There was a buzz in the hallway even before I got to history class. Kids leaving the room were all talking to each other, but clammed up when anyone else got close or tried to start a conversation, which was the opposite of the way things usually worked. Most of the time kids leaving a classroom scattered like crows from a gunshot, eager to find a friend who was in another room, racing to find someone that had the answers to the test in science, or pretending to ignore the boy they had been sitting next to in class for the last forty-five minutes. So before I even entered room 110, I knew something was different.
The room was ringed with black and white photos. The anti-war poster still hung in the front of the room, but everything else had been taken down. The photos were at eye level – or what passed for eye level for a group of teenagers who ranged in height from about four to six feet. Each photo showed a single person, with little else in the background. OK, so Mr. Flynn had redecorated, but that didn’t explain all the chatter in the hallway.
He held up two fingers in the V-shaped peace sign that had been finding its way into everyone’s hands over the last few years. Most people held it high as if an end to the war were somewhere up above them if they could only reach it. But lately, I’d seen it flashed with an aggressive jab, like a shout for peace, punctuated with an “or else!” A couple weeks into school, Mr. Flynn had adopted it as his signal for quiet.
Those still drifting in took their seats quickly, and we all gave him our attention. Mr. Flynn was the best sort of teacher. He was able somehow to trick his students into being interested in whatever topic he was covering that day. He’d also managed to gain enough of our respect that we actually listened when he asked for quiet or gave us directions, not because he’d threatened us with a trip to the office, but because most of us genuinely liked him and wanted to please him. I imagine the school administration had felt otherwise. He was in his first year at El Molino, and the haircut and shave he’d certainly gotten for his interview had long since grown out.
“One hundred pictures. One hundred Americans. The faces of American History. Our history.” Mr. Flynn had a way of speaking when he wanted to add dramatic effect. His sentences shortened, some not even sentences, and with pauses between each, they started to sound like lines in free verse poetry. “Your assignment is simple,” he continued, “identify these faces.”
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