Wednesday, November 11, 2015

From the NYC Educator Archives--James and Sylvia

James came from Haiti. He was a big guy with a big mouth, who often used it to express his medieval opinions about women. I can't remember exactly what he used to say, but "barefoot and pregnant" springs to mind. Though he was not open to other points of view, he would generally shut up when politely asked.

Sylvia was from Bangladesh. She was very, very quick-witted. One day, after James announced he could do anything better than any woman (which was odd, since a good number of them were doing better than he was in English class), Sylvia asked, "Do you think you could play chess better than me?"

James said, "Of course." The fact that Sylvia was some sort of chess champion, who had points in some professional league somewhere, did not faze him at all. Sylvia said, "If you beat me, I'll tell the class that everything you say about women is completely true. If I win, you will apologize for everything you've said, and never talk about us like that again."

James agreed.

I set one day of class time for the big match. Sylvia brought in a rolled-up chess board, the game pieces, and one of those clocks they use at matches. She checkmated James very quickly, and had to keep telling him where he could and could not move his pieces.

James, as good as his word, apologized and stopped making remarks about women. I asked him why he'd chosen to take on Sylvia, knowing that she was a champion and having almost no idea how to play the game.

"A man can never turn down a challenge," he said.

Originally published December 30, 2006
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