At 30 years of age, Mr. Crandle was old. Very old. Nevertheless, the 8th grade girls swooned over his helmet of thick blonde hair and his pale blue eyes. I never understood that. Their reaction seemed all wrong. But it’s equally likely the 8th grade girls didn’t understand what the French teacher, Madame Famere, with her fashionably tight sweaters and her long, jet black hair, did for the 8th grade boys.
Back to Mr. Crandle. This old man of blonde hair and blue eyes was facing me across a narrow conference room table. And to my left sat Janelle, swooning. And to my right was Ted, fidgeting.
Mr. Crandle looked directly at me, the leader. Chosen because Ted had a raspy voice.
“So what do you have, Kevin?”
What I had was two petitions: One with over 300 signatures of fellow 8th graders. And one with signatures from 257 parents. Both bore the same heading:
We, the Undersigned, believe that full High School credit should be given to anyone completing the High School Algebra I course while attending Henry James Memorial Junior High School.
You see, in my school system, the Honors Math program was designed to get you to college Calculus in your senior year. And to do that, you needed to accelerate the standard four years of math (Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, and Trigonometry) by starting the sequence in the 8th grade. The trouble was that by taking the exact same Algebra I course in a Junior High classroom that the freshmen were taking across town in the High School, you forfeited the opportunity to pick up High School credit for it (3 years of math were required to graduate).
Now this issue didn’t affect me in the least: I was already looking forward to taking Calculus in 4 years. So I didn’t need my High School transcript to begin in the 8th grade. But it was the principle of the thing. You couldn’t logically justify the no-High-School-credit position. I figured the real situation was some adult couldn’t sort out how to feed the computerized Junior High School grade records into the High School ones and, rather than deal with that conundrum, simply made up a rule to eliminate the problem altogether.
Anyway, at some point during the spring, a group of us Algebra I students were somehow talking about this rule, and somehow we got agitated over it, and somehow we decided something ought to be done, and someone (not me, Ted) got the idea of formally registering a complaint with the faculty, and someone (not Ted, me) had the idea of shoring up the student petition with one from parents because they were the people who paid the salaries of the adults who were making up the dopey rules in the first place. And so a petition was drawn up, xeroxed on sheets (yes, this story is pre-Internet), and distributed to student canvassers and to the parents at home.
The signature campaign was a great success. In the morning, we canvassed classrooms during homeroom period. During the day, we canvassed the grassy areas outside where kids smoked (tobacco, mostly). And during the afternoon, we canvassed the parking lot where bored kids idly waited for the buses which would take them home. And, through it all, we were grateful that Janelle was one of our canvassers because she was extremely popular and kids signed the petition just for the opportunity to have her flash a smile at them.
We collected a lot of signatures from the parents as well. They signed the sheets delivered to them by their children because weren’t we such model citizens exercising democratic (small “d”) ideals?
Within a week we had more than enough signatures to make a statement. I made an appointment to see Mr. Crandle, the grand imperial poobah of all things 8th grade.
“So what do you have, Kevin?”
What I had was the student petition, all 13 pages of it, and a stack of 257 pages with signatures from the parents.
“Mr. Crandle, the students feel that they should be getting High School credit for High School classes.”
I slid the student petition toward him.
“Uh, huh.” His blue eyes darted over the petition’s statement. He flipped a couple of pages and skimmed the collected signatures. Each one hard-earned. Except for those Janelle secured with her smile.
“There’s more signatures here than students taking Algebra I.”
“Yes, Mr. Crandle, because people believe in credit where credit is due. It’s about fairness, y’know?”
“Uh, huh.” He straightened his back. “Look, we’re not changing the policy.”
“But we have all these signatures – ”
“Yes, you’ve got signatures. But so what? You can stand around the cafeteria during lunchtime and get students to sign anything on their way out when 5th period is over.”
We were stunned. Why hadn’t we thought to get signatures that way?
Then Mr. Crandle leaned forward: “Anything else?”
There was an obvious finality in his pale blue eyes. We were silent.
“Okay. Well, that’s it. Back to your classes.”
It was not a pleasant walk back.
“You’re an idiot, Delin,” Ted rasped. You should have showed Mr. Crandle the stack of parent signatures and told him that they certainly weren’t gotten in a school cafeteria.
“Yeah? Well, why didn’t you say that?”
“Because I didn’t think of it until just now!”
But, years later, I’m not convinced it would have mattered. Petitions are valuable to satisfy requirements from an institution. Things like running for elected office or getting a proposition on a ballot. It’s doubtful, however, that petitions to an institution change anything at all.
Those in charge will always assume you got the signatures in a school cafeteria.
In the wake of the racially-motivated Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in 2015, there were cries about more gun control and there were cries about the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House grounds. Both these movements had strong opponents, this being South Carolina after all. For the gun control activists, there was the usual fretting and an Internet calls to arms – just without the arms. For the flag activists, however, there was a genuine protest at the state capital a mere 3 days after the mass shooting. Lots of people attended. Physically. And loudly. Two days after the protest, the Governor of South Carolina asked the State Assembly to remove the flag.
And any movement on the gun control issue? Of course not.
What’s the difference? The difference is it is the people who want to weaken and shrink gun control that go to state capitals. Physical. And loudly. Even if it disrupts their daily schedule.
And the people who are sickened by the endless gun violence in America? They take to the Internet. They post on social media. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, a White House gun control petition collected more signatures than people who could ever show to a gun rally.
You can almost hear Mr. Crandle say “Yes, you’ve got signatures. But so what?”
The Internet is a wonderful place to archive information. For example, here is a list of the 142 times (as of this writing) a gun has been discharged inside a school since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. And here is a list of all mass shootings (regardless of place) since 1982.
The Internet is not so wonderful a place, however, to effect change. Hand wringing? Yes! But getting a message heard? Not so much. Not as long as those petitions and posts in the digital aether are competing against actual physical groups of loud people at gun rallies held on state capitol grounds like this one in Hartford, CT in 2014.
I’m pretty sure Mr. Crandle wouldn’t have been so dismissive had I crammed over 300 students in that tiny conference room – instead of just their signatures.
Originally published October 2, 2015 in Stage Raw.