Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Broken Window

When I was in the eighth grade, the two junior high schools in the city hosted the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. One day (or night) someone broke a window at the school I attended.

For some reason, the Principal - a real jerk in a number of respects, by the way, the type who, if you asked him if he knew the time, would look at his watch, say "Yes," and keep walking - decided either that someone in the eighth grade did it or that someone in the eighth grade knew who did it. A class trip to the Museum of Science in Boston was scheduled for the near future, and it was announced that there would be no trip unless someone from the eighth grade either confessed or told him who broke the window.

Well, among the eighth graders there was much indignation over that. As far as we knew, none of us had done it and none of us knew who had done it. That was the position we all took, and to this day I don't know who did it or even whether the Principal ever learned who did it. It is of course possible that it was an eighth grader, just as it is possible that it wasn't even one of the school's students.

Three of us, a girl, another boy, and I, decided to do something about this unreasonable approach by the Principal - punishing an entire class for something done by one individual, an unidentified individual, and one who might not even be in that class. We decided to see the city's Mayor. We waited a week or so to see if the window-breaker would be identified or if the punishment would be rescinded, but nothing changed.

Memory says that school ended at 2:00 or 2:30 PM, and one afternoon the three of us gathered at that time and walked the five or six blocks to City Hall. We found the office of the Mayor, approached his secretary, and informed her that we wished to see the Mayor. She asked who we were and the nature of our intended discussion, seated us, and went into the Mayor's office. A moment later she invited us into his office.

He offered us seats and asked what he could do for us. We explained the situation and expressed our opinion that the whole thing was unfair and unreasonable, and he promised to look into it. We thanked him and made our exit. Although he and his secretary were probably privately amused, my recollection is that they were both kind without being condescending.

On the next school day, the three of us were called to the Principal's office during the first hour. We walked there together, and although we knew what the subject would be I don't think any of us were particularly worried about it. We were kept waiting outside his office for perhaps ten minutes, a flaunting of authority that I found transparent and amusing. My colleagues must have found it so as well, as neither showed any signs of worry or nervousness. Righteousness is a great bulwark, even against the bullying of thirteen- or fourteen-year-olds by school principals.

He called us into his office, informed us of his displeasure in the matter of our seeing the Mayor, and we were dismissed. I no longer remember any of the words at all, not any reasons given for his displeasure, nor any positions taken about what we "should have" done, nor any other aspects of his monologue. But I do remember that it was a monologue: he spoke and we were dismissed.

That day, without the formal announcements that had advised us that the class trip was in jeopardy, word was spread that the trip was on again. Of course the whole school knew why. I don't know how the word got around, but it certainly did.

I can only speculate about events after our meeting with the Mayor. I imagine that he called the Superintendent of Schools and that the latter called the Principal.

Looking back, I think that we were a peculiar trio in that I have no idea why we were the ones who took this on ourselves. We were not leaders in what passed for the social pecking order of the class, and we were not particularly close to each other: we were friendly but not actually friends. We moved in different social circles (due more to geographical reasons than any other, but still, we were not close). However, we did band together for that moment and I'll always remember them.

No comments: