The Scandal Read online
Theodore Boone woke up in a foul mood. In fact, he’d gone to bed in a foul mood, and things had not improved during the night. As a few rays of morning sun lit his room, he stared at the ceiling and tried to think of ways to avoid this entire week. Generally, he enjoyed school—his friends, the teachers, most of the classes, debating—but there were times when he just wanted to stay in bed. This was one of those times, the worst week of the year. Beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, and running through Friday, he and every other eighth grader would be stuck at their desks taking a series of dreadful tests.
Judge knew something was wrong, and at some point had left his spot beside Theo’s bed and assumed his spot on top of the covers. Mrs. Boone frowned on the idea of the dog sleeping in Theo’s bed, but she was downstairs having her quiet time with the morning newspaper and wouldn’t know. Or would she? Occasionally she noticed dog hair on the covers and asked Theo if Judge was sleeping with him. Most of the time Theo said yes, but quickly followed the admission with the question: “What am I supposed to do?” He couldn’t watch the dog while he, Theo, was sound asleep. And, to be honest, Theo didn’t really want the dog in the bed with him. Judge had the irritating habit of stretching himself out smack in the middle of things and expecting Theo to retreat to the edges, where he often came within inches of crashing to the floor and waking up with a sore head. No, Theo preferred that Judge sleep on his little doggy bed down below.
The truth was, Judge did whatever he wanted to do, and not only in Theo’s room but in every room in the house.
On days like today, Theo envied his dog. What a life: no school, no homework, no tests, no pressure. He ate whenever he wanted, napped most of the day at the office, and seemed unconcerned about most things. The Boones took care of his needs, and he did anything he wanted.
Reluctantly, Theo got out of bed, rubbed his dog’s head, said good morning, but not with as much enthusiasm as usual, and went to the bathroom. Last week the orthodontist had readjusted his braces, and his jaws still ached. He grinned at himself in the mirror, took stock of the mouthful of metal that he despised, and tried to find hope in the fact that he might get the braces off just in time to start the ninth grade.
He stepped into the shower and thought about the ninth grade. High school. He just wasn’t ready for it. He was thirteen and quite content at Strattenburg Middle School, where he liked his teachers, most of them anyway, and was captain of the Debate Team, almost an Eagle Scout and, well, thought of himself as a leader. He was certainly the only kid lawyer in the school, the only kid he knew of who dreamed of being either a big-time trial lawyer or a brilliant young judge. He couldn’t make up his mind. In the ninth grade he would be just another lowly freshman at the bottom of the pile. Freshmen got no respect in high school. Middle school was okay because Theo had found his place, a place that would disappear in a few months. High school was all about football, basketball, cheerleaders, driving, dating, band, theatre, large classes, clothes, shaving, and, well, growing up. He just wasn’t ready for it. Most of his friends wanted to hurry along and grow up, but not Theo.
He stepped out of the shower and dried off. Judge was watching him and thinking about nothing but breakfast. Such a lucky dog.
As Theo brushed his teeth, or rather cleaned his braces, he admitted that life was changing. High school was slowly rising on the horizon. One of its most important and unpleasant warning signs was standardized testing, a horrible idea cooked up by some experts far away. Those people had decided that it was important to give the same tests at the same time to every eighth grader in the state so that the folks in charge of Strattenburg Middle School and all the other schools would know how they stacked up. That was one reason for the tests. Another reason, at least in Strattenburg, was to separate the eighth graders into three groups for high school. The smartest would be fast-tracked into an Honors program. The weaker students would be placed on a slower track.And the average kids would be treated normally and allowed to enjoy high school without special treatment.
Yet another reason for the tests was to measure how well the teachers were doing. If a teacher’s class did really well, he or she would qualify for a bonus. And if the class did poorly, all kinds of bad things might happen to the teacher. He or she might even be fired.
Needless to say, the entire process of testing, scoring, tracking, and evaluating teachers had become hotly controversial. The students, of course, hated it. Most of the teachers didn’t like it. Almost all parents wanted their kids in the Honors classes, and almost all were disappointed. Those with kids on the “slow track” were mad, even embarrassed.
And so the debate raged. Mrs. Boone was firmly opposed to the testing, so, of course, Mr. Boone supported it. The family had talked about testing for weeks, over dinner and in the car, and even while watching television. For a month, the eighth-grade teachers had been preparing the students for the tests. “Teaching to the tests,” was the favorite description, which meant no creative teaching was being done and no one was having fun in class.
Theo was already sick of the tests, and they had not even started.
He dressed, grabbed his backpack, and went downstairs, Judge at his heels. He said hello to his mother, who, as always, was curled up on the sofa in her robe, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. Mr. Boone always left early and joined his friends for coffee and gossip at the same downtown diner.
Theo fixed two bowls of Cheerios and put one on the floor for Judge. They almost always ate in silence, but occasionally Mrs. Boone joined them for a chat. She did this when she suspected something was bothering Theo. Today, she entered the kitchen, poured more coffee, and took a seat across from her son. “What’s up today?” she asked.
“More reviewing, more practicing how to take the tests.”
“Are you nervous?”
“Not really. I’m just tired already. I don’t do well on these tests, so I don’t like them.”
It was true. Theo was almost a straight-A student, with an occasional B in the sciences, but he had never done well on standardized tests. “What if I don’t make the Honors track next year?” he asked.
“Teddy, you’re going to excel in high school, college, and law school, if you choose to go there. Don’t worry about where they put you in the ninth grade.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Her words felt good in spite of the fact that she called him “Teddy,” a little nickname that, thankfully, only she used, and only when they were alone.
Theo had friends whose parents were turning flips and losing sleep over the tests. If their kids didn’t make Honors, the parents were convinced their kids were headed for miserable lives. The whole thing seemed silly to Theo.
She said, “I suppose you know that there is a backlash across the country against these tests. They are becoming very unpopular, and there appears to be widespread cheating.”
“How do you cheat on a standardized test?”
“I’m not sure, but I’ve read about some of the cheating. In one district the teachers changed answers. Hard to believe, isn’t it?”
“Why would a teacher do that?”
“Well, in that case, the school was not very good and on probation with the district. Plus, the teachers wanted to qualify for a bonus. None of it makes any sense.”
“I think I’m getting sick. Do I look pale?”
“No, Teddy. You look perfectly healthy.”
It was eight o’clock, time to move. Theo rinsed both bowls and left them in the sink, same as always. He kissed his mom on the cheek and said, “I’m off.”
“Do you have lunch money?” she asked, the same question five days a week.
“And your homework is complete?”