Continuing with pedagogical themed post, I decided to do something different. I was looking through my previous works from college when I found this short story I wrote for an English class. It is about a boy, named Jack Sandoval. It is a critique on standardized testing in public school. It uses colorful language at times, while painting a profile of a low-income student. I decided to posted it here to ask my readers this question: Why don’t we focus more on problem solving skills and logic than teaching test taking skills? Let’s make learning more socially engaging. I provided an annotated bibliography that gives more explanation into the ideas of my story. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. Enjoy.
The blankets were stifling that night, for they were pushed to the floor as he woke. The alarm buzzed and vibrated around the nightstand until he slammed the snooze button violently to cease the infernal racket. He didn’t want to get up this morning. Turning the fan on full blast he sat up, letting it cool his racing mind. It was the day that Mr. Morrison’s class had to take the Stanford Binet. The test itself had been looked upon as the stepping point into adulthood; the scariness of these tests had been portrayed in class as do-or-die.
Jack reluctantly stretch his aching back and crooked neck as he rose from his bed and out his door to grab breakfast. He had a rough night and just wanted to stay home sick today.
He looked around and saw no one.
Nothing. Jack gave an ironic shrug to no one as he wondered if his mother would be back before school would be out. He might be off the hook this time. His mother worked a lot these days, especially since Jack’s step-father was a state worker and had a massive pay cut. Gary might even lose his job.
Jack sat down to his normal breakfast: A pop tart and a glass of o.j. The TV had nothing but news during the 7:30 time slot – no cartoons; the kind that Jack so desperately wanted to see. Jack wanted to escape his mind for once, but instead he saw the boy who had been shot last night on Broadway and Cherry, and the Robbery that happened in Orizaba Park over an eleven-year-old’s IPod. He couldn’t escape his reality like this, so with the click of the TV tubes turning off, he sleepily crawled back to his bed.
The garage door startled him before he reached the bed. He flew under the covers and braced himself for the performance of his life. His mom had gotten good at detecting his deceptions. He heard Sonia walk around the house, the slam of the dryer, and the creak of his door.
“Damn, Jack, you know you have that test today. Get up!”
“I know mom, I think I got a *Cough!*a, a cold last night.”
She sighed as she gave Jack a dirty look, “alright let me feel your forehead.”
With her out stretched hand she placed it upon Jack’s head. She knew he was lying through his teeth because he didn’t have time to let the light bulb warm it. Sonia sighed.
“Get up. I’ll drive you to school… Come on!” She continued, while anger tightened her voice, “I need to fill in for someone’s shift today! Wait till your father hears about this!”
“Alright. I’m going mom!”
The bell rang as they pulled up to the school and Jack dashed towards the school gate before his mother or Mr. Franco, the school proctor, could swat him for being tardy.
Mr. Morrison’s classroom was in a bluish bungalow on the northeast side of the campus. It was put in when the school was suppose to take on more children than they thought they could handle. The bungalow had a ramp that led to the front door, which creaked and shook as people walked on it. On the roof there was a large A/C unit that slouched the ceiling in the middle of the classroom and was never turned on. The bungalow had a lot of sun throughout the day, so it was incredibly hot and muggy. Mr. Morrison would only open the door while denying the A/C unit’s existence on those days. Jack ran up to the door trying to slip in quietly but the shabbiness of the “temporary” bungalow yielded under his weight, creaking and groaning as to say it was long after its prime. The district called them temporary over-flow classrooms, but that all changed when the ivy started to grow up its dilapidated walls.
Most of the teacher’s at Wilton High got angry after No Child Left Behind in 2000 because it made it hard to get funding in the progressing years after its inception. Class sizes rose and everyone was over worked. Teachers were punished for failing test score by losing funding to their classrooms and their paychecks. Teachers knew only one way of instruction, scare tactics and kill-and-drill, and Mr. Morrison was probably the meanest teacher on campus, famous for his kills and his drills. His classroom showed it. No student’s work lined the walls, nor did any posters, pictures, or quotes decorate them. The paint chipped away from the walls and broken ceiling panels exposed wires and air ducts. The only trace of humanity in his classroom was a small cactus on his desk that he called Bob. Jack felt he cared more about Bob than much of his students because he was tending to it all day. Jack groaned as he reached the top of the ramp at the doorway.
“Jack your late again! Sit down, we are about to start the test.”
Jack felt the all too familiar cold stare that gave him a flutter to his heart and the hair on his neck to stand on end with the heat of his brow to make matters worse. It seemed as though every eye was fixated on Jack’s movement and suddenly dissipated when he sat.
“Now that Jack has decided to join us, although it may be better if he stayed at home because his grades are nothing to brag about– anyways. Let me read these instructions.”
The classroom started to blur and the monotonous drone of Mr. Morrison began to fade away. Jack slipped into a dream full of excitement and wonder. The hues of solar systems rushed by, trailing with stardust. Jack reached out and displaced the small matter with his finger, watching it swirl around in the darkness. He quickly approached Saturn and its rings. This planet was by far Jack’s favorite, but light began to rip his solar system apart until pure white light enveloped his being. His eyes open at the base of a tree in the center of campus. Startled he got up and looked around for Mr. Franco. Running towards freedom into the warm afternoon, He overheard the teacher’s lounge echo, “Fuck Bush.” Jack always thought it was some weird sexual innuendo; many of the same kind that he had learned from his uncle. Jack started losing his dream. It became more real than he cared to see.
“Hey can you turn here?”
Jack turned to his left in the backseat. The panic in his uncle’s eyes scared him. As they sat at the light, it caught everyone off guard. The cop did a hand brake-turn and blocked the intersection. The determination in this cops eyes scared Jack to his very core as he walked up to the car. Diego mouthed off to the cop as he was read his rights and ended up eating car hood as he screamed, “Sorry meho!” Diego went down for drug trafficking and rape that day. Sonia and Gary moved after that because they wanted better for Jack.
“You may begin.”
Recognition flooded his brain. Jack gained focus and saw an apparition refine itself into Mr. Morrison. Jack looked at his desk and found the test lying in front of him. He looked at the questions and felt stupid. He didn’t know what to do. There were three answers that could be right. He filled in the circle and guessed most of his way through the test. He just wanted to go home and lay on his bed. He randomized his answers and feverishly filled in the circles to avoid the uninspiring question that only taunted Jack’s self esteem.
“Done already? Did you even read the test Jack? Well I guess it doesn’t matter. Go sit at your desk.”
The bell took too long for Jack. Class was very uneventful for the rest of the day. Mr. Morrison gave a lecture on grammatical terms that sounded like a foreign language: Gerunds, participles, transitive verbs, and intransitive verbs. Then he handed out worksheets for homework. Jack ran out the door the moment the bell rang never looking back for a moment. He ran past the hallways and out the front door and onto Tenth Street. Walking the streets was Jack’s time to think. The air allowed him to breathe and think.
Last night, his uncle called Sonia to say he had been released and need some time to get his life in order. He heard Sonia’s hesitation on the phone, but nevertheless Jack was excited because Diego always gave him a new video game after being away from the family for a while.
“Hey.” Jack’s voice cracked slightly as he walked into the living room.
“Man you’ve grown, eh, look at you. What are you feeding him?”
Sonia’s cheeks blushed slightly, and she waved her hands at Diego.
“Nah, not really.” Jack said as he felt his cheeks turn red.
“Oh hey I got something for you– let me go get it. I’ll meet you in your room, alright?”
“Yeah ok.” Jack said, as he flew with excitement to his room, thinking of his gift.
“You better not give him any grass Diego,” Sonia yelled as Diego left for his car. Sonia’s concern fell on deaf ears, but Jack never touched the stuff, nor did his uncle smoke around him. Jack went to his room and closed the door. He threw his book-bag onto his bed. He gave a big stretch and looked around at his small bed smiling at the sight of it. He kicked off his shoes as he flopped onto his bed and sunk into the sagging springs. He closed his eyes and started to fall asleep.
“Hey Jack, you sleeping, eh?”
Jack woke with a cold sweat, startled, dazed and confused he looks up and sees Diego reaching out to him.
“Ye-ye-Yeah, I’m awake. Sorry, I started to doze off.”
“Nah, it’s cool.”
Jack sat up with excitement when he saw Diego concealing something behind his back.
“What did you get me?!”
“Alright alright. Cool your jets. I need to explain this to you, eh, so you understand what it is.”
“What is it? Call of Duty’s cheat codes or something?” Jack said as he bounced up into an upright position on his bed.
“Nah, shit that’s right. I forgot you love that shit. Alright. Remember that puto teacher you got?”
“What? Oh yeah. Mr. Morrison,” Jack said as his excitement lessened. “What about him?”
“Well,” Diego started to get excited as he spoke, “You know how you always, um, say he’s a pinchero?”
Diego interrupted. “Well I was making a new batch of m…Uh, I was…a… doing a science experiment at my boy’s house, and I ran out of… uh, a, chemical I needed, eh? And I…”
“What?! You got me meth? You know I….”
“No, No meho, I didn’t. I know you’re straight, but I discovered something.”
Jack got sullen not sure how to take Diego’s tone. Diego saw he was losing his nephew.
“Hey, this is gonna help you… It makes you all intell… uh, smart, right?” Diego swallowed deeply and continued, “Like, I went to the bar the other night after I took this stuff, I was all having great conversations with some lolitas. And, and… they was digging me. I was saying shit I didn’t even know I know. When we went home together we went and I fuck their bush? I was all strong and shit. I could go longer.”
Jack looked up at his uncle with a slanted look and said, “What, so I don’t want to fuck Mr. Morrison…”
“No! Ah shit, no, hahaha I’m saying, hey you should take this thing before a test. Then you show that puto that you’re smarter than him. That’s what you said before, right? You told me that you want to show him that you’re no baboso.”
“Yeah,” Jack said with a gleam in his eye, “I could show him that I’m smart.”
Diego handed him a small bottle with four pills inside. The capsule looked like an acetaminophen capsule that had been hollowed out and stuffed with a powdery substance that caked up where the two-part capsule met.
“Now just take one alright? I took two once and I threw up all over this chica I was pounding. I thought I was gonna explode and shit. My brain was running through some crazy math shit and my body couldn’t handle it. So, uh, I just gave you four cuz’ I know you’re straight and shit. I wanna make sure you can take it and stuff.”
“What’s in it?”
“Ah, sorry, I can’t tell you. I’m gonna market this stuff and call it C.S.A.”
“It’s something I came up with when I was on it. Cognitive Stimuli Amphetamine”
“Sounds weird, Diego,” Jack looked down in thought, “why don’t you call it Cognivia? It sounds better.”
“Damn Jack, Yeah, alright. Yeah! See! I thought you were smart. I knew that puto was full of shit. Alright well, I gotta go, alright? I’ll see you. Oh… It makes your eyes twitch sometimes so don’t be scared when it happens, okay?”
Diego smiled at Jack when he left, closing the door behind him. Jack smiled and flopped on to his small bed and looked towards his window that showed only a wall with gang graffiti. There was something beautiful about it when the sunset hit it. It shone with highlights that brought out the paint’s reflective qualities.
The weekend flew by while Jack played video games and doodled in his art notebook. At the back of his mind he saw Mr. Morrison’s hook and crook of a visage in utter shock and amazement when he saw his homework that was full of insight and better than anything that Mr. Morrison had ever created in his entire life. Jack started to imagine Mr. Morrison bowing to Jack.
“I’m sorry I doubted you Jack. Would you like to teach the class about literary theory? You’re paper.. it was, uh, very good. I’m… speechless.”
“Jack, get in here!”
Sonia sounded mad: so mad that it broke Jack’s image like a mirror; reality hitting him as if it was a fourteen wheeler with no brakes.
Gary and Sonia were at the kitchen table looking over the mail and some papers.
“Jack I got a Call from Mr. Morrison and we received a letter in the mail today. They want to put you into Special Ed. Do you need to tell me something? Did you study for that test?”
Jack looked down at the floor and slumped his back as he walk over to the table and sat down.
“Yeah mom, I did what I could. I…”
“Obviously not Jack,” Sonia barked while Gary looked down at the letter.
Gary was a very quiet man. Jack liked Pedro, Sonia’s first marriage and Jack’s father, much better. Gary had trouble connecting with Jack after they moved to north Long Beach. Jack and he never had much to say before the move and when they finally did Jack resented him for taking him away from his friends. He didn’t say much, but when he did, it would be short and heart-felt.
After the silence Gary cleared his throat and spoke up, “Jack I bet it’s a mistake. You’re always studying those solar system books and novels. We just need to talk to Mr. Morrison.”
“Your dad and I were talking and we refused,” Sonia placed her hand on Jack’s. “They wanted to put you into the special classes on Monday. Mr. Morrison said you have a mid-term tomorrow? This is your chance to show them that they’re wrong.”
“Yeah I guess.”
Gary smiled and said, “I know you can.”
The test was placed on Jack’s desk by Mr. Morrison with a very snide look that Jack knew all too well. Jack smiled for the first time in class and reached for his Cognivia. He hunched over and placed the pill in his hand.
“Jack! There will be no cheating in my class. I knew you’re parents were wrong…”
The sight of the pills flooded Mr. Morrison’s face with fear and anger.
“What! What is this? Are you taking drugs? In my classroom? Go to the principal’s office Jack.”
The whole class stared at Jack as he left. There was that cold hard stare he remembered receiving every time he got something wrong. Jack was bright red and heard the snickers of the others when he left and creaked his way down the ramp.
“Mr. Sandoval, you know if you need a Tylenol you could have just gone to the nurse’s office.”
“Yeah, I know. I…”
“It’s okay, but I will need to send you home for the day. Don’t worry Jack, just don’t do it again, ok?”
Mr. Packard was always a nice guy, and he could understand Jack’s stress level with the special Ed tract looming over his head today.
“I know Jack, I wish you would just apply yourself more in class. I know you can.”
Jack looked down at the floor as Mr. Franco led him out to be picked up by his mom. Jack was fearful because Sonia had to leave work. She had been getting in trouble with the boss lately about asking for time off, so she was skating on thin ice.
That night had been rough for Jack with all the yelling and spanking that Sonia ensued after hearing the news.
When Jack got to school and walked into Mr. Morrison’s classroom it felt different.
“Hello Jack, Have a seat.” Mr. Morrison smiled as he pointed towards Jack’s small desk. He continued as Jack sat down. “Listen everyone, I know we have been doing a lot of tests, but I want to try something out. I was reading a lot of stuff last night on writing. I read “Chaos theory” by Faigley and Vygotsky’s theories on the zone of proximal and his theories of speech functions. Peter Elbow’s theories were very insightful.”
The whole class looked at him like he was speaking an alien language and he knew it. He cleared his throat and calmed himself down. He sat down on the top of his desk. It was something that the class was really confused by because he always stood at his lectern pointing at the class and the board with the dreaded pointing stick, shouting when people began to daydream or lose focus.
“Well, what I want to do is start our papers on To Kill a Mockingbird with a discussion.”
“You mean no lectures? No drill sheets?” One kid shouted from the back of the class.
“Yeah, no worksheets, let’s just chat and then break up into groups and start working on the papers together. That way we can all help each other organize our ideas. I’ll walk around and help where I am needed.” Mr. Morrison rose from his desk and started to pace around the room.
“So what do you guys feel about Atticus? What kind of person does he remind you of?”
The class sat and wondered what happened to Mr. Morrison.
Jack coughed and then sat up.“He’s a good guy, because he tries to show his kids the importance of being open-minded. You know?”
Mr. Morrison smiled at Jack when he passed and patted him on the shoulder. Jack looked up and saw Mr. Morrison’s eye twitch as he broke eye contact.
Dahl, Roald. “Bitch.” Switch Bitch. London, England: Penguin Books. 1965.
A witty collection of short stories that were originally published in Playboy magazine. Uncle Oswald and other character’s run though their various sexual escapades. This book influenced me to work with the premise of a drug that caused someone to be smart that an ironic malfeasance-drug-dealing-rapist stumbles upon when creating a new batch of crystal meth.
Everson, Barbara J. “Vygotsky and the Teaching of Writing.” The Quaterly. 13.3
Vygotsky is a very important figure in the history of writing instruction. He found that children work through language in stages. They develop socially to get a sense of how they relate to the real world. This influences their Egocentric speech that is used as a problem-solving tool. This then turns into inner speech that influences the writing process. Vygotsky’s discoveries have been applied to composition and this is why writer’s workshop has been growing in popularity. Students become better when they work through ideas socially.
Freire, Paulo. “First Letter: Reading the World/ Reading the World.” Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to those Who Dare Teach.CO: Westview Press. 1998. 31-47.
This is very eye opening in regards to pedagogical methods. Freire started in Brazil teaching the socially poor and found that throughout much of his teaching career that education was much more than an authoritative approach to instruction. He saw much of it as dialogical. Teachers should remove the authoritative roles they hold and consistently let their students ponder and question their ideas. He greatly opposed what so often education is guilty of: the banking method. It is an idea that a teachers spit knowledge and ideas at a student and deposits it in their brain. They then withdrawal that knowledge on tests and so forth.
Yagelski, Robert P. “English Education.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Disciplines. Ed. Bruce McComiskey. Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. 275-319.
Much of Yagelski’s essay focused on the history of English studies and the rise of English Education as an area of study in colleges. He brings up a very valid point: No one really knows what English studies want to do. It is a very immeasurable study that puts stress on teachers to find new ways to push student’s achievement in creative ways. Mostly the sub-disciplines within English studies fight about which one is more important, but the key idea is that English education makes every single discipline tangible to students. In short we all need to work together.
Rose, Mike. Lives on the Boundary: a Moving Account of the Struggles and achievement of America’s Educationally Underprepared. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1989.
Rose weaves narrative into pedagogical theory brilliantly. He finds that all the remedial students have an un-tapped potential with language that is often ignored in our system. The underprepared are not failures in cognitive ability. These kids want to find out about ideas and concepts. They want to learn. They just fail socially because they have been told too often that they are dumb and deficient. Rose seeks to give answer through his stories that he calls arguments. An answer that education has failed to meet.