Do I plan to run for school board again? Inquiring minds want to know. Whether this is owing to the strength of my convictions or the unintended entertainment value that seems to attend my campaigns I couldn’t say.
There is a history here. When we moved to Stowe, Vermont, we didn’t know a soul in town other than our realtor. I was working in Montreal at the time. I only mention this because my status as a weekend resident contributed to the fact that after six months in Stowe I still only knew a handful of people.
Lorrie already knew a whole slew of people through her involvement in the Parent-Teacher Organization. It was Lorrie who convinced me to run for school board that first year, arguing that it would be a good way for me to meet people. So I ran.
The first order of business was to collect the requisite thirty signatures from registered voters. No mean feat for a guy who knew next to no one. My native shyness, coupled with the conservative nature of the townspeople, made for a long day. “Why should I sign that? I don’t know who you are or what you stand for,” came up quite frequently. Still, by the end of the day I was able to go home and proudly present not thirty, but thirty-six (I got a bit carried away) signatures.
To celebrate my success, we had a glass of wine or three, one of which tipped over and drenched the form with all the signatures. We read through the requirements for candidacy. Needed thirty signatures; had to be filed by such and such a date and time … nothing about red wine stains. We sent it in. Was this a harbinger of things to come?
I was pitted that year against the incumbent school board chairman. I found him to be a highly intelligent and thoughtful man. The only problem I had with him was that he was sitting in my chair.
At least it would have been my chair had I received just fifty-four more votes on over a thousand cast. At any rate, I shook off my disappointment in time to mount a campaign the following year. By now I’d been in Stowe a year and a half, and people had gotten to know me. This time I lost by a lot more.
What went wrong? Three salient possibilities come to mind. The first has to do with the dump. I remember getting a call from Glenn Callahan, the Stowe Reporter’s photographer, who said he needed a photo of me for the paper, and asking when and where we could meet. As I had to go to the dump that morning, I suggested that we meet there. The resulting photo had a certain serial killer look about it.
Shortly thereafter I received a phone call from the Reporter’s then man-in-the-street, a man who I think could be largely credited with the paper’s having come to be called by some the Distorter. He needed an interview. We spent the next hour or more on the phone discussing education. A thoroughly delightful hour, I remember thinking; infinitely preferable to whatever it was that I’d been doing when the phone had rung.
When the paper hit the newsstands that week, I was singing a different tune. There it was, a feature article on the election, complete with photographs of me and the other six, decidedly less scary looking, candidates. And under each photo a quote lifted from the reporter’s interviews. My quote? Handwerger – “It’s a bitch when the bell rings.” Ouch.
So where had the reporter come by this quote? Well, we were talking about block scheduling, where you combine two periods into one, creating a ninety-minute class in lieu of two forty-five minute classes. I was a proponent of block scheduling under certain circumstances, and said as much. I remember saying that I used to teach at a traditional high school, and that on those days when I succeeded in getting the kids really engaged in discussion, it was “a bitch when the bell rings” after just forty-five minutes. Six little words lifted from an hour of conversation.
Could things get any worse? Absolutely. Two weeks to the election; time for the debate. Here then was my opportunity to recover from the bitch debacle.
We left home in plenty of time. And had we not put the Volvo in that ditch we would have arrived at the elementary school auditorium by seven-thirty. But by the time the tow truck had pulled us out, we were twenty minutes late.
“Relax,” Lorrie sought to reassure me, “this is Stowe. It’s very informal. Just get in there and have fun with it.”
There was nothing informal about it. Or fun. I pulled open the door to the auditorium. Four hundred eyes drew their beads on me as I made my way to the stage where an empty chair had already rendered me conspicuous by my absence. One of my opponents was at the podium, responding to a debate question. As he was just then saying that his solution to the problem would be to put German Shepherds in the bathrooms, I gleaned that he must be discussing the drug problem at the high school. He now returned to his seat, to polite applause.
“Mr. Handwerger,” the moderator said, “you’re up. How would you propose to bring the drug problem at the high school under control?”
Granted I was a bit anxious under the circumstances. But I had a plan. “Well,” I began, looking out into the sea of faces and seeing amongst them many whom I took to be kindred spirits, “unlike Bill Clinton … I inhaled.”
The plan was to organize my thoughts while I waited for the peals of laughter to subside. But there was no laughter. Only a noise that could best be described as a low, universal groan.
I went on to say that I thought that drug use in the schools was linked largely to boredom, and that if we wanted to curtail it we should come up with some meaningful activities for the youth of our community, especially for those who were not involved in athletics. But I don’t think anyone was listening at that point; and the election results tended to bear that out.
I suppose I proved something that night, if only that I didn’t need photographers and reporters to make myself look like a complete fool.
I still believe that substance abuse is linked to boredom. I also believe that good teachers should be recompensed based on merit, and that tenure should be abolished. I wish that our curriculum planners would have a good look at the work of Howard Gardiner and his theory of multiple intelligences.
And I look forward to election season with a fervor rivaling that of the deer hunter…or the deer.