He stood before them on a Tuesday afternoon, wishing that he was behind his desk grading papers. Pending his investigation, Paulson was suspended from teaching until his trial was over. He shuffled back and forth; his pointed-leather shoes were cutting off the circulation in his toes. Even though an old AC unit hissed unhappily in the corner, Paulson began to feel sweat soak into his collar.
“Mr. Robert Paulson. Let’s get to the chase, shall we?”
The man at the center of the u-shaped table spoke. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, and spoke every word like a bullet. There were thirteen of them. Ten older white men in their fifties, two older white women in their forties, and one young Latino male. Paulson guessed that he was in charge of the “write-off” teachers. The man with the horn-rimmed glasses took his silence as compliance.
“Our records show that you altered David Ostrowski’s roster falsely. Now, Mr. Paulson, if we were to call you in because of one blunder, that would be quite silly. Mistakes are made, accidents happen. We see it all the time.”
His glasses caught the light and lit sparks in Paulson’s eyes.
“But we know that you’ve done this several times, and with only this one student. Care to explain yourself?”
Here was the moment of truth. To bow down and beg for one last pathetic shot of forgiveness? Or to tell it all honestly no matter what the consequences. His mind raced, somewhere in the distance he heard a clock tick mercilessly.
“Mr. Paulson, we’re waiting.”
He blinked. His mind cleared, and calmness swept over him.
“I did it because you’re wrong.”
The man with the horn-rimmed glasses blinked, and the other members of his firing squad murmured.
“Wrong? It is you sir who have broken the law.”
“Yea, well then the law’s wrong too.” Paulson smiled. The unspoken truth lifted off his chest. He could breathe again.
The man with the horn-rimmed glasses shook his head.
“This system is set up for maximum success. Our graduation rates have never been higher. The scores are off the charts. How can you say that this law, that has done so much, is wrong?”
“You’re not solving any of the problem. You’re just duping kids who aren’t test-smart out on their asses. You say it’s putting them on a path to success. That’s bull, and you know it. Kids can’t be assessed with one test at the end of the year. That’s the job of the teacher, who stays with that student and watches them grow everyday. But we’ve been taken out of the picture entirely.”
The man with the horn-rimmed glasses shook his head once more.
“If that were the case, you wouldn’t have been hired at the school district you’re at right now. The scripts are the most effective way to present the most important information that will be tested by the state. It is your job to make sure that information is conveyed to the students.”
“So I was hired because I have the ability to read out-loud,” he replied sarcastically.
“And because you have a good eye for when students are struggling. Analyzing your students for weaknesses helps us help the student. We have alternative programs that have proven very successful.”
“Successful!? How do you even define successful!? Do you think the kids feel successful?! Do you think I feel successful?! It’s all a joke. The whole thing. It serves no purpose other than funding. How can we measure ability so selfishly? We’re playing with their lives here, chairman. Their futures. We’re not God. We don’t have the right to do anything other than help them the best we can.”
“I’m sorry that you can’t see the bigger picture. It is unfortunate that some students do not exceed in our programs, but that’s a sacrifice we have to make for the greater good. Which is, quite frankly, why I’m confused about David Ostrowski. Why would you throw everything away to help this hopeless case?”
“Because he’s not a hopeless case, but nobody could see otherwise.”
The man paused, looking over his horn-rimmed glasses at Paulson and said, “You would do best to forget about that situation, Mr. Paulson. We have already remedied his disability with placement into an alternative track.”
Paulson shook with anger. “You can’t do that to him! That kid is going to go far. He just has a minor disorder. That’s all. Easy fix. He doesn’t deserve a sub-par education because you’re lazy!”
“Mr. Paulson. I assure you that he will learn a vocational skill that will be useful in a blue collar field. He will be more successful than a lot of young men once he graduates at sixteen. There’s no reason to fret about his future.”
Paulson’s eyes felt like they were going to burst out of his head.
“Don’t fret?! We’re deciding his future for him. He deserves higher academia. His mind is quite capable. You just need to give him a chance.”
“I’m afraid what is done is done, Mr. Paulson. The system takes care of our students, one way or another. It’s all for the greater good, you see?”
“The greater good,” his firing squad murmured in agreement. The young Latino man stared at his feet in silence.
“Now as for your insubordination, Mr. Paulson, you have committed a federal offense by altering your roster. That alone is grounds for your immediate termination from the district, and placement on our blacklist. What the state will do to you? That isn’t up to us. But you will be escorted to county by these two kind officers behind you.”
Paulson felt their breath on his neck. They took his hands and roughly cuffed them together behind his back. His wrists throbbed and he shut his eyes against the injustice. There were no tears to be shed. There didn’t need to be. He had fought for education. Fought for the path of reason. He wouldn’t be forced to follow another.
Paulson smile as they placed a bag over his head.
He felt outstanding.