Then he used a lighter to warm the razor, which he wedged under the adhesive sealing the booklet, and peeled back the tab.
Then he said that he “piddled” in the room, wasting time.It seemed unfair that the concepts were “buried in words.” Lewis felt that he had pushed them to work harder than they ever had in their lives.“I’m not going to let the state slap them in the face and say they’re failures,” he told me.“I was raised in the generation that lost the shame of being black.”His students, who came to school with bad breath and parkas that smelled of urine, seemed to lack the conviction that they would ever leave the neighborhood.Parks was run by an older woman who was not inclined to innovate. There was litter in the hallways, and students urinated in trash cans.The tests were wrapped in cellophane and stacked in cardboard boxes.
Lewis, a slim twenty-nine-year-old with dreadlocks, contemplated opening the test with scissors, but he thought his cut marks would be too obvious.
In 2000, he started working at Parks and was immediately moved by his students’ despair.
“Being born in the seventies, coming out of the civil-rights movement, amidst the Black Panther meetings in Oakland, I didn’t have limitations,” he told me.
Founded after the Civil War, Pittsburgh was a black working-class area until the nineteen-sixties and seventies, when residents began leaving for the suburbs. Lewis’s students called the area Little Vietnam and Jack City, because of all the armed robberies. His father was a crack addict, and his mother supported four children by working as a bank teller; she later opened a safe house for ex-prostitutes. On the weekends, she took Lewis to picnics hosted by the Black Panther Party.
Once, when Lewis stopped at a convenience store to tell his students to go home and do their homework, a prostitute approached him. She worked so much that the neighbors helped raise Lewis: they often told him to wash his face or tuck in his shirt or put Vaseline on his chapped lips.
When he felt that he had been in there long enough, he told Waller that it looked as if his students had done O. But Waller told him to check the answers of students who weren’t in his class.