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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lessons from Fred: Injustice and Betrayal

     “Sojourner and Helen* would you, please, stay after school for a few minutes. I would like to speak with you both.” Yikes! This can’t be good, I thought as I watched the other kids filing out of our Third Grade classroom. Mentally, I ran through every possible infraction of the rules that I could have committed. I just could not, for the life of me, think of one. Helen had been my best friend forever, even since well before school years. Sometimes we had spent the night at each other’s homes. Any kind of a party at all would have her on my guest list without even a thought. It was Helen’s mother who had shown me the delights of a scrambled egg sandwich one Saturday. Even now, more than fifty-five years later, I can picture her family room with the many cards spread out on the floor while we played yet another game of “Concentration”. Though Helen did not live in my neighborhood, we just enjoyed being together as often as we could. Maybe Miss Jefferson* had a job she wanted us to do for her, like clean the black boards? That must be it, I assured myself, though my heart rate had not slowed much even with this possibility.
     Finally the room had cleared and we were called up to Miss Jefferson’s desk. There were two test papers, her folded hands resting on them. I glanced quickly down and gasped when I saw our names on each of the papers. Miss Jefferson was not smiling as she sternly addressed Helen and me.
     “Do you girls want to tell me anything about these papers?” Helen immediately looked down at the floor and said not a word. I noticed a few red check marks indicating errors in the answers but did not see a final score at the top of either test paper.
     “What do you want to know, Miss Jefferson?” I was puzzled as to why the two of us were staying after school. Certainly, there must have been other kids who missed some of the answers, too? Why just us? Did she want us to correct our answers?
     “Sojourner, can you tell me why you and Helen have exactly the same answers on your papers? Can you tell me why it is that you both missed exactly the same questions and even wrote the same erroneous answers?” Oh, boy, that was going to be a problem. When I was trying hard to find a way to answer the question without getting my best friend in trouble, Miss Jefferson provided her take on the situation.
     “Sojourner, I think that you cheated off Helen’s paper. Because of that, you will be getting an F for this test.” My despair could not have been measured as I saw the red ink fashion a huge letter F at the top of my paper. “I am very disappointed in you and I can only hope that this behavior will not be repeated.” I looked at Helen to see if she would speak up but she was, still, looking down at the floor and not saying a word. Finally, I spoke up, if only to know why I was the chosen offender.
                                                                                                                       *Names have been changed.

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