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No Child Left Behind


Jerry Vilhotti

Johnny's father drove on through the streets lined by two and three family structures and after about a dozen or so a tavern was sandwiched in among them; spewing forth great sounds of hacking coughing.

Hesitatingly, the three of them walked up the front stairs to be greeted by a face that was adorned on a dollar bill. The elderly lady introduced herself as the principal and then asked contemptuously: "What kind of hyphenated Americans are you people?"

She deliberately used a big word to make them uneasy and Johnny's father frustrated that they had spent a half hour at a dead school thinking it was about to open which it did not and angry he had already lost two hours of work, was about to begin hitting himself in the head with a closed fist when Johnny grabbed his hand in an innocent gesture of holding it and said: "Good ones."

Johnny had no idea what the word meant as his older sister Alice, user of big words, to impress others who looked down on their "race," had never mentioned that one along with a definition. In fact Johnny would impress the spinster teachers, most of whom could not believe he could say the big words let alone use them correctly, like: fluently, leery, compassion, proletariat, Catholicism, contempt, disdain ....

She didn't like the seven year old's cocky attitude. He seemed like a good candidate for her Special Sixth Grade - a place where she could separate Ones from the Others. She told Johnny in "broken-English" to go to room twenty and wait for the other children to come in from recess. This he did; leaving his parents fumbling with his transfer papers from Saint Anthony's and his older brother Leny One N who was going to try eighth grade again after an unsuccessful year at a public school just a block away from the Catholic one Johnny was forced to attend by his mother; hoping he would get at least a little God in him unlike his two older brothers. But after the priest had strapped him for telling a boy who had asked the catechism page saying he would not tolerate any talking in Sister Maureen's class, Johnny told his mother if she sent him to another Catholic school he was going to change religions.

Leny told his mother he was going to look for a job promised him despite his being fifteen and so he would have a job after he turned sixteen and quit school. The mother did not fight this as she believed a job in hand was better than a non paying school in the other. Leny instead had gone downtown to the pool room after telling his mother he needed bus fare to get to the interview. When Leny turned sixteen about six months later, he would throw the principal down a steep flight of stairs before he told her he was quitting her f*****g no good school.

Johnny would not sit at any desk, concerned he would be taking someone's chair. He decided, instead, to walk the room. On one desk he noticed a giant pencil. For sure, he thought excitedly, the principal must have made a mistake and had sent him to an upper grade class and if that were true he would be graduating in a couple of years, instead of the seven that were staring him in the face right now. When the children came in - no bigger than he - and the owner of the big pencil broke it open to reveal five smaller ones, Johnny realized he would have years to go before he got out. Years to go and he was left alone as his parents escaped from the school that they would never revisit again

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