Thursday, June 25, 2015

I break my rule too often. I say I’m not going to get in a hot discussion with people who
stop by my sign to tell me what the cause of the problem is. I tell myself that the sign is the message and the answer; it came to me fully-formed, with a period. I should just stand behind the sign, I tell myself, and let the words of the sign speak.  I love the words of the sign. I like the way they look on the sign. It surprises me that I do still like it so much after four years. I’m usually a tinkerer. I cut my own hair.

I can often tell when they’re yards away that they’re going to land on me. The ones who don’t like the period and want a question mark are easy to spot. They give off an air like Peterman. I just tell them I like the dot. Or I tell them a question mark would change the meaning. They don’t accept that for a second, and strut away. Haughtily. Like Peterman would. Though he’d be cuter doing it than the people I’m talking about.

‘It’s the parents' fault’ is the one I hear the most. As many black people say it as white people; maybe more.

‘It’s all about money’ a lot of people say, some doing the Johnny Football thing.

The ones who get the most worked–up about it when they say it are the ones who say, ‘It’s the teachers union.’ Delivery guys will sometimes holler that from their trucks.

Now and then someone who works for the Dept. of Ed. whose building I’m standing in front of will come up and say they‘ve seen me there every day. Do I think they’re not teaching the kids to read well? That can get me going. I should just hold my sign up in front of my face then. I should just say you should see the smiles I get from poor people, the thumbs up I get from black kids on skateboards in flat-brimmed red Yankee caps, the Amens I get, the cars that honk, the cars that stop and roll down their window to take a picture of the sign. 

This morning though I talked too much. I can tell that I over-reached, still, five hours later.


  1. I can imagine that folks from the Dept. of Ed. (and other folks) might offer objections to the goal of teaching EVERY kid to read well (e.g., some simply do not have the requisite native ability, or "you can't teach someone something they are not willing to learn"). But it is incredible to think that a teacher or other D of Ed official wouldn't know that not every kid has learned to read well.

  2. But 70% of the NYC public school grads who enter local commuity colleges need remedial help in reading. That's after 12 years of schooling.