It was a Profitable Pre-Package Deal that Peter would not cooperate with.  He must have smelled the stinky technocrats from the moment they entered the building, educational strategies, attitudes, process and procedure all mapped out ahead of time.  There was no room for him in their construct, he sensed this from the git-go and instinctively would not tolerate the idea of this repressive history repeating itself all over again.  So, he rebelled.  He had his own ideas, after all, his own assortment of likes and dislikes.  Admittedly, he could not read fluently or independently on his third grade level but there were things he could do that no one seemed interested in.  Why was that?

            After all, he was fixated on a particular book and its illustrations.  Didn’t that count for something?  Shouldn’t his fascination find its way into the calculation of their literacy formula?   The answer was always the same.  That title was not on the approved list.  Approved by whom?  Approved for what reason, to distract him or derail him?  No, he simply would not participate in his own diminishment because he was in love with a collection of linocuts and lyrics that were historic, important and life-changing.  They would just have to deal with him as he dedicated himself to the mastery of this book.

            Despite all efforts to the contrary, it went with him everywhere.  He would not let loose of it.  Inside were pages of white copy paper upon which he traced and later freehand reproduced the compelling faces, the brave movements, the expressions of courage and resolve.  Someone who did not agree with the cultish, university reading “experts” looked the other way while he sketched and scribbled.  One day she took him aside and taught him how to sing the phrasings.


Lift ev’ry voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;


Sing a song full of the faith

That the dark past has taught us,


Sing a song full of the hope

That the present has brought us,


            Yes, it was intended to be sung as a celebration of freedom and it was meant to be carved into blocks of linoleum and inked up for scratchy prints of personalities that were much like Peter, dignified and determined.  Elizabeth Catlett in 1940’s Mexico dreaming of Sojourner Truth, Phyllis Wheatley, Harriet Tubman and all working women tired of sitting at the back of the bus years before Rosa Parks took action.  What wonderful pictures flowed from the perspiration and inspiration of James Weldon Johnson and his younger brother, J. Rosamond Johnson!  Peter could not decode the book but he understood it.  He felt the rightness of it in his bones.  He hummed it and inscribed it until his memory embraced it, never to be erased.  And that was how he learned to read somewhere far away from the corporate territory inhabited by the “experts” who missed the miracle unfolding right under their scripted noses.

And as Peter sketched, Furman was scheduled for permanent removal. He made the “piloting” of the literacy initiative look ludicrous by running up and down the hallways, unable to remain at a station or in a chair for more than five minutes at a time. Not one “expert” knew how to handle him and so he had to go. Never mind that he should have been the poster child for how traumatized, impoverished students can learn to read. There was no money to be made from the art and science of such an inquiry. Instead, a meeting was convened in which the foster parents and caseworker pleaded to no avail for his continuation at the school. No one at command central wanted to hear the story behind his coke bottle eye glasses or the cigarette burns inflicted on his backside by adults who will never deserve the title of “parents”. His was a sad but inconvenient saga as it posed real challenges to the master plan which wasn’t so masterful after all was said and done. School Reform at its finest.