Sharon Holzbein hated her classroom at Curtain Street Public School. In September and June it was unbearably hot. In the winter it was frigid. The room was too small and dingy. Curtain Street was a school in need of major renovations, but there was no money for renovations in the foreseeable future. Thatcher Avenue, which is in the richest part of Granite City, had just undergone a major renovation. There was new lighting, new furniture and most importantly air conditioning. Sharon Holzbein wanted in on that.”
“So she nagged and she nagged. Nagging was what was for supper every day of the week. Naturally the more she nagged the less she saw of her husband. But even if he wasn’t home for half of all possible suppers, her nagging was so annoying that eventually he gave in and promised to move the immersion program in Granite City from Curtain Street to Thatcher Avenue. The question was how.”
“I was just asking myself that question.” said Old Norm. Perkins missed the sarcasm completely.
“How would he get this past the Board? Trustees should be used to having the wool pulled over their eyes. The Budget is usually a chef d’oeuvre of misinformation, overly complicated so that even a Trustee with an accounting background would find it hard to follow. It’s never a fair fight between Trustees and Admin. Sure Senior Admin is hired by the Trustees but usually on the recommendation of other Senior Admin. Some Directors have gone so far as to name their successors. Senior Admin is a full time job, paying well over $100 000 a year, while Trustee is a part time job earning no more than 5 or 6 thousand a year. Admin have spent their entire careers in education, while Trustees come from all walks of life and for them eduspeak is a very foreign language. But something as outlandish as moving an entire program to please your wife was going beyond the usual snow job.”
“The first thing to do was strike a committee. And so the Ad Hoc Committee for the Future of Immersion French in the Granite District School Board wasformed with parent reps from all the regions of the Board, an elementary Principal, a secondary Principal, two Superintendents and the Physical education-French consultant. As usual no teachers were asked. There is never a need to appear to listen to teachers. They will do as they’re told. We always do.”
“As quite often was the case, the Physical education-French consultant wasn’t able to attend the meetings as she was busy working in consultation with the Obesity consultant. Don’t bother asking how with an annual French grant of $2.7 million there wasn’t enough money for a full time French consultant. And don’t bother asking why there was a full time Obesity consultant and a full time Character consultant but not a full time French one. Just don’t bother.”
“Also as usual the final report of the committee was written before the first meeting. What Director Holzbein had tasked Superintendent White to do was to find apparently sound pedagogical reasons for moving the immersion program from Curtain Street to Thatcher Avenue.Demographics is always a good pretext. The stats showed that the projected enrolment at Thatcher would be dropping and so to maximize the capacity of the building it would be necessary to bring in more students. It was fortunate that having read the final report, no Trustee asked why such expensive renovations had been made to a school with declining enrolment. But that would be unlikely to happen because 1. Trustees would have had to have read the report. 2. Trustees would have had to have understood the report. Not to be critical of Trustees. I’m sure they’re nice people. But you gotta remember that it was presented as one report among many. It was deliberately thick so they wouldn’t want to read it. And it was largely written in a foreign language. At any rate Superintendent White would have had a nice, hardly concise answer in full eduspeak if the question had come up.”
“So after the committee had met a number of times and after the report had been approved by the Trustees, the immersion teachers at Curtain Street were informed that they would be moving to Thatcher Avenue starting next September. Despite the promise of air conditioning most staff were not happy about the move. See, that’s not surprising. Most teachers don’t like change. Sharon Holzbein was mentally fist pumping when the news was read out, though it was hardly a surprise for her.”
“Sometime during this entire process, Director Holzbein had found the courage to phone Miss Ingenua’s school and ask to speak to her. Holzbein wasn’t the kind of man who ran from affair to affair. It was just that things at home had got so bad that he needed some release, some change, something new or someone new.”
“Are we getting close to the good part?” asked Old Norm without much hope.
Perkins ignored the question. “He also needed a reason to explain why the Director of Education was phoning a first year teacher. And he needed to stop being so nervous. His palms were sweaty. His voice was cracking. He felt like he was fifteen years old again. Why would a twenty-four year old, beautiful woman be interested in me. Old. Balding. Beer bellied.”
“So he phones her up at school and invites her to give him feedback about the New Teacher Induction Program. Like anyone at the Learning Centre gives a fig about what a first year teacher thinks. And he says that the only time they can meet is in the evening at his office. Well she questions him about why the evening. And he says something like ‘as one would imagine my agenda is quite full.”
Perkins repeated ‘as one would imagine with a posh English accent. “Talk about putting on airs.”
“How do you know what he said?” asked Old Norm
“I have my sources.” Perkins went on. “We’re getting close to the good part. Well, Emily didn’t know what to think. Here was a man old enough to be her father. But despite his age he was attractive. She had always like bald men, but hardly anyone her age was bald. Again despite his age there was a boyish charm about him. He was a gentleman unlike most of the boys she had dated who were only interested in one thing and were impatient to get it.”
“But he was married. The fact alone should have been the end of it. Her parents had brought her up right. And even though the topic of married men had never come up-to be honest the topic of sex at all had almost never come up, she could well imagine how they would feel about it. Yet there was something exciting about seeing a married man. Everyone thought of her as a ‘good girl’; everyone expected her to do the right thing. Maybe she needed to be bad just this once before she settled down and got married and got a mortgage and of course got kids. But if she was going to be bad, she wasn’t going to be easy.”
“How do you know what she was thinking? Do your sources tell you that too?”
“Do you want me to get to the good part or no? That evening at the Learning Centre, he had started slowly, respectfully. Looking back it was clear to Emily that it had been Carl’s intention from the beginning. They had discussed the New Teacher Induction Program an appropriate amount of time. Then he had shown her a draft of a report on the program and asked her if she wanted a drink while she read it. She was surprised when he rolled out a mini bar. But he explained that Senior Admin worked such long hours that they had to mix pleasure with business or there would be no pleasure at all. There followed a few minutes of chitchat. He asked her where she was from, where she had gone to university, what she had majored in. Then somehow before either had really realized what they were kissing. The kissing somehow lead to his desk being clear off of all objects and her clothes removing themselves then his going too and then oh my god the most amazing sex she had ever had. Those boys she had dated really were boys. No endurance, no respect for her needs; just in and out and thanks a lot. But Carl, oh my god , Carl. His touch was so gentle; his kisses so soft and she had felt things she had never felt before. She had gone places she had never been before. So much for being bad without being easy. But who cares?”
Old Norm was more interested “So they did it? Right there in his office?”
“On his desk!”
“Wow! You don’t see that kind of action very much. Especially at the old folks home.”
“No, I expect you don’t. Well seven o’clock in the evening is probably not the best time for doing something like that at the Learning Centre. At that time it’s not teeming with activity, but there are a few consultants and supervising Principals hanging around finishing up the day’s work. Sure, as Director, Carl got the nicest office, with a solid oak door that closed, mahogany book shelves and a big, ostentatious-looking desk which had not been bought for tonight’s purpose. But the walls are pretty thin and the sex was that intense that anyone still there would have had a pretty good idea of the nature of the activity going on the other side of the wall. No one there who knew the couple would have imagined it was with the Director’s wife. So pretty much right off the bat, word started to get round about the Director and his little action on the side.”
“When Emily and Carl had finished, they lay on the desk for a brief moment. It was after all a pretty uncomfortable desk. She got dressed and said that she had planning to do. He asked if he could call her again. She wanted to say ‘yes, in five minutes.’, but thought she appeared cheap enough for one night. And answered that yes that would be nice. Yes Tuesday would be fine and kissed him on the cheek and hurried off to her car.”
“To be fair to the couple, it was the only time the Director’s office and the Director’s desk was used for these purposes.”
“Too bad,” interjected Old Norm.
“For future activities they would go out of town or at least rent a room. But the tongues were already wagging. The rumour machine was running on full throttle and it would be no time before it all got back to Sharon Holzbein.”
“Sharon believed that revenge is a dish best served cold. So she formulated a plan, hired a private detective and started having her assets evaluated. Hiring a detective is not an easy thing and not something that most folks in Granite City would do or even know how to go about doing it. Truth be told there are no private detectives to be had in Granite City. But a woman scorn is a resourceful woman. Sharon made some phone calls, surfed the internet and shopped around. Eventually she found someone who would come up from the big city as long as she paid his expenses. It wasn’t going to be cheap, but Carl Holzbein was going to pay for his sins.”
“It was a little like shooting fish in a barrow. Really dumb fish that is with little targets painted on their sides. Within a day and a half, Dick Tracy, or whatever his name was had all the times, all the credit card receipts, all the eye witnesses accounts from waiters and hotel clerks and most of all, all the digital photographs necessary to hang Director Holzbein up and leave him twisting.”
“Amicable divorce is almost an oxymoron and certainly didn’t apply here. Perhaps hostile takeover’would be a better term here, and it was exactly the objective of all of Sharon’s actions. She wasn’t going to leave him with a loonie, a toonie or a five dollar bill. Carl got a lawyer suit to represent him; against the advice of all her friends, Sharon chose to represent herself. No suit could possibly express the pain, the anger and the humiliation that she felt. No suit could possibly be motivated enough to squeeze every drop of blood from Carl’s wallet.”
“For months Sharon prepared for her day in court. She read everything on family law she could get her hands on. She researched similar divorces. She gave her class busy work while she read Family Law Quarterly. She knew the value of his soon-to-be-ex husband’s stock portfolio on a daily basis. She knew what his pension was going to be if he went now or in five years and every date in between.’
“Then there was his salary. As Director of the Granite District School Board Carl Holzbein earned slightly less than $200, 000 a year. More than the Premier of Ontario it should be said. Babe Ruth when it was pointed out that he made more than the President of the United States replied that he was having a better year than the President. The same couldn’t be said for Carl Holzbein. It’s not exactly clear what it is that a director does. Sure he or she is in charge of the board. But what is expected of a director to a great extend is invisibility. Most boards don’t want a director who is looking for fame and celebrity. Stop anyone on the street and ask who the director of education is and see what kind of answer you get. If invisibility is important then Carl screwed up big time. It wasn’t the divorce. In these modern times divorce is no big deal. It wasn’t the adultery. Hate to say it but in these modern times, adultery is no big deal. It was the public nature of the divorce. Now Granite City doesn’t have a TV station. But TV stations don’t really cover divorces, unless of course it’s the divorces of Hollywood celebrities. But modern gossip is high tech. In Chat room and staff room Holzbein had become an embarrassment to the Board. At breakfasts at Tim’s and at Rotary lunches he had become the topic of conversation.”
“And then the pictures got out on the internet.”
“There are pictures? Where can I get me some?”
“Sharon’s dick tracy had taken some pretty compromising pictures. They were only intended for Sharon’s legal use. But someone had got a hold of them and had hacked into the Board’s website and posted them there. They didn’t stay up there long, just long enough for half of Granite City to copy them and send them to anyone who could possibly care, including TV stations and newspapers in the big city.”
“Poor Emily. Unaware of all this, she came into work like any other day and immediately felt a chill throughout the entire school. People were whispering in groups of two or three. Everyone stared and no one said hello. And in class the kids all giggled to each other and whispered words. Then the phone calls from parents started coming to the Principal demanding that their child be placed in a different class.”
“Emily went home at lunch and didn’t come back for the rest of the term.”
“One thing was clear to the Board: Carl Holzbein had to go. Problem was he still had two years left on his contract and a buyout was not going to be cheap.”
“Cheap was not a word that could be applied to the divorce settlement, at least not from Carl’s point of view. While Sharon may have been an amateur in the court room, her determination to exact revenge on her soon-to-be-ex-husband propelled her to a level rarely reached by professionals. Carl’s lawyer faced with a barrage of arguments thought it better to surrender than to fight on in a losing cause. Sharon got pretty much everything she wanted: the house, the family car, the kids, his dog. She didn’t even like the dog. Carl seemed like a beaten man.”
“His dealings with the Board went better. He was in a much better position. He had a contract. He hadn’t done anything illegal. He could have held out for a lot more. In the end Carl accepted one year’s salary as long as the Board allowed him to do one thing before he left. One thing that had bothered him had been the findings of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Future of Immersion French in the Granite District School Board . The end result of the Committee’s work was that the immersion program had been moved to the richest part of town, sending a message to the community that immersion was only for an elite and not for everyone. As a firm believer in education for all, he would have kept it at Curtain Street. If the Board would move it to Curtain Street, then he would be happy accepting just a year’s salary .”
“The Superintendent of Finance did the math and reported to the Board that it would be cheaper to do the move than to pay off the Holzbein’s contract in full. So after only two years of being at Thatcher Avenue the program was moved back to Curtain Street.”
“Carl may have been badly out played by Sharon, but he scored the last goal.”
“Carl wanted one other thing in order to go and go quietly- if going quietly was still an option. He wanted a good letter of recommendation. Education has a long standing tradition of sending people off with a good recommendation, anything to get rid of some people. By comparison to many, Carl was fairly innocent. Others, who should have gone to jail, went to the next board with the blessing of their Principals. Given these past trespasses, it wasn’t a big deal giving Carl what he wanted.”
“Carl Holzbein took the recommendation, put together a pretty good looking résumé and with Emily headed west. He acted as a consultant for a year or two, but eventually found a job as Director in a much bigger board in British Columbia. Bigger board and bigger salary.”
“Against her parents advice, he and Emily married, had two kids and a big house and a big mortgage to go with it. He thought his life couldn’t be better. After a while, changing diapers started to wear thin. He found that Emily had her set of friends in their twenties and he had his set mostly in their fifties. Her friends talked about nothing all the time. His friends talked about important things that seemed to bore Emily. They had so little to talk about together. The things she didn’t know. The music she listened to. And of course the sex got to a point where they had seen it all before: she hardly had time for it any more with the kids and all. And her voice, when did it start being so dippy?”
“Emily,well she soon noticed that Carl wasn’t like the Carl she first met. He was so much more impatient with her. Nothing she did was good enough. Why couldn’t he try to like her friends, her music? Why was the sex always the same and so seldom? Why was he always so tired? He really wasn’t like the boys she had dated before Carl, so full of energy, so willing to please. Maybe she should have listened to her parents. What do you think, Old Norm?”
Old Norm didn’t answer. He had gone back to sleep a while ago.
Most teachers divide kids up into three categories. Where the difference of opinion lies is in what those categories should be. Mrs. Templeton would say there are kids who get it and therefore have a chance at doing science at university. Those who don’t get it and probably won’t go to university and those is the middle who should study geography. As for Barovsky, who was descended from Russian nobility, it was a question of social ranking. One should not hope to rise above one’s station in life. Children of doctors, lawyers and university professors could expect to become doctors, lawyers and university professors. Plumbers and other trades people should be happy where they are. Wishing to be something else would only bring disappointment. He included teachers in this category as by and large, he viewed his colleagues with contempt. (his case was different; he was only teaching until the family estates near Nizhny Novogorod were restored to their rightful owners) Then there was the third category: the masses, the uneducated, the ignorant, the stupid, the unemployed. He called them the rabble. He coddled the first group; he tolerated the second and he prided himself in showing disdain for the last.
Cohen, the dramatic arts teacher, sorted kids this way: The few good enough to appear in one of his productions; the several good enough to be stage hands; and the many needed to fill up the numbers so that he could remain a full-time drama teacher and not have to teach his other subject which was English. Most drama teachers think that way. Anything to avoid English. The difference between teaching drama and teaching English is night and day. No one forces you to take drama. English classes are full of people wishing they were somewhere, anywhere else. Drama is fun. English is something between sleeping on a concrete mattress and having your nails pulled out. Drama has almost no homework, and more importantly, drama has almost no marking. English has 2 000 word essays and they need to be marked. Full time English teachers are just walking and talking time bombs. The kids have to take the subject. They have to read long, boring books written by some dead guys. They have to write long, boring essays about those books and worse, the teacher has to mark them. Check the stats. The vast majority of teachers who are on long term disability are there for mental reasons and the vast majority of teachers who are have mental problems are English teachers. You have to be nuts to want to teach English. And if you are not nuts when you start, wait, you will be.
So Cohen would do anything to get out of teaching English. On the first day of grade nine, he’d tell the class that two drama credits were required to graduate. (in reality one arts credit is required). Even though the drama room had a no food policy, he would bring doughnuts every Friday. Being department Head of Arts gave him the power to decide what classes ran and what didn’t. Drama classes of 12 would be safe while visual art classes of 20 were closed. Grade 11 and 12 music were grouped together to make one class of 35. Anything to avoid having to teach English.
Ryan, the new guy, was going to save the world. His kids were going to help him do that, Just as soon as they understood the problem. So he only grouped kids two ways. Those who already knew that they were environmentalists and were ready to get to work and those who didn’t yet know that they were environmentalists. The kids in his class might have seen it slightly different. There were kids who were browners, suck-ups and geeks and then there was the normal kids. Poor Ryan, no one had the heart to tell him.
Roberts, who was only teaching science until some phys ed periods were available, grouped kids by how likely were they to ask a question that he didn’t know the answer to. As there was a lot he didn’t know, most students fit into the very likely category.
There were all sorts of ways of categorizing students. Murph, the rugby coach, would walk down the hall and mentally divide kids into forwards and backs, based on their body type. Miss Santino, the sweet young Spanish teacher who needed a boyfriend and spent way too much time thinking about it, would subconsciously divide the boys into hot and not categories. One time she became aware that she was doing that and turned beat red and tried thinking about her dog.
For all her faults, one thing good about Mad-as-Hell Tremblay was that she treated all students equally. She hated them all. If any of them had the slightest idea of what she called them or what she made them call themselves, they would have understood how much she hated them.
“Répétez après moi, les amis. Je suis nul.”
“Je suis nul.” came the chorus
“Nous sommes nuls.”
“Nous sommes nuls.”
“Madame, what are we saying. I don’t get it?
“Oui, mon petit. Il y a beaucoup de choses que tu ne piges pas.”
“Madame, we didn’t do any French last year . We just played games and did crosswords.”
“Je sais mes amis. Vous n’avez rien fait. Vous ne comprenez rien. Vous n’aimez rien sauf vos stupides téléphones cellulaires. Et vos Ipods. Vous n’êtes pas même pas capable de penser.. Bonne chance dans la vie.”
It mattered little that they didn’t understand a word of what she was saying. Any other French teacher would have had them hanging off the ceiling, leaning out the window, throwing split balls . Not Mad-as-Hell Tremblay. According to legend, she packed a mickey of whiskey and a switch blade in her purse. She used the mickey every day and she had used the switch blade on a few occasions. She had total control.
Randy Doyle, the vice-principal, had to be concerned about important things. Like were the halls empty during class time? Did we score well (or at least better than last year) on fire drills. Kids mostly fell into three categories: good kids, bad kids and the followers who could go either way. Ryland Hammersmith, in one of his sociology courses, more or less proved what kids have been saying for years. Reputation with teachers is everything. If they think you’re a good kid, one can get away with murder. A few girls with stellar reputations and the marks to go along, were asked to go out into the halls in the English wing and make as much noise as possible. Lyndsey Baggott who played the lead in last year’s production of You Can’t Get There from Here, set herself up at one end of the hall and started reciting Portia’s speech from The Merchant of Venice. At the other end of the hall, Kaileigh Streemtrubre went through the starting line up for the offence, the defence and special teams for both the senior and junior football teams, complete with their vital stats. Kaileigh was the third Streemtrubre in a row to be editor of the Leaping Lord, the school yearbook. Both Kaileigh and Lyndsey had scholarships lined up for next year at McGill and Dalhousie. This cacophony went on for a good ten minutes. Two doors were closed and a couple of teachers stuck their heads into the hall to see what was going on. No one said a word to the girls.
In the mean time, Scottie Van Doornedorp, who had been asked to seek educational opportunities elsewhere on more than one occasion. (seeking educational opportunities elsewhere is eduspeak for suspended) organized a card game in the math wing. He and his buddies weren’t there more than two minutes before Doyle was on him, sending him back to class despite his protestations that Hammersmith had given him permission to play cards in the hall.
The next day the boys and girls switched. Kaileigh and Lyndsey played cards for the entire period without a word being said to them. And Scottie and the boys tried yelling at both ends of the English hall, though there weren’t any speeches from Shakespeare. Well that lasted a minute, barely, before Mrs Noseworthy sent them packing. The next day a discussion followed in sociology about things like fairness, stereotypes and the importance of maintaining a good reputation.
“Man, Doyle is so jag.” started Scottie Van Doornedorp. “He kicked me out of the hall and like he didn’t care that I had permission to be there. What an SQ.”
“I think he’s kinda cute” said Honey-Leigh.
“Ooh, yuck. He’s a teacher. He’s not supposed to be cute.” retorted Buffy
“Can we return to the topic of the importance of reputation?” Ryland Hammersmith tried to reel the discussion back to where it was supposed to be.
“I like totally agree.” said Honey-Leigh
“Agree with what?” asked Scottie.
“Like your reputation is real important.” Honey-Leigh added. “If you sleep with your best friend’s boyfriend, you should not let people know or else you’ll get a reputation.”
“You should know.” came a voice from the back.
“Can we please stay on topic?” asked Ryland Hammersmith hoping to regain control
“What d’ya mean, you bitch?”
“Like I said. You heard me fine, slut. You should know ’bout sleeping with someone’s boyfriend.”
“Hey, you and Kyle were broken up then. It’s not my fault that you got back together”
“ Honey-Leigh, Brianna, I need you two to get back on topic.” Ryland Hammersmith, hoping to minimize the damage.
“Sir, we are so on topic. You wanted us to discuss reputation and we are doing just that. And her reputation is that she’s a slut who sleeps with people’s boyfriends.”
“Bitch” said Honey-Leigh as she got out of her seat and went straight for her throat.
“Cat fight!” yelled the boys in the back.
“Grrrrrrawl!” added Scottie
Ryland went for the phone to get back up from the office, but the receiver had been ripped off long ago. Breaking up a fight is one of the most sticky things that teachers have to do. First rule don’t touch the kids. And if you do pull one kid off the other be sure that you’re not just holding the one kid so that the other gets a few free shots. Second rule, is don’t touch the kids, especially if they are girls and you’re a male teacher. Despite all good intentions, a hand can slip. A boob can be grapped and the next thing you know the College of Ontario Teachers is phoning and suggestion you get a lawyer. So what are you going to do? Ask for help from the class? Ain’t going to happen. They are enjoying themselves and don’t want the show to end. Yell at them to stop? At this point their ears aren’t working. Phone for help? Well we saw how easy that is.
After several minutes of “Please stop”, Ryland ran across the hall and got Miss Delpeca. All of five feet tall and 95 pounds, Luisa Delpeca had a diaphragm and knew how to use it. Having done drama productions all through high school and university, she had done a hundred thousand breathing exercises. Out of her tiny mouth came a roar whose origins were from deep inside her. The boys at the back stopped cheering. The girls who were watching stopped screaming. The combatants stopped in mid blow and looked for the source of the noise.
Luisa took advantage of the relative calm to utter two short words: “Office! Now!”
The two girls, sufficiently cowed, packed up their books and headed to the office. Miss Delpeca looked up at the six-foot two-inch Hammersmith with a glance half full of contempt and half full of disbelief and said: “It’s okay I got this. Just keep an eye on my class while I’m gone.” and followed the girls down to the office.
Now the girls had picked a good day to have a fight. For a change Randy Doyle was out of the building, gone to an in-service at the Learning Centre. On his way in to Granite City, Doyle couldn’t remember if today’s topic was Motivating the Under-motivated, Living with Asbestos or Five Really Good Habits of Really Good Administrators. It didn’t matter. It was a day away from the school. A day away from chasing kids who didn’t want to go to class. A day away from the dagger stares of the teaching staff who wanted desperately to take marks off for being late, to give zeros for work not handed in and fail a kid who gets caught cheating, who wanted to evaluate the way they always had. They blamed the new Potential Intelligence program on Randy and not on the Learning Centre people who were really responsible.
And it was a day away from doing all the work of the Principal and not getting any of the credit for it.
It was also a free lunch.
On the other hand, today was exceptional because it was one of those rare days when Anthony Bunny, Principal Anthony Bunny was actually in the building. He wasn’t at Yoga and the Modern Administrator. He wasn’t at You and your inner wicka. He wasn’t at the Learning Centre pretending to have all day meetings with Superintendents who were not even there. Having found no excuse to not be at school, he had to actually be there. He had thought of calling in sick.
“Who has October 2?” asked Perkins who ran an office pool where the objective was to predict when Bunny would appear for the first time that school year.
“I do.” answered Mrs. Templeton “How much did I win?”
“You again! You won last year! It’s fixed!”
“You gotta know your principals. So Perkins, how much?
“$76.54. Are you going to take me to dinner?”
“I might. What are you proposing?”
“Le Chien Qui Fume, this Saturday night.”
“76.54 wouldn’t buy you an hors d’oeuvre, there. Are you paying for the rest?”
Miss Delpeca arrived at the office with her two detainees in tow: “I need to see Doyle.” she said curtly to Mrs P
“Not here.” said Mrs P without looking up from her magazine.
“Alright, then Swift, I guess.”
“Not here, either.”
“Then who’s in charge? Noseworthy, again? Or it is Benthover?”
“Nope, it’s the big guy.”
“Bunny? He’s in the building?”
“In flesh and blood. Should I get a camera? Call the press? Declare a national holiday?”
“Call America’s Most Wanted? Anyway I need to talk to him? Is he free?”
“I’ll check. Mr Bunny, are you free?” She called out to his office without aid of an intercom. Bunny was sitting at his desk with his feet up wearing one of those sleep mask they give you when you fly first class. He was listening to ABBA’s greatest hits on a cassette tape playing in his Sony Walkman. The fact that it was the self same Walkman that he bought while at university is a testament to Japanese engineering. And a testament to the frozen state of affairs with Bunny. In direct opposition to the geriatric nature of his listening device, was the catalogue from Creative Innovation that he had been perusing. Creative Innovation billed itself as the leader in Educational Technologies. They promised all kinds of positive results for schools who bought their tablettes, their smartboards and their laptops. Principal Bunny had close to $30,000 to spend on technology, but he had to do it today. Well, actually he had until the end of the month, but he wasn’t sure if he was going to be back in the building again this month.
“Give me a minute, would you?’ He just couldn’t decide between a bank of the SmartBoard 6456i with turbo drive and a class set of Orange’s 797 tablette nouvelle. Both were just so ….
“What I have can’t wait!’” Miss Delpeca burst into the room and interrupted Bunny’s electronic wet dream.
“Lisa, good to see you again” responded Bunny when he had fully returned to reality. Luisa Delpeca motioned with her head as if to say, “Don’t use my first name, there are students present.”
“What can I help you with, Lisa?” Bunny continued, oblivious to her gesture.
“I broke these two up.”
“They’re a couple?” asked Bunny.
“No, I broke up a fight between the two of them. In Mr Hammersmith’s class.” she added as if to say “I don’t really have to be here.”
“You got this? Cause I really need to go back to class.” and she left without waiting for a reply.
“Well, well.” said Bunny, turning to the girls “Why don’t you two tell me about it?”
“That bitch called me a slut.” said Brianna
“That slut called me a bitch.” added Honey-Leigh
“Well, you are a slut.”
“And you’re a bitch.”
“I’m gonna rip your eyes out.”
“I’m gonna make you eat your own face.”
“Girls, please stop.” Despite Bunny’s less than stern admonishments, Brianna was on Honey-Leigh in a flash. Bunny continued to try to get them to stop with a series of ‘please don’t’ and ‘stop please’. But the hair pulling and face gouging continued unabated until Mrs P’ walked into Bunny’s office and ended the fight with: “You two should be ashamed. I’m calling your mothers.” This was no insincere threat. Mrs P being a grad of LBSS knew both their mothers, had been to school with both their mothers and continued to bowl with them every Tuesday. Their mothers had baby sat her children and she had baby sat Brianna and Honey-Leigh.
“Sorry, Mrs. P. Please don’t call my mother.” said the girls in unison.
“Well, what is this silly fight about?”
“Nothing” said Brianna
“Just a boy.” said Honey-Leigh
“Not Kyle, I hope. You know he is really not worth it.”
“Tell me about it! I’m going to dump him. You want him Honey-Leigh?
“Hell no, Brianna. He’s too jag for me.”
“Now, you two, go on now, get back to class.”
“Thanks, Mrs P
Bunny, who should have invited the girls to seek educational opportunities elsewhere for at least three days, just sat there and watched Mrs. P take care of the whole thing.
Principals think they are in charge, but they’re not.
Administrators and Principals probably sort teachers in the same way that teachers sort students. Categories like compliant and non-compliant or useful and useless, clueless and not clueless come to mind. As for teachers in the useless or clueless categories you’d think that Administrators would do what they could to get rid of them. Well, they don’t.
The public image is that teachers’ unions will fight tooth and nail to keep a member employed. Any member no matter how bad they are. But the truth is that they don’t have to. Admin never makes them We all have had a teacher or two who, when all is said and done, should probably have picked another profession. And Principals will recognize them easily enough. Principals will take action to get them out of their school. But they won’t get them out of the profession. They will do what they can to have them made surplus to the school and therefore transfered to another school. Sometimes they will make trades with other principals. You take our dud and we’ll take yours. Sometimes they’ll give the guy such a lousy timetable that he’ll see the writing on the wall and find something else to do.
Warren Pettitfour had been at Lord Byron for several years. He wasn’t especially happy doing what he did. He could have looked for another school-heaven knows there were lots of people who would be glad if he did-but he just never seemed to have the ambition. The devil you know and all that… He had started in English. But the marking seemed to overwhelm him. He was always behind and never able to catch up. Stuff would stay in the trunk of his car for days, then the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months and then…Well at some point it was just easier to make up a mark; use his professional judgement. And, you know, if he had always given them higher marks than they deserved, no one would have complained. But there was always some smart-assed kid whose behaviour was worse than his ability and Warren would use marks to punish him. Do that often enough and a parent will complain to the Principal that the mark is too low and where did it come from anyway. Next thing you know the Principal is asking to see the mark book and Warren has to make up a whole set of marks and it starts getting to be more work than the work he was trying to avoid and he can’t keep up the charade and the Principal has to fix things with the parent. And Principals don’t like to be made to look foolish Well the end result is that the Principal starts looking for a place to put Warren. But nobody else will take him so where can he hide him?
Wilberforce, the head of the English department, managed to farm him off to the Social Sciences department. But it wasn’t cheap. Wilberforce had to give up her south-facing, away from the road corner room, which had been in the department for decades. (When she moved out she found projects with newspaper clippings from when the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup and you know that wasn’t yesterday) and all the tech grants that Wilberforce got were transfered to Social Science. Hammersmith had no idea where he was going to spend this tech money. But he wasn’t going take Warren for nothing.
After a few years they couldn’t stomach Warren any more. History assignments not marked aren’t significantly different from unmarked English ones. But who would take him? Student Services? Would you want him advising students? Co-op? Would you want him dealing with employers? If Ryland Hammersmith was going to unload Warren Pettitfour the price was going to be high.
The Co-op people weren’t at all interested. Social Science had nothing they needed.. They didn’t need a classroom, even if it was the nicest one in the building. And if you don’t need a classroom, you don’t need a lot of technology. Guidance people were pretty much in the same boat. You couldn’t suddenly turn him into a French teacher. Hammersmith was desperate. Couldn’t English take him back? No way was answer from Wilberforce. They had paid their dues.
Hammersmith went to Bunny and begged. He pleaded. Social Science wasn’t like English. They’ve got to take English all the way through. Warren was driving kids out of their courses. Sure, he didn’t get to teach the senior ones. But a lot of students felt very unprepared to take senior social sciences after taking history from Warren. He was good for numbers in other subjects, but deadly for social sciences. Bunny wasn’t totally unsympathetic. He said he would shop him around. Other schools might jump at the chance to have a teacher with that much experience on their team.
Once Hammersmith heard the word team, he knew it was hopeless. Bunny has speaking eduspeak and was only trying to placate him. Ryland told himself that while he had to continue putting up with Warren Pettitfour, he at least got to keep his corner classroom.
If Admin doesn’t care much one way or the other about useless teachers, they do care a lot about the non-compliant ones. When the various theories of the Colorado Institute of Learning were introduced to the Granite District School Board (GDSB for short- some of the locals say that the GD stands for God Damn), many teachers thought they were a crock of shit. And who wouldn’t? Potential Intelligence? What the hell is that? Evaluate students based on how smart they appear. Lates don’t matter. Cheating is okay. Hand stuff in if you feel like it. What are they smoking out in Colorado?
Jones hated these stupid theories. Perkins hated them. Mrs Templeton couldn’t find the words to describe how much she hated them. You can imagine how Barovsky felt. Not one of them said anything. They all just closed their doors and carried on like they always did. It was the passive resistance of a people who didn’t believe they had any power to change things at all.
Ryan didn’t know any better.
Ryan wrote emails to Superintendent White, to Director of Education Crapaud, to Chairperson of the Board Loveless and to Trustee Lindenhauser. Ryan mistakenly thought that an educational institution such as the GDSB was open to a free and informed debate on the pros and cons of such a wide-sweeping change as Potential Intelligence. He found studies from as far away places as Finland and Taiwan. He crunched the numbers, chewed up all the facts and drew his own conclusions. He actually liked a big chunk of the Potential Intelligence theory, but thought that it needed to be twigged a great bit.
He thought he had a voice.
At first the emails he fired off came back with short albeit polite responses. Then a few didn’t come back at all and finally his emails came back as undeliverable. Superintendent White, Director of Education Crapaud, Chairman of the Board Loveless and Trustee Lindenhauser had all blocked him. They didn’t want to debate, they didn’t want to discuss, they didn’t want to listen to his ideas. They just wanted him to shut up.
Despite, several emails, phone calls and (out of sheer desperation) a singing telegram… okay you just can’t mention a singing telegram without giving the details. So here goes.
Mrs Oliver, who was Superintendent White’s secretary, was pretty good at not letting just anyone into the Superintendent’s office. But the young lady in a UPS suit looked harmless enough. Normally, UPS would drop its deliveries at the receptionist desk at the main doors. But in this case the young lady had insisted that the package was of a personal nature and only Mr. White could sign for it.
When the “UPS” lady walked into his office, Superintendent White was busily perusing Attack Dog Monthly. -he liked to read ADM because it gave him ideas about how to handle his minions.
“Superintendent White?” asked the young lady in a very sultry voice
Intrigued, White answered: “I sure am. What can I do for you?”
“Here hold this.” she said handing him the package which had been her excuse into his office. She then undid the first two buttons of her blouse and began to sing:
(to the tune of frère Jacques) Potential, Potential
Is a stupid
A very, very stupid
With that she hopped up on his desk, undid another button and asked in a voice that was sexy and dippy at the same time: “Would you like the second verse, Mr Superintendent, sir?”
White’s gaze went up to her face and back to the unbuttoned blouse. Either by choice or necessity he remained silent, but made it clear that he would like that very much. The young lady removed her hand from the next button and gently placed it on the hem of her already short skirt. Ever so slightly she readjusted the hem toward the north and recommenced singing:
Mister White, Mister White
Before you ruin
Yes you’re gonna ruin
All our schools,
All our schools
Sure it wasn’t the best poetry. But you had to admire Ryan’s chutzpa. The UPS lady with the short skirt and the unbuttoned blouse continued: “Sign here, please. Mr. Superintendent, sir.” She had produced a clipboard from somewhere. She brought a pen to her lips, gave it the slightest of licks and passed it to Superintendent White, who on the second or third try managed to sign the paper close to the right spot.
“Gotta go now.” she said as she hopped off the desk, straightened her skirt, did up her blouse and popped out the door. White sat there in silence for the longest time. Whether from shock or the desire to not have the moment pass or just because he didn’t know what to do wasn’t clear.
After a certain amount of time, White regained his composure and called for Mrs. Oliver.
“Find out who sent that telegram.”
“Yes, that woman who was just here delivered a singing telegram.”
“A singing telegram,sir? I don’t think they do that anymore. But I’ll check.”
“And Mrs. Oliver?”
“If that woman ever comes back…”
“By all means is she not to be refused admittance. Do I make myself clear?
Well the answer about the origin of the telegram came back very quickly. There was nowhere in Granite City to get a singing telegram and for that matter any kind of telegram. But that didn’t stop Superintendent White from concluding that the telegram must have come from that trouble maker Ryan up in Byronville. He was going to have to deal with him once and for all.
A meeting was announced. An open forum for all staff at Lord Byron Secondary School who had concerns about the new evaluation policy. Questions were to be submitted in advance and Senior Admin, headed by Superintendent White would do their best to clarify everything. Many members of the staff saw this as a bright new development. Staff would have a voice and maybe, just maybe they would be listened to and these stupid reforms would be stopped. Several members of various departments submitted questions. Mrs Templeton didn’t submit any. Neither did Barovsky. Perkins intended to go to the Legion that day and get drunk with old timers. Ryan, on the other hand, prepared a Powerpoint presentation of all the 37 questions that he wanted to asked. (Actually it wasn’t a Powerpoint; he was boycotting Microsoft products because of … Um well he had some reason for the boycott)
The day of the big meeting soon came and the staff was abuzz with anticipation. The staff were assembled in the library at the end of the school day and there they waited. And waited. And waited.
About three-quarters of an hour after the meeting should have started in walked Superintendent White escorted by three two-footed attack dogs, Thelma Peacock, Supervising Principal of Human Resources, Connie Hammerstrom, Supervising Principal of Finance and Henry Farling, Supervising Principal at large. White sat down while his entourage remained standing behind him in a semi-circle not unlike a Pharaoh with three stylized statues of dogs at the rear. Only these dogs had bite. Farling was wearing a dark blue suit whose colour came dangerously close to black, a plain white shirt and a neat sky blue tie, tied with a full Windsor knot. He would have easily fit in at any board meeting on Bay Street or Wall Street. Hammerstrom was dressed like the female equivalent of Farling. She wore a navy dress suit and pants with a red scarf tied around her neck providing the only colour. Peacock was something different though. While still professional looking, she had made no attempt to hide her sexuality. The tight skirt which went a little beyond the knees, the purple sweater which left no doubt of the shape below the surface and the fish net stockings were all very clear evidence of her gender. Her open-toed high heels were anything but sensible.
For one brief moment it looked like high noon with each side trying to stare the other down. But White wasn’t interested in confrontation; he was interested in dictation. With a nod of the head he summoned Peacock who moved to the front and took out a book which she didn’t open. “This book is the rules and regulations which govern your relations with your employer, the Granite District School Board. Let me paraphrase it for you. You are all employees of the Board. In regards to decisions made by Senior Admin, you will not give your opinion. If we wanted your opinion and we don’t, we would ask for it and we won’t. You will do as you are told. You can smile if you wish while you are doing it. That is the only thing that you have any control over. In all other matters you will shut the fuck up. I trust that I have made myself clear.”
With that she turned around and went back to her spot.
“What audacity.” thought Ryan.
“What arrogance.” thought Barovsky
“What an ass.” thought Roberts
White looked at his entourage and concluded: “I think we’re done here. Have a nice day.”
So much for Ryan, the new guy. New guys are full of optimism, hope and belief in the possible. New guys believe they can change the world. New guys are full of energy. New guys are refreshingly naive.
From now on it was just Ryan.
And it was no more Mister Nice Guy. If it was a fight they wanted, he was ready to give them one.
The weekly Coaches’ meetings were moved to the bar at the Legion. For no particular reason. But when you’re the Head Coach of senior football you can get away with stuff. When you’re the Head Coach who’s been recruited away from another school, well, you can get away with anything. As long as you deliver, that is.
The bar at Legion 509 was the only place to drink in Byronville. Well, if you don’t count people’s decks, living rooms, docks, bedrooms and in the case of a few with,… shall we say …a healthy appetite for alcohol, the shower. Okay let’s say it was the only place in town with a liquor license. Even so it was a pretty dead place. Even the portrait of the Queen hanging above the shuffle board seemed bored. Most days you’d walk in and you’d be all by yourself. Old Norm would be behind the bar. And if you wanted conversation, it came down to a choice between talking to the Queen or waking Old Norm up.
Old Norm was called that because his son was also Norm. So the son was Young Norm and the father was Old Norm. Young Norm was in his fifties or so, Old Norm was considerably older. Being retired since before anyone could remember, tending the bar at the Legion was his way of keeping active. Sort of. Usually he would sit at a chair behind the bar and more often than not he would drift into a deep sleep. The story was he spent his nights at the retirement home in Happy Valley chasing skirts. But that might have just been a rumour. Most people didn’t want to disturb Old Norm so they’d just go behind the bar, get whatever it was that they wanted, leave the money in the till-Old Norm kept it open-and go back to their seats. Some of the nicer customers even left Old Norm a tip. It was an arrangement that seemed to work.
The several Coaches who made up the Coaching Staff of L.B.S.S. had all got their drinks and were ready to get down to it.
“Before we start,” started Head Coach Kidd “Did you all see the email from Bunny? We need to raise the profile of the team. We need to get some press coverage. Anybody have any connections with the local media?”
“I taught Mrs. Nothelfer who writes for the South Missachewopa Herald.” answered Coach Brock.
“Good. Get her in here and let’s start changing the public’s image of the team.” Kidd felt that there was no point in doing anything if nobody noticed you doing it.
“Alright, let’s start with the reports.” barked Coach Johnson, who wanted to get ‘this damn meeting’ over and get home. “Who’s first?” he asked as he looked around the table. “How about you, Jimbo?” Coach Jim “Jimbo” Taylor stood up and began to speak: “The O-line is looking real good this year. We have a lot of returning veterans. And I’m sure we can get the job done.” It was hard to say which stank more, the beer spilt over decades into the legion carpet or the insincerity in Jimbo’s voice. Maybe for other teams, having returning veterans was a good thing. But for the Byronville Bengals returning veterans meant another year of the same old shit.
At the other end of the table, Head Coach Travis Kidd nodded ever so slightly. It wasn’t clear to any of
the Coaches there if it was a nod of approval. “Thanks, Jimbo.” said the Head Coach “What about you, John Boy?” Receivers Coach Bill Johnson was always called John Boy. The present Coaching staff had forgotten why.
“Things are A-OK. The boys can slant, fade, hook…”
“But can they catch?” Barked Head Coach Kidd. It wasn’t meant as a joke. When the laughter died down Johnson tried to continue. He was interrupted a second time.
“Enough of this crap!” interjected Kidd. “We’re just spinning our wheels here. We need to make a bold move forward. We need to change the culture of losing. We need to shift the para…para…para..What’s the word?”
“Paradigm.” answered John Boy.
“How’s that spelled?” asked Coach Brock, also known as Moose.
“P-a-r-a-d-i-g-m.” answered John Boy.
“I would have spelled it p-a-r-a-d-i-m-e. Why is there a ‘g’ in it?” Above them the Queen continued to look unimpressed.
“Would you guys stop? Lemme start again. We need to stop spinning our wheels. We need to boldly move forward. We need to change the culture of losing. We need to shift the paradigm. We need God!”
“I beg your pardon.”
“That’s right . God. Like at all the successful NCAA teams. They’re always praying. Praying in the locker room before the game. Praying on the field. Hell, for all I know they’re praying in the shower It seems that God is on the side of every team in the Big Ten.”
“Not Notre Dame. Did you see them play State last week? Didn’t see where God cared if they won or not. They even tried a hail Mary, but State intercepted and ran it back for a touchdown. You’d think if
God was on any team’s side it would be Notre Dame”
“Why would God care who wins a football game?” Moose’s interjection was not welcomed by Head Coach Kidd. “He must care. Those NCAA programs play some serious ball. They won’t waste their time praying if it didn’t bring results.”
“But if he cared, wouldn’t the Saints win all the time?” Moose wouldn’t let it go.
“Good point.” said Jimbo
“Wait a minute. What if the Saints are playing the Cardinals? John Boy jumped in.
“Or the Padres?” added Jimbo.
“The Padres? Are you for real?”
“What’s wrong with the Padres?” Jimbo defended himself.
“The Padres are baseball.” answered John Boy with an air of contempt.
“Doesn’t God care about baseball?” countered Jimbo
“Nobody cares about baseball. Besides why would God care about a baseball team playing a football team?”
“Well, technically the Padres could be playing the Cardinals.” said Moose
“I bet he hates the Lions. Didn’t they used to feed Christians to the lions?”
“That was a long time ago. I don’t think God still cares.”
“Shut up! Just shut the fuck up!” Head Coach Kidd couldn’t take it any longer.” I don’t care if God cares or not! Just as long as this God thing works. We need some prayers. Anybody got any prayers?’
“Like, well you know. Prayers. Religious” he searched for the word “ religious poems.”
“No, they’re not poems.” said Jimbo.
“Yeah, they don’t rhyme.” added Moose.
“Well, what would’ya call them?” asked Head Coach Kidd.
“Religious, religious…sayings.” said John Boy
“Sayings’s a good word.” said Moose
“Okay, whatever we call them…you got any?”
“Well, I used to say ‘Now I lay me down to sleep.’ said Jimbo
“I mean tough prayers. Manly prayers. Football prayers. Somebody must have one.”
A chorus of ‘no’, ‘sorry’ ‘I don’t think so’ followed.
“What, don’t you ladies go to church?” Head Coach Kidd was getting frustrated.
“Not any more.” said of the three assistant Coaches.
“Never did.” said another.
“They closed my church a while ago. Apparently nobody was going.” said the third.
Kicking Coach Igor Ibrahimovich, who had been quiet up until now, spoke up. He had come to Byronville at the age of ten during the Bosnian war. The United Church had sponsored his family back when the church still had members. His mother was a Croat and his father a Bosnian Muslim. In Sarajevo his mother had been a doctor and his father a lawyer. Here in Canada both worked at Tim Hortons.
Iggy spoke up: “I’m a Muslim. Do you want one of ours?”
“God, no!” responded Head Coach Kidd. “”I meant a real Canadian prayer.”
“Maybe we could take one of Iggy’s and take the Muslim bits out.”
“That might work.”
“Good idea. Iggy, you and Moose get together and rework that Muslim thing until there’s no Muslim bits. While you’re at it take the God parts out too. There’s no point in offending anyone.”
“So you want a prayer without any reference to God?”
“Maybe we could substitute something else for God”
“I dunno. Victory? Glory? Something.”
“Keep the stuff about winning and giving a hundred and ten percent. You know blood, sweat and tears and all that. And have it ready for next week. We’re playing the Crusaders. Our boys are going to need a lot of help”
“I’m going to need a beer.” said Iggy. Above the shuffle board, the Queen looked away.
Ryan walked into the staffroom in a huff. “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.”
“Time to change girlfriends then.” intoned Roberts who always thought he was funnier than he was.
“What don’t you get?” asked a more sympathetic Mrs. Templeton.
“Kids. They’re all enthusiastic about the environment when they’re in class. But when it comes time to put your money where you’re mouth is, they bail.”
“What do you mean?”
“I called a meeting of the environmental club and nobody showed up.”
“We have an environmental club?” asked Roberts
“No, but I was trying to start one. Those same kids when they’re in public school do everything they can to help the environment. Why do they stop when they get to high school.” It was true. Go into any public school and you will find all sorts of wonderful recycling programs. But high school is a different matter.
“Kids in high school have a lot more pressure. They have to be popular; they have to be cool; they have to fit in. You make the environment cool and you’ve got it made. But if the club is full of nerds and geeks, and you’ll never get the cool kids.” Mrs. Templeton spoke with great authority.
“How do I get the cool kids?”
“Well for one thing don’t try to be cool. A teacher, even one just out of school like you, has no idea what is currently cool. Remember when Perkins tried being one of them, Boris?”
“Do I remember? I remember we were all embarrassed by him. When he started here he told all the kids to call with Ed.”
“Yeah, and before long they started calling him Mr Ed.”
“Who’s telling this story, Vera?” sometimes Barovsky and Mrs. T sounded like an old married couple.
“What’s wrong with being called Mr. Ed?”
“Oh you are young, aren’t you? Mr. Ed was a talking horse.”
“A talking horse?”
“A sixties sit com.”
“Oh, I see.
“He wore tie-dye and flowered bell-bottoms. They might have been cool when he was in school, but they were definitely passé by the time he got in front of a class.”
“And he started telling them to use their real language in class. You know, things like rad and grotty tothe max and a bunch of things that nobody ever really said. Well that didn’t last long. Pretty soon he went from trying to be warm and fuzzy to mean and surly.”
“And he’s still pretty surly today.”
“King of conspiracies.”
“Master of machination.”
“Hey, I’ll bet he sees a snake in every grass.” said Barovsky.
“A stalker behind every bush” said Mrs. T.
“A chicken in every pot.” said Roberts.
“What?” said the two senior teachers simultaneously
Roberts looked sheepishly around then said: “I don’t know what that means. It just something my grandmother always says.”
“To get back to the question at hand, if you want kids to come out to meetings, you need to do two things. You need to get a couple of leaders on side from the beginning, they’ll bring others and you need to feed them.”
“Feed them. They’re teenagers. But they might as well be trained seals. Get them to do a trick and then throw them a fish.”
It was a beautiful early fall kind of day. The hills that surrounded the school and the football field were bathed in sunlight. The leaves on the trees which covered those hills had started to change into their fall outfits. A slight wind was darting playfully through the leaves. It was almost a serene moment. The junior football team was gone for an exhibition game against a team from the big city. The field hockey girls had their own exhibition at home against Chevalier. Today they weren’t wearing the frumpy track suits they normally wore for practise. They were wearing their kilts. Strangely the senior boys were not allowing themselves to be distracted by these skirts. Instead they were gathered in circles, all kneeling, facing inwardly. They were busy learning their new ‘prayers.’
“My loud voice is not proof of the depth of my knowledge.” Coach Johnson especially liked to hear Scottie recite that one. “An empty pot makes more noise when you hit it than a full one.”
“They are four things which do not come back: the spoken word, the shot arrow, the past life and the lost opportunity.” “If I am good, I will be better,” “I am hard on myself, easy on others.”, “The heaviest burden is placed on those who can carry the weight.”
The Herold reporter, Mrs. Nothelfer, arrived notepad in hand; camera on shoulder. “Mr. Brock, it certainly has been a long time. Still coaching, I see. And what is it that you wanted to show me?”
“We have a new look football squad. The losing teams of the past are history. This season we have a dedicated group of team players working toward one common goal: the success of the team.”
“How would you define success this year, Coach? Winning the county? Making the playoffs? What, for example, was your record last year?”
He answered sheepishly: “0 and 6.”
“So should I put down ‘winning a game’?” Mrs. Nothelfer was a nice enough lady, but she hadn’t really like Coach Brock as a teacher.
“No, we are aiming at the county championship and even beyond.” Coach Brock knew whatever he said would get back to Head Coach Kidd.
“How can you go from 0 and 6 to winning a county championship?” she paused “Realistically?”
“We are a whole new team. We’ve got a new look, a new plan, a new leader and a bunch of returning veterans.”
“So you’re a new team with the same old players?”
“You’re twisting my words.”
“No, not at all. Just prove to me that things will be different. A lot of my readers are big fans of high school football and they are very tired of losing season after losing season.”
Coach Brock nervously looked around while he thought of something else to say. The boys were still on one knee reciting the pearls of wisdom that had been passed to them by Coach Ibrahimovich.
“The boys have found God.”
“Oh, yeah. Have a listen.” And he invited her to move closer to the kneeling players.
“Today is mine. I will not waste it”
“The most excellent Jihad is that for the conquest of the self.”
“I don’t know if I would use that last one. The word Jihad scares a lot of people.” she said. “If I were you. How about a picture?”
“Sure, when will this be in the paper?” he asked as he posed for the camera.
“No, sorry. I meant of the team at prayer.”
Ryan planned the second meeting of the environmental club for a couple of weeks. He needed to pick the right food to attract students to his crusade. A barbecue with hot dogs and hamburgers would attract a big crowd, but red meat caused all sorts of environmental problems. The amazonian rainforest was being raped so that cattle could graze where once mighty trees stood. Strictly speaking, tofu would be the best choice. But these were country kids, tofu would scare half of them away. He could do giant pots of whole wheat spaghetti. But without the use of the kitchen, spaghetti would be complicated to say nothing about messy. Submarine sandwiches would be popular but they carried the subtext of support for war at sea. Perhaps he needed a little subterfuge instead of submarines. He’d do the barbecue but the burgers would be veggie and the dogs tofu. With recent improvements in vegetarian cuisine and enough condiments no one would be the wiser. Now it was just a question of finding the money to pay for it.
He went to Vice-Principal Doyle to ask his advice. It turned out to be a smart move. Doyle acknowledged that it was an honourable idea but also one that Bunny would never support. Unless he couched it in terms of something Bunny liked. And what did Bunny like? Football. He could tell Bunny it was for a pre-game meal for the team. But that would be a lie. He could tell Bunny it was for a fan rally and those fans could also be environmental club members. That might work. Doyle suggested just going ahead and order the food and give the bill to Bunny. If Bunny questioned it, tell him that he had approved it last month and asked if he didn’t remember. Chances were good that Bunny wouldn’t question anything.
So the day was picked; the food was ordered and announcements were made. Come to the first meeting slash Barbecue of the environmental club. Free burgers and hot dogs and free exchange of ideas. Ryan ignored the fact that this was actually the second meeting of the environment club. He justified that little lie by claiming to himself that the first one didn’t count because there was no one there.
Now any preacher with a soup kitchen knows that you give the sermon before you feed them the soup. It’s not complicated. But I guess human psychology wasn’t a required course in the environmental studies program that Ryan had completed. It never occurred to him that he had to give his little environmental talk before he handed out the burgers. His naïveté is somewhat refreshing, but only somewhat. 79 kids showed up for the free food, including ones like Kieran Van Hoven and Scottie Van Doornedorp both of whom wouldn’t have an environmental bone between them. 2 kids stayed for the meeting. Poor Ryan. Someone was going to have to tell him.
Hilda Beauregard was only too happy to see the coverage of the Bengals at prayer in the latest edition of the South Missachewopa News. As the president of the local chapter of the Fundamentalist League of Christian Voters, she was concerned about the lack of Christianity in schools. She phoned all concerned to congratulate them on having the courage to bring God back to public schools. Head Coach Kidd accepted her kind words and invited her to attend the home opener. And yes, they expected their sincere faith in God would manifest itself on the score board. She reached Principal Bunny by phone, which in itself should be considered some kind of miracle. He didn’t know what she was talking about. But he was used to that and quite good at playing along without giving anything away. Mrs. Beauregard also reached Trustee Lindenhauser. Hilda Beauregard and Fiona Lindenhauser had a lot in common. At least in appearance. Both had greying hair which they wore in a bun. Both wore long skirts and practical shoes. Philosophically both believed passionately that they were right and others who felt differently were wrong. Unforgivably wrong. The only thing that separated the two women was what they believed about God. For Hilda Beauregard God was the centre of the universe, the alpha and omega, the source of all that was good in the world. For Fiona Lindenhauser God was a human construct, a reason to not accept responsibility for our lives, a crutch that weak people used. Like Principal Bunny she had no idea about prayers and the football team. Unlike Principal Bunny she had no desire to play along. God had no business with the football team or any other part of the school and she was going to get to the bottom of this. She was going to call Chairperson Loveless, Director of Education Crapaud and Superintendent White and get God the hell out of Byronville. She phoned the Trinity of Education Administration and they all phoned Bunny, one after the other. Bunny in turn called Head Coach Kidd into his office. He had to make a special trip to the school that day and missed the better part of the Skater Nation conference in Montreal. Now that was a sacrifice because conferences in Montreal are not to be passed over easily. Head Coach Kidd was able in say that there was no God. At least not on his football team. There was also no Christianity involved. Just a few inspirational messages before commencing the struggle, was all that was being said. It was a necessary part of the rebuilding program. Bunny was satisfied and phoned Loveless, Crapaud and White, who in turned all phoned Lindenhauser. Everyone was happy. Everyone except Trustee Fiona Lindenhauser.
“I still don’t get it.” said Ryan as he walked into the staffroom after the barbecue.
“I told you; you gotta change girlfriends.” Roberts wasn’t any funnier the second time around.
“What do I have to do to get them interested in the environment? I fed 79 of them and once the food was gone so were they. It wasn’t like that was I was in high school. We were more engaged in politics, more aware of the world around us, more mature.” Mrs. T looked up from her marking and smiled.
“I blame the system.” said Perkins. “How can we expect maturity from the students if we don’t expect it from them.”
“What?” said the others, even Roberts.
“I mean look at the evaluation policy that the province forces on us. Johnny hands something in late: no marks off. Anita cheaps on a test: let her do it again. Freddy skips a lab: let him come in at lunch and make it up. There are never any consequences for their behaviour. No wonder they never grow up. If the Chinese were trying to destroy our education system they couldn’t do a better job than the current government.” Once Perkins got going it was hard to stop him.
“I don’t remember it being like this when I was in high school and that wasn’t that long ago.” said a still naive Ryan.
Mrs. T put down her marking pencil and cleared her voice: “It’s that damned Rushton Kappa, the education premier -she made quotation marks with her fingers- and his hatchet girl Edwina Mist. The Perpetual Party is trying to say they are better than the Progressive Resisters because there are fewer failures. There are fewer failures because they keep lowering expectations. That’s all. They would do anything to education in order to get reelected and they don’t give a damn about the consequences. First they make us separate behaviour from academic performance, so we can’t take marks off for just about anything. I mean really, where in the real world do deadlines not matter? Or maybe we should apply the same logic -again she made the quotation marks with her fingers-to teaching. Deadlines don’t matter, so I’m sorry class but today’s lesson will be ready tomorrow; I didn’t feel like prepping last night, so just talk amongst yourselves, yeah, right. This is no conspiracy theory of Perkins. This is real.”
“Do you think they know what they’ve done to education?” asked Ryan.
“I don’t think they care. To get reelected they would do anything and to hell with the consequences.”
“Surely, we can do something. Surely, if we only made them see what’s happening.”
“Go ahead and write them a letter and see what happens.” said Mrs T.
“The only strategy that works in any way, shape or form is to go to the Legion and get good and drunk. Come on. I’m buying.” said Perkins.
“Shouldn’t you wait until the end of the school day?”
“I suppose that would be the professional thing to do.” said Perkins regretting that he still had a class to teach.
Trustee Lindenhauser still had to be converted. She had to see for herself. So one day after school she showed up at the field to see what was really going on. The football teams had to confine their practises to the end zones. The field hockey girls were playing another exhibition game. The idea of sharing a football field with a field hockey team was wrong, clearly wrong thought Head Coach Kidd. Schools had to have priorities. Football was a sport. Field hockey, well it couldn’t be a sport. You don’t wear skirts while playing a sport. Not a real one anyway. That line of thinking almost brought him in line with Trustee Lindenhauser. The field hockey girls’ skirts were a problem for her too. Once she saw the girls in their kilts, she forgot all about the God problem. She had Principal Bunny on speed dial and interrupted his enjoyment of the Board sponsored Asbestos and You in-service. She gave him five minutes of the best woman’s liberation diatribes, which was totally unnecessary, as he was ready to submit after only a minute. The end result was that the kilts would be gone just as soon as he could buy a team set of shorts and don’t worry he would find the money somewhere, maybe from the textbook budget.
“Research shows that students are most successful when…” started Vice Principal Doyle. It was a rare occasion when a member of the school’s Admin Team found himself in the staff room. It was even a rarer moment when Principal Bunny was in the school. But the staff and students at Lord Byron Secondary School in the Granite District School Board didn’t seem to mind or even notice. In his absence he had tasked Vice Principal Doyle with the creation of a committee to promote metacognition. Vice Principal Doyle wasn’t quite sure what metacognition was.
“Sorry what?” Perkins said removing his Ipod headphones from his ears. He was listening to the Boston Pops version of Carmen while he was marking a set of grade ten lab reports.
Doyle continued: “Students are most successful when…”
Roberts said to Rickards: “D’ya see the game last night?”
“D’ya mean the so-called battle of Ontario? I’d call it a comedy of errors” said Rickards to Roberts. The reference to Shakespeare was purely accidental.
“Not a great defensive struggle between two disciplined squads intent on stymieing the potent offensive of their opponent?” answered Roberts
“The Leafs and Senators? No, more like two groups of losers who couldn’t hit the net to save their lives.”
‘If students are allowed to express themselves fully taking into concern metacognition then…”
“Mega con what ?”
“Is that like chili con carne?”
“Megacognition; learning about learning, as opposed to learning for learning and learning through learning”
“I’m lost. What’s the difference?” Perkins asked thinking he should have left the headphones in his ears.
“It’s really simple, really.” Doyle continued, warming up now that he thought he had their attention.
“Students learn about how they learn. Not what they learn, or why they learn, but how.”
“Not why, how. Well let me explain to you in terms of coaching.” Doyle had been a phys ed teacher before getting into Admin.
“You don’t explain to the player how to throw the ball; you teach him about the ball, why he should throw the ball; how the ball feels about being thrown, things like that”
“How should the ball feel about being thrown?”
“How would you feel?”
“So how does he learn to throw the ball?”
“It doesn’t matter whether he can throw the ball or not. What is important is understanding the why. How doesn’t matter.”
“But you just said why doesn’t matter, how does.”
“So if you play a team that doesn’t know why but knows how, who wins?”
“That’s the beauty of it. Winning doesn’t matter. It’s not the only thing; it’s not everything; it just isn’t anything.”
“Why would a kid want to play?”
“To understand why he wants to play.”
“How can you relate this to education?”
“That’s the beauty of it” the VP continued. “The student doesn’t actually have to do any work at all. He just needs to understand why he would want to do work. It’s easier for him; it’s easier for the teacher and the parents are always happy, the Board and the Ministry are happy. It’s perfect. No one in my office complaining about Jones or Smith, no students failing; no teachers burning out.”
“Who’s in your office complaining about me?”
“Teachers burn out because of all the stupid ideas that Admin forces on us.”
‘D’ya see the breakaway in the second period?’ asked Roberts.
‘Prstic’s in the second period? When he deeked left then right and had Hoplininin stretched out on the ice without a chance in hell of stopping a beach ball.” replied Rickards who had stopped even pretending to mark.
“Hoplininin never has a chance of stopping a beach ball”
“Yeah that’s it. Totally open net. My grandmother coulda scored.”
“Then he trips on the blue ice and the puck trickles into the corner.”
“Typical of their season”
“What a bunch of losers! Who pays to watch these guys?”
“Isn’t it Metacognition? You called it Megacognition.’ If there’s Megacognition, would there also be Gigacognition?” sometimes Perkins was a bit of a jerk.
‘Yeah what would that be?’
‘Learning about learning but in a much bigger way.’
‘How much bigger?’
‘Will you two shut up!’ said a frustrated Doyle.
‘Shut up? Shut up? Show a little respect for your elders, young man. In my day no V.P. would ever tell a teacher to shut up.’
“Yeah but in your day, students wouldn’t tell a teacher to shut up.”
“That’s not true. I remember Pat Dunn. Oh what a foul mouth. Told a number of teachers to shut up, fuck off and even told Barovsky to suck her dick?”
The new guy Ryan piped in ‘Suck her dick?’
‘Yeah, failed biology I guess. To say nothing about sex ed’
‘Okay I’m sorry I said what I said, but you guys need to take Megacognition..
‘I said Metacognition, You need to take it seriously” Vice Principal Doyle didn’t appreciate their sense of humour.
‘Hey, I just looked it up on Idefinitions. It isn’t so much learning about learning as thinking about thinking’
“It’s the science of thinking. You know, how the brain works.”
“No it’s not that, it’s being conscious of our thinking process.”
“Yes, now you’re taking it seriously. Go on” Doyle was beside himself with enthusiasm
“Who thought this stuff up?”
“Research from the Colorado Institute of Learning shows that students perform better when we don’t expect anything of them.”
“You mean if you lower the bar low enough, everyone passes.”
“Yes, that’s it: everyone passes. That’s are goal isn’t?”
‘Yeah what a couple of totally useless hockey teams. That big stupid defenseman is especially tits on a bull”
“Which one?” asked Rickards, who wished he had got more sleep last night. But with a baby at home that wasn’t likely.
“You know, Havelock.” added Roberts “Tries to clear his zone, puts the puck into his own bench, hits his own coach in the head.”
“Yeah and gets two minutes for delay of game and the coach has to go for stitches.”
“I remember back in my day.” Mrs. Templeton changed conversations. “They only had one goalie and he didn’t wear a mask. If he took a puck to the head, the whole game stopped while they stitched him up.”
“How old are you?” asked Doyle who was barely over thirty.
“None of your business, young man!” Mrs Templeton, who could have retired years ago, didn’t offend easily. But these young Admin Team members were hard to take. They ought to at least be shaving before they’re put in charge. “I don’t ask you how long you taught before you became a vice principal, do I? But I imagine it wasn’t more than five years, was it?”
“Then on the power play, those idiots can’t manage a shot on net. They get paid for that, imagine” Roberts probably enjoyed watching bad hockey more than the good stuff.
“So if I understand correctly we are going to ask students to think about their thinking.”
“How will we know that they are thinking about their thinking and not about the girl two rows over?”
“Yeah they are teenagers. Can we even use teenager and thinking in the same sentence?”
“Yeah, my dog has a longer attention span than a teenager and he’s been dead for years.”
“I had three very successful years in the classroom before moving to the board office.”
“Learning Centre. They’re not calling it the board office any more.”
“Yeah, I heard a rumour -I think it was Jenkins who told me-that they’re going to spend 3 million on improvements to the board office.”
“Yeah, 3 million on the board office and we don’t have a second gym or enough lockers for every kid.”
“So Jenkins says they changed the name to Learning Centre so that the public would think they were actually spending on students.” The Granite District School Board was good at spending money. But from the perspective of the teachers at Lord Byron Secondary School it didn’t show. The school was old and in need of repair. The chemical storage room was positively unsafe. The French department used textbooks from the 80’s. And the computers were donations from industries that didn’t want them anymore. But LBSS was in a forgotten corner of the Board, far enough away from Granite City that the Board easily forgot about it.
“I thought Jenkins was dead.” remarked Ryan the new guy.
“No that’s Burns. Jenkins runs an antique store over in Sloat’s Corners. But he still keeps up with school board gossip.”
“Anyway, after moving to the Learning Centre I had four successful years as Obesity Consultant for the Board.”
“Obesity Consultant. I helped schools get rid of their fat kids.”
“Isn’t that the same as the Fat Boy Consultant?”
“It’s not called the Fat Boy Consultant.”
“That’s what Perkins calls it.”
“What d’you do? Kick the fat kids out of school? Shoot ‘em?
“No, don’t be stupid. I helped schools build programs for kids who needed to lose weight.”
“Is that a full time job?”
Gates Tanker, the phys ed head, had proposed something she called the Obesity Consultant. The Board had loved it but decided to give it to a young teacher with only three years experience, but someone they were grooming for Admin.
“Then two years as Character Consultant.”
“Shouldn’t Character education be done by the parents?”
“Do you really want some of our parents to be responsible for bringing up their kids?”
“Isn’t that the idea?”
“How come the Board has money for a Fat Boy Consultant but not a science one?”
“The Board always has money for the latest half baked idea. Like the time they put dogs in every Guidance Department in the county. They thought the dogs were less judgemental than the guidance councillors.”
“And they gave better advice.”
“Where’s the 3 million coming from?”
“Jenkins didn’t know. But that didn’t stop him from speculating.”
“He figures it’s coming out of the regular building maintenance fund. So the bathroom on the second floor isn’t going to get fixed any time soon.”
“Yeah but not fixing one bathroom isn’t going to pay for a 3 million dollar renovation.”
“No but if you don’t fix all the bathrooms in all the schools all over the board that need fixing, and you don’t shovel the snow after every little storm and you don’t replace lost books and you don’t… well you get the picture.”
“Why don’t they just take it out of the French grant like they normally do?”
“Can’t do that. They spent that money a long time ago.”
“On the previous director’s golden parachute. She got two years’ salary, her car and they covered her costs for her and her husband to go to two “conventions” in Bermuda and Arizona.” He made the quotation marks with his fingers. “They were in a hurry to get rid of her.”
“I wish they were in a hurry to get rid of me.”
“They are. But don’t hold your breath waiting for a golden parachute.”
“Did you see the end of the game?”
“Are you kidding? I couldn’t take it anymore. Marked for an hour and a half and then went to bed. Didn’t sleep though. Amy wouldn’t stop crying.
“Well it went down to a shootout. Neither team could score until the eighth round; Havelock, of all people bears down on Hoplininin. Hoplininin tries to poke check the puck just as Havelock loses the handle. Hoplininin slides into Havelock; they both go down. Both are injured and have to be stretchered off.”
“Did they have to use the backup goalie?”
“No. With both of them lying on the ice, Havelock’s non-shot trickled into the net. Leafs won.”
“So anyway. The reason I came up to this staffroom is I’m putting together a little work team to look at the role of mega- I mean metacognition in the classroom. Is anyone interested?”
“I don’t know”
“Try Ryan the new guy.”
“It involves missing a lot of school.”
“When do we start?”
Check it out! Chapter two is now out.
“Balls!” Jones came into the staff room and slammed the door.
“What?” came the reply from Barovsky without looking up from his marking.
“Out of the mice!” which was meant to explain the initial exclamation
“What mice? Have you seen mice in here again? I’ll clean up my mess, but you know it’s not all mine”
“Not those mice. The computer kind. Some stupid friggin’ kid has taken the balls out of the mice in my computer lab.” Jones poured himself a cup of coffee but only half filled the cup.
“Why the hell would anybody do that?” Barovsky put his red marking pencil down.
“How the hell should I know? Do you know what goes on in the mind of a fifteen year old? What would go on the mind of a fifteen year old? Sex? Anything else?
“But what’s the big deal? It’s only a little ball.”
“Yeah right! I’ll just run out to Business Depot and buy a bunch of mice balls.” he steamed. “You can’t buy balls, you gotta buy the whole damn mouse. I don’t know why we even have mice with balls, nobody else does.”
“They were free.” as Science Department Head, Barovsky prided himself on not spending money.
“It’s not like it’s only happened once.” Jones continued, ignoring Barovsky’s explanation. “It keeps happening and I’m sick to death of it. If I, no when I catch that little bugger, I’m gonna shove those balls up his nose– or worse.”
“Hey, calm down. It’s not worth your career over a couple of computer mice. Remember ol’ Jenkins the day he snapped. Grabbed that little Van Luiten kid by the front of his shirt, picked him up so that his feet were dangling in the air and walked him right out of the classroom.”
“Yeah and the kid was squealing like a pig.”
“And by that time we had come out of our classes to see what was going on” joined in Mrs Templeton. “We thought he was marching him down to the office.”
“And then he took the kid shoved into an empty locker and locked him in there.”
“Really?” asked Ryan the new guy. “What had the kid done to him?”
“We never did find out for sure. There were a couple of good rumours going around though.”
“No really, you gotta know what the kid did. Tell me.” Jones pleaded.
“We can’t. We’re sworn to secrecy.”
“ Get out of here. Sworn to secrecy by who? Jenkins has been gone for years”
“Yeah, I think he’s dead. Wasn’t it last year?” Roberts would have been better to stay out of the conversation.
“Nah, that was Phillips, Jenkins died right after he retired.. Thirty-five years teaching, retires and buys a Winnebago so he can tour the country, but croaks before he can leave.” If Rickards thought he was helping, he was very wrong.
“No I don’t think so. That was Burns.”
“So what do you mean: Sworn to secrecy.”
“It means we can’t tell you, even if we wanted to. It’s a secret”
“Oh just shut up! So tell me what happened to Jenkins.”
“He made up some story about how he had come out of the classroom when he heard some banging coming out of the locker and he was just getting Van Luiten out of the locker.”
“But what about all the other kids in the class? They would have seen Jenkins pick him up and carry him out.”
“Oh yeah. They all saw it. But they hated Van Luiten more than Jenkins did. Not one single kid came forward to tell the truth.”
“So they bought the story. They want to buy the story. It always the easy thing to do. Otherwise there’s a big hassle and principals hate big hassles. Sweep it under the rug, sweep it under the rug.”
“What happened to Van Luiten? D’ya remember?”
“Yeah the family moved away a year or two later.”
“I saw him a few years ago at a gas station on the 401.”
“Hell no. Buying gas. For his Mercedes. I think he’s in real estate.”
“Half of you behind the red cone, the other half behind the yellow one. The ball goes to the yellow cone. On the whistle head of the line from the yellow cone starts running trying to get to the other end of the square. At the same time…”
“We know the drill, coach. We do it every year.” interrupted Scottie van Doornedorp, a kid whose attention span was short and his mouth active.
“When I want your opinion, Scottie, I’ll give it to you.” retorted Coach Johnson, a year or two away from retirement and not a great believer in the future of Bengal football.
“Oh, burn.” added Steve. If Scottie had an entourage, Steve was it. Scottie shot his friend a look which said ‘whose side are you on?’
“Can I continue?” asked Johnson, ignoring the barb.
“This is a tackle drill. So the ball carrier is going to let himself be tackled. Now let’s review what a proper football tackle looks like.”
“Instead of what, Coach? A volleyball tackle? A baseball tackle? Fishing tackle?” Scottie thought he was pretty funny. Maybe it was his way of showing off for the younger players.”
“Doornedorp, five hills. Only put your equipment on first.”
“My helmet doesn’t fit, Coach. I guess my brains are too…”
“Scottie, that’s enough.”
“Sorry, Coach. Are you coming with me?” There was something about Scottie which didn’t allow him to stop once he got started. Most of the players present smiled at the thought of Coach Johnson running hills. He had seen the better part of 58 years and had consumed his fair share of beer.
“No, you’re doing it alone.” It was always questionable whether Scottie would make it to the end of the season. Sometimes it looked like he was going to quit, sometimes it looked like a coach or a teammate was going to kill him. Neither ever happened.
“On your way Doornedorp.”
“But you young fella, you remember this: that was then and this is now. You hit a kid now and you might as well pack your bags.”
“Oh come on. I’m not really gonna shove balls up anywhere. I’d just like to, that’s all” Jones got back into the conversation
“Well you know it could be worse. They could be deleting files or changing settings.”
“They’re doing that too. It’s just the ball thing pisses me off a lot more. I can change settings back, but you can’t buy mouse balls. Go ahead just phone up the store and tell them that you want a gross of mice balls and see how they react.”
“Yeah, I take your point.”
“That’s fine. Take my point, but you had better keep your hands of my mice balls.”
“So who do you think is doing it?” asked the new guy.
“I don’t know. A nerd, I imagine. Some guy who needs more homework or a girl friend.”
“I bet it isn’t. I bet it’s a jock. You know steal the balls and play table hockey with them”
“Playing table hockey isn’t a jock. It’s a wannabe jock”
The two groups didn’t have much to do with each other.
“I still think it’s a nerd. Only a nerd would think of stealing a ball out of a mouse. I get so mad when I think of this. I’m going to hurt someone. I’m going to hurt someone.”
“Hey don’t you have an on-call?”
“Shit! What time is it? I gotta go.” Jones rushed out of the staffroom, leaving his marking behind.
“He does get excited doesn’t he?”
“It is kinda of funny the way his face gets all red like that isn’t?”
“He’s gonna give himself a heart attack is he keeps up like that.”
“What are we going to do with a bag full of balls?”
“We could put them back.”
“To be nice”
“Why start now?”
“We could put them back one at a time”
“You mean mess with his head?”
“I like it”
“In the mean time. D’ya want to play table hockey?”
“Right then, a proper football tackle. First watch their balls. They can fake with their heads or their hands, but where their balls go, they go. Don’t come at them too fast. Break down, get low and stick your shoulder into them. Wrap them up and drive through until they’re on the ground. Don’t stop until you hear the whistle. Let’s have a demonstration.” Coach Johnson looked around for an experienced tackler. His eyes went to Skates first then Invisible. Then he found Jordan White in the crowd. “White, come up here and show us how it’s done.” At the front of the yellow line was the tall, skinny kid who was holding a football. He wasn’t paying any attention whatsoever to Coach’s instruction. He seemed to be day-dreaming. In fact he wasn’t. He was watching the girls’ field hockey practise. L.B.S.S.’s lone playing field was divided into three sections during practise time. At the east end were junior football players frantically learning the game. At the west end was the senior team showing off and squeezed into the middle were the field hockey girls.
Fortunately for Coach Johnson it was only a practise. Forty or so girls perpetually bent over wearing those short field hockey skirts is enough to distract an entire football team. Field hockey ‘kilts’-as they call them-every father sends his daughter off to high school so she can dress like a $60 hooker. As it was the field hockey were only distracting the tall, skinny kid and Scottie who had stopped doing his five hills after one. He was hoping that no one noticed.
“Stretch” called out Coach not knowing the kid’s real name. “Come over here and let White show us how to stop your progress.”
“Stop my what?” asked Stretch to himself after he realized that Coach was talking to him. He more or less stayed where he was.
“Come on out here.” continued Coach and the tall, skinny kid mechanically obeyed.
“On the whistle go.” yelled Coach who then blew his whistle immediately.
“Umph.” said Lyndsey Baggott as she whacked a field hockey ball. It went past the goalie in the make-shift goal of cones and into football territory.
Ignoring where he was the tall, skinny kid looked for the origin of the noise.
“Grrr.” said Jordan White as he took off.
“Umph” said White as he hit the totally unprepared tall, skinny kid, driving back five yards.
“Ooooooh” said the tall, skinny kid as all the air in his lungs escaped.
“That’s what I’m talking about.” said Coach. “That’s a textbook tackle.”
“We’re tackling textbooks, now?” said Scottie who had returned from running his hill. “Maybe if we played against textbooks we could win a game.”
“I think we’d better call 911.” said someone after having a look at the tall, skinny kid.
When the tall, skinny kid came to, Lyndsey Baggott had her lips firmly over his. Her long blond hair was falling over his face. He could look down her top-she wasn’t wearing a bra- and see her breasts heaving with every breath she was giving him. This excellent state of being continued for an undetermined period of time. Was he dead? Was this heaven? He could almost hear harp music.
But what was this pounding on his chest? He looked around for the source. OMG it’s Coach Johnson hammering his fist down. He is covered in sweat. He looked back to Lyndsey, only it’s not Lyndsey. It’s Coach Tanker, the girls’ field hockey coach. The forty-something, somewhat masculine girls’ field hockey coach giving the breathing part of CPR. And the harp music he could almost hear is the laughter of the other football players. Only Lyndsey Baggott, who is really there appears to care that I’m dying.
“I’m okay.” protested the tall, skinny kid as he jumped to his feet.
“Whoa, there Stretch. Let’s have a look see before we go any farther.”
“Coach, no seriously. I’m okay. I just need to sit down a bit.”
“Coach. That really was a textbook tackle, eh?” Scottie just couldn’t keep quiet.
“Shut up, Scottie.” said Jordan White. If you looked into his eyes, you might say that a little of the usual cockiness was absent.
“Here let me help you.” said Lyndsey, forgetting about the ball that she had come over to the football practise to get. She held his hand and helped in over to the bleachers where she sat down with him.
“If getting tackled by Jordan White gets me noticed by Lyndsey Baggott, he can do that to me everyday.” thought the tall, skinny kid as he checked for missing teeth.