Wednesday, March 3, 2010


In which we see Ms. Bradstreet confronted with honor among thieves

The Maria Chronicles, # 42

It's 7:11 a.m. when Maria steals into the copying room to run off two large sets of primary source documents, one on unionization efforts at the turn of the century and the other on the Progressive movement, for her survey class. This feels like an illicit activity. The school has been making a big push for scanning documents onto course websites, in part to save paper and in part to red
uce the traffic in the copy room, which tends to back up during the day, especially when one of the two copiers breaks down, which seems to be daily. But Maria has had bad luck with scanning. She did a ton of work trying to get her whole curriculum done at the end of last summer. But when the files she made were .tifs instead of jpegs (whatever that means) she threw her hands in the air and gave up, resuming her regular copying. Like a lot of history teachers, she uses a lot of documents, and she's a publisher's nightmare in that she interprets the doctrine of fair use as it applies to copyright liberally. She nevertheless feels a sense of guilt as she arrives in the empty room, turns on the copier, and waits for its interminable warm-up. She'd like to get all this done by 7:30, a full hour before classes, which is when she figures the early birds among the faculty will arrive in force.

The second stapled set of unionization docs has just come out of the copier when she hears a voice behind her: "Caught ya." Maria jumps in terror and turns around. It's Cuff Man, Jack Casey. Shit.

"Jack, you scared me," Maria says, hand on her chest, feeling warring impulses between relief and irritation.

"Sorry about that," he replies evenly. "I see we get the worm today." He reaches into the briefcase he now puts on the table in the middle of the room and pulls out a sheaf of papers that look like math worksheets. "Great minds think alike, huh?"

He turns around, his back now to Maria, and turns on the other copier. She would love it if he just stayed in that position, no further communication between them, but she knows that isn't likely. The silence is getting awkward and will only get more so. But what can she say that will not risk entangling her?

Maria rarely seen Jack since she accidentally bumped into him in a hallway in early January, only about a week after they'd gone on their sole formal date. At the time, she'd been convinced -- incorrectly, as it turned out -- that he'd slept with her boss and friend, Jen Abruzzi. There'd been a few times she's seen him in subsequent weeks, but surprisingly few, and they were occasions when she'd been able to change direction or pretend not to see him. Thankfully, he never insisted on greeting her. Now, though, she guesses her luck has finally run out.

"So how's it been going, Maria?" He's talking loudly, above the din of her machine, which will soon be supplemented with his own.

"Fine, I guess," she replies. "You know, routine."

He feeds papers into the sorter and presses the print button. "Well, that's good, I guess."

Now the noise gives Maria cover. But she's also feeling guilty -- first it was over using the copier, now it's Jack. Why is she being so cool toward him? Does she really need to be? All right, she thinks. He's not for me. But why am I so goddamn severe?

Her first set is done, and it's time to feed the Progressive docs. Jack's set is done, too, so there's a sudden silence. Maria pauses before the print button and says, "So I haven't seen you around much lately." Then she hits it.

"No," he says above the din. "Actually, I've been downtown these last few weeks. I have a few friends in the mayor's office who are working on charter schools."

"Sounds interesting." Maria considers this an exit strategy, and yet she is, despite herself, a bit intrigued.

Jack is now voluble despite the noise. "You know those KIP schools? Knowledge is Power?"


"Yeah, well, it's not a bad program. But very conservative. Lots of skill and drill. Unfortunately, a lot of people think of that as rigor. I myself think of it more like rigor mortis. Anyway, I'm working with a group of people who are trying to develop more progressive approaches. The Obama administration's 'Race to the Top' program is still very No Child Left Behind oriented, but we think we can develop some alternatives that might command some attention. Like that Ted Sizer stuff we'd discussed. You know Grant Wiggins? His stuff on authentic assessment?"

"I know a bit about it," Maria replies. "But it sounds like you're much more immersed than I am. Are you actually working for this city?"

Jack chuckles. "No, not formally. I don't really have the qualifications." (You can say that again, Maria thinks, having investigated Jack's record as a shady Wall Street speculator who probably belongs in jail.) "But I do have some managerial and administrative experience that can help. Which I'm eager to do."

"I guess that explains why you haven't been around as much lately."

"Well, yeah, that and the fact that the principal doesn't much like me and has told the chair of the math department as much." He smiles again. Does he know she knows his story now? There's something both roguish and self-effacing about him at the same time. "Doesn't really matter," he continues. "I've enjoyed working here, and really like the kids. But I think it's served its purpose and I probably won't be coming much longer anyway."

Maria is unexpectedly disappointed to hear this. It appears Jack's foray into substitute teaching was not so much a dilettantish exercise as it was part of a broader plan to launch an (apparently philanthropic) career in education reform. She can't quite decide what to make of this guy.

Jack turns back to the copier and pulls a stack of collated sets from the tray on the right end of it. "Well, that about does it for me," he says cheerfully. "The word is mum, Maria. I won't report you to the copier police."

"I suppose that's what you'd call honor among thieves," she says wryly.

"You got it," he replies, and the combination of his smile and the twinkle in his eye unnerves her. And then, as suddenly as he appeared, Jack Casey is gone.