Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mr Rosenkranz

Mr. Rosenkrantz

Hagai Cohen

I was sitting in the school auditorium listening to the speeches but not attentive. It was at the start of my tenth grade, and I was angry.
I was assigned to Mr. Rosenkrantz's craft class despite my request to be exempted. The assignment paper said:

“The objective of the craft lessons is to teach students the skill of handling hand tools, an essential link between the past and the future industrial and technological world. The students will learn to read charts and plans, and implement the knowledge by making useful household objects. The projects are: a cutting board and a hot plate”.

The planned objects, the same as last year's, were made of two identical pieces of wood of which only one of them, when finished would end up with handles. To waste two hours every week for whole year sanding stupid pieces of precut wood was my idea of an utter waste of time.

My father was frequently sick and our family had little income. I needed the time for tending the small chicken farm I founded. Its maintenance required the use of tools and I became quite skillful. I could do without Rosenkrantz boards.

I did not like Mr. Rosenkrantz. His spineless personality permitted the principal, Mr. David Shapiro, to insult him in public. Shapiro made him do odd jobs for the school, like fixing garden tools, electrical outlets, leaky faucet and replacing door locks. The principal enslaved him and although Rosenkrantz did not like it, he did not protest.

For most of the teachers, the use of tools was beneath them and they thought of Rosenkrantz as Homo-Habilis, far inferior to the Homo-Sapiens they were.
They too used him even though they loathed Rosenkrantz and constantly insulted him.
So, I had no respect for Mr. Rosenkrantz, and hated the idea of being in his class. "I must find a way out," I thought.

The audience listening to Mr. Shapiro's speech comprised of the students, the teachers, the members of the P.T.A., two representatives of the Board of Education and the Board of Trustees.

Mr. Shapiro told his listeners he was the best principal on earth and counted his achievements one by one. Suddenly I heard Mr. Shapiro say:

“Our school is a pioneer." It made my mind jump to attention. "Pioneer in implementing the idea of equal opportunities for girls," he continued. "The girls of our school are invited to join the boy’s craft and make our school the first to try this avant-guard idea and set an example for the rest of the schools in the country.”

Nobody expected Mr David Shapiro to put what he said into practice. His words were solely for the ears of the Board of Education and the P.T.A. The boys and girls used the same room for craft lessons. The entire school schedule was carved around the craft room. It was impossible to move girls into boys craft without rescheduling the entire school program.

Suddenly I saw a light; How about equal opportunities for boys, Mr. Shapiro?

First thing the next morning I handed an official request to the principal’s secretary to transfer me to the girl’s craft lessons. In my letter I reminded Mr. David Shapiro of the speech he gave in front of five hundred people. My letter was, of course, copied to the P.T.A, the Board of Education, the Teacher’s Committee and the Board of Trusties.

For a few days nothing happened and I was worried it hadn’t worked, until my English teacher, who was known for his profound dislike of Shapiro, hinted to me "there are some strong undertows." With his typical ironic smile, he whispered, "The principal almost blew a gasket when he saw your letter." Without encouraging me openly, he said: “I will support your request at the teacher's board meeting."

It took Mr. David Shapiro a few days before he managed to compose a letter which he addressed to my father.

Dear Mr. Zemel
This is to inform you, that your son Yakov has filed a request to join the Girls craft classes of our school.
I do suspect sir, that this request was instigated by radical elements in our school and was not done with your consent.
The goal of our school is to prepare young men and women for their future role in life. Our curriculum and our programs are devised to comply with the fast growing, highly demanding Technological environment. We have a long list of successful graduates who can attest we are marching on the right track.
We cannot allow, sir, any person to leave our school without completing the specified program, which was planed by our experts and approved by the Board of Education.
I do believe, sir, a high school diploma for a boy with grades in knitting and embroidery will look very peculiar and will jeopardize your son’s chances of being admitted to higher education.
Please sir, explain to your son the social implications of his unintelligent request.

Faithfully yours

David Shapiro Principal.

The high school for Excellence in education

Patronage of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

My father never saw this letter. Before it arrived, he was hospitalized for kidney malfunction and my mother decided not to show it to him. “We do not want to upset your father,” she said. “It is not good for his health.” She added, “You should handle your own mess." I am not sure my mother was happy about it, but I think she was proud of me.

I blue-printed Shapiro's letter using my father frame and sent copies to the Teacher’s Committee, to the Board of Education, to the P.T.A and the Board of Trusties. A few days later, I got this reply.
To: Yakov Zemel.
From: David Shapiro.
Reference: Your request to join the girl’s craft classes.

Your request was discussed yesterday by the school committee of education in an unscheduled session dedicated solely to your request.
The board resolution was to grant your request subject to the flowing conditions.
a. You will have to show proficiency to an acceptable level in the boy’s craft and Mr. Rosenkrantz will do the evaluation.
b. Ms Shamir, the school psychologist will evaluate and submit a report about the effect of your presence on the girls’ behavior and performance in class.
c. Ms Blum the girls’ craft teacher will evaluate your ability to perform feminine tasks.
d. If you are found suitable, your gym lessons will be with a different class….

Item b. seemed O.K but a. and c. looked more like a conspiracy to torpedo my request. What does it mean “feminine tasks?” It was the time now to campaign for votes. I talked to each girl separately, showed them the letters and convinced them to support my request. The girls promised to help and most of them were in great favor of the idea.

Ms Shamir interviewed the girls separately and conducted a group discussion session. As a result a good and favorable report came out. Ms Shamir was very impressed with the results and even expressed a desire to be involved in the experiment. “I am planning to write a paper about equal opportunities in high schools,” she promised anyone who was willing to listen.

I was invited by Ms Bloom to join a craft class with the girls “unofficially of course. ” The girls were delighted to have me and solicited Ms Bloom to favor the idea.
During the class, the girls were making a pillow. I presented a few ideas on how to finish the pillow and gave my ideas generously. Ms Bloom was impressed. The second obstacle was behind me.
It was Mr. Rosenkrantz who gave me the biggest worry. He did know me; I had no idea what the principal had told him. I did not know what to do and what way to go. I scheduled a meeting with Mr. Rosenkrantz and decided to play it by ear.
To operate a window shade, the simple kind, you pull the string and you unroll it to the desired height. A small pull and a gentle release and the shade rolls to the up position. Every American baby I was told is born with the skill of rolling the window shade up or down. That was not the case in Israel during the early fifties.
The first time my friends and I learned about the wonders of the window shades, was when someone donated a set to our classroom. Ours was the only classroom in school with shades, designated as a “projection room.”
The morning the shades were installed, Mr David Shapiro was in the classroom to warn every student never to touch the shade or else,he personally would chop the subject into instant fish food, be it boy or girl.
The moment Mr. David Shapiro left the classroom, I went directly to the window shade and demonstrated to my astounded classmates, the secret principles of rolling a window shade. Very soon my classmates knew window shades do not bite.
Another boy in my class felt brave enough to try out the shade. Unfortunately, my friend did very well with the down pull but was unsuccessful with the release technique. The shade was fully down when the bell rang, and the teacher was about to walk into the classroom.
As a good scout I was out to rescue my friend. I tried to pull it up. When I touched the string, I found the shade didn’t want to move. My pull detached the shade from the wooden stick. The shade was over me when the teacher walked in.
It was not long before the principal had me in his private chambers screaming. It was really loud and he was not even careful with his word selection.

I learned later, Mr. Rosenkrantz was summoned and was assigned to fix the shade; also, a letter was typed to my father preparing him to pay for the damages.

Only after coming out of the principal office, I realized I was late for my scheduled appointment with Mr. Rosenkrantz about the girl's craft.
Mr. Rosenkrantz's answer to my knock on door was sharp. As I walked in, I saw the very irritated Mr. Rosenkrantz fiddling with the shade. Knowing how inept he was, I was certain my father would be presented with a bill.
A quick look at Mr. Rosenkrantz and the shade told me he had stapled the shade to the stick and was now, to my surprise, trying to wind the spring with a pair of pliers.
“What do you want?” said Mr. Rosenkrantz.
“I have an appointment with you sir, about the girl's craft.” .
“So it’s you,” he said. (It occurred to me then Mr. Rosenkrantz did not know it was I who broke the shade) Then in a tone of complaint, he said, “Why are you doing this to me? Why the hell do you need the girls craft? During my entire career as a teacher, I never heard such a stupid request. Wait for me here while I get some coffee and we will talk.”
As Mr. Rosenkrantz left the room, I took command of the shade. I rolled it up very quickly, ran with it to my classroom, installed the shade on its fittings, checked it, and ran back to the teachers room. There was Mr. Rosenkrantz stirring his cup and I said: "Mr. Rosenkrantz the shade is fixed, sir.”

“What?” shouted Mr. Rosenkrantz. “Do you mean to say you touched the shade without my permission?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “I am sorry for not asking permission, but I was the one who broke it and now it’s fixed, and already on the window.”
“I must see it,” said Mr. Rosenkrantz and walked very quickly to my classroom.
He went directly to the shade and tried it at least twenty times After the satisfactory inspection, Mr. Rosenkrantz turned to me and said:
“How did you do it young man?”
“Well sir” I said, “one must have very dexterous hands to do it sir.”

“You are something,” he murmured and started for the principal’s office to brag and collect the credit. I walked very fast by his side and asked: “Shall we reschedule our meeting sir?”
Mr. Rosenkrantz froze, looked into my eyes and said: “My entire instincts and my gut feeling tell me to keep you next to me, but I'll let you go to the girls”.
Mr. David Shapiro came later to the classroom and said the following: “I am happy to inform you Mr. Rosenkrantz managed to fix the shade broken by Yakov Zemel. We, the teachers, the Board of Trusties and the students of our world-renowned school, should be grateful that Mr. Rosenkrantz is with us. This worthy, dependable teacher sets an example of devotion and dedication.”
It was very nice to be with the girls. Soon enough, they forgot I was the opposite gender. I was asked to help arrange 'accidental' meetings. I managed to teach the girls to distinguish between brains and muscles. But I did not succeed in teaching the boys the difference between breasts and brains. I improved communication between the boys and the girls and became the speaker for both groups.

I have learned the language girls speak, the way girls think, and of course the skills of sewing, knitting and cooking. I used my skills to impress my first girlfriend with a sweater I knitted for her birthday.

Ms Shamir, the school psychologist (who was really no more than a collector of gossips and an official spy) kept interrogating me, the girls, and even the teacher, Ms Bloom, in order to report to the principal.
One of the questions she kept asking me was why was I so anxious to be in the girl’s craft. I never gave her any answer, but I had two good reasons:
1. I liked being with the girls;
2. Had it been even a suffering to be with the girls, I would still have done it, just to annoy Mr. David Shapiro.

The end

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