After serving his country in World War II, Richard Dadier decides to become an English teacher—and for the sin of wanting to make a difference, he’s hired at North Manual Trades High School. A tough vocational school in the East Bronx, Manual Trades is home to angry, unruly teenagers exiled from New York City’s regular public schools. On his first day, Dadier endures relentless mockery and ridicule and makes an enemy of the student body by rescuing a female colleague from a vicious attack.
His fellow educators are bitter, disillusioned, and too afraid of their pupils to risk turning their backs on them in the classroom. But Dadier refuses to give up without a fight. Over the course of the semester, he tries again and again to break through the wall of hatred and scorn and win his students’ respect. The more he learns about their difficult circumstances, the more convinced he becomes that a good teacher can make a difference in their lives. His idealism will be put to the ultimate test, however, when a long-simmering power struggle with his most intimidating student explodes into a violent schoolroom showdown.
The basis for the blockbuster film starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier, Evan Hunter’s The Blackboard Jungle is a brutal, unflinching look at the dark side of American education and an early masterpiece from the author who went on to write the gritty 87th Precinct series as Ed McBain. Drawn from Hunter’s own experiences as a New York City schoolteacher, it is a “nightmarish but authentic” drama that packs a knockout punch (Time).
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The Blackboard Jungle
By Evan Hunter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 Evan Hunter
All rights reserved.
THE BUILDING PRESENTED a not unpleasant architectural scheme, the banks of wide windows reflecting golden sunlight, the browned weathered brick façade, the ivy clinging to the brick and framing the windows. His eyes passed over the turrets on each corner of the building, green-tiled in the sunlight. It was a nice-looking building, he thought.
He walked through the Cyclone fence and into the empty yard stretching before him in endless concrete monotony. It was still hot for September, and the sun glared off the concrete except where the building cast a turreted black shadow near the entrance steps. He was a little nervous, but he knew that would pass once the interview started. He was always nervous before an interview. He would feel all bottled up until the first few words were spoken. Then the cork would be drawn, and all the nervousness would spill out, leaving only the confidence that always lay just beneath the bottled surface of the nervousness.
He paused on the shadowed steps, partly to reassure himself of his confidence, and partly to look up at the chiseled letters in the triangular arch over the doorway.
NORTH MANUAL TRADES HIGH SCHOOL
Leave us gird our loins, he thought.
He sucked in a deep breath, the way a man on a diving board will just before taking the plunge, and he started up the steps. He pulled open the wooden door, surprised to find marble steps behind it. He started up the marble steps and saw the sign GENERAL OFFICE. Beneath the sign, in sprawling crayon, someone had scribbled the timeless epithet, and an industrious summer custodian had succeeded in partially scrubbing away every letter but the bold, black F of the first word. He smiled and followed the arrow beneath the sign into a cool, dim corridor. There was another sign with another arrow in the corridor, and he followed that dutifully. The halls were freshly painted and spotlessly clean. He admired this with an air of proprietorship, almost as if he had already won the job. A clean school is a good school, he mused, and then he wondered in which education class he'd picked that up.
He made a sharp right-angle turn at the end of the corridor, following the instructions of another sign, and then walked rapidly to an open doorway through which sunlight streamed. A sign to the right of the doorway read GENERAL OFFICE.
They believe in signs here, by God, he thought. He expected to step into the room and find a desk with a sign reading DESK, and a chair with another sign reading CHAIR. Mr. Stanley would undoubtedly wear a card-board placard strung around his neck, and the lettering on it would say MR. STANLEY. He wondered if he should put a little button in his lapel, like the ones they gave you at Freshman teas.
My name is RICHARD DADIER; what's yours?
Josephine of France.
Not tonight, Josephine.
He sighed impatiently and stepped into the room. It was a long rectangular room, with the entrance doorway on one long side of the rectangle. The other long side was directly opposite him and covered from short wall to short wall with windows. Five feet back from the wall with the door in it, a railing divided the room, stretching across its entire length. Behind the railing, he saw a group of desks. A distinguished-looking man was talking to a frightened-looking man at one of the desks. A time clock hung on the wall to the left of the doorway, behind the dividing railing. Racks for cards were hung beneath the clock, but the racks were almost empty.
He stood in the doorway for just an instant, and then walked to the railing. The railing had a counter top, except where a gate was set into it near the time clock. A blonde with an upswept hairdo and a pencil stabbed into the hair was busily scribbling something on an official-looking form, her elbows on the counter. He walked to her, glancing quickly at the row of cubbyholes which were labeled TEACHERS' MAILBOXES.
She did not look up. He cleared his throat, and she still did not look up. She continued scribbling on the white official-looking form, and she did not deign to notice him until she had finished. She looked at him exactly as she had looked at the official-looking form.
"Yes?" she said.
"I have an appointment with Mr. Stanley," he said, smiling.
"Your name, please."
"If you'll take a seat, Mr. Dadier, he'll be with you in a moment."
She looked past him to a bench against the wall near the cubbyhole mailboxes.
"Thank you," he said.
"Not at all," she answered, and he immediately figured her for one of those efficient women who always have to get the last word in. He'd known an executive like that once. If he got a letter saying, "Thank you for your kindness the other day," he'd immediately get off another letter saying, "Thank you for thanking me for my kindness the other day." Pit two people like that against one another and you'd get an endless round of "Thank you for thanking me for thanking you for thanking me ..." Which was probably the best way to keep two such crackpots occupied, anyway.
Having made this astute judgment, Richard Dadier, sizer-up of women with pencils growing out of their heads, promptly walked to the bench and took a seat. There was another fellow sitting at the far end of the bench, but he gave him only a cursory glance and then turned his attention to the two men seated at the desk beyond the railing.
The distinguished-looking man was doubtless Mr. Stanley, and the one with fear all over his face was undoubtedly applying for the open English teacher's position. Stanley seemed completely bored. He was a blondish man, with a thin, angular face, and a precise mustache that formed an unobtrusive cushion for his slender nose. His eyebrows were blond, and slightly raised now, like the eyebrows of someone politely listening to a joke he's heard before.
The fellow opposite him droned on endlessly, using his ham-like hands to illustrate pertinent points in his undoubtedly illustrious career. Every time the fellow waved a hand, Stanley flinched, and Rick made a mental note to keep his hands clenched tightly in his lap.
He heard the slightly louder words "student taught," and Stanley nodded, with his eyebrows still raised in polite anticipation of a punch line he already knew. The fellow went on, and Stanley hastily penciled a few notes on the pad before him. Glanced at his watch — the gold cuff links glittering in the sunlight when his jacket sleeve pulled back — and then leaned forward smiling.
"Don't call us, we'll call you."
Rick could almost make out the words as they formed on Stanley's almost feminine mouth. Those words, or a reasonable facsimile, like the box tops always said. He wondered what the box tops had meant. Ten cents and a box top or reasonable facsimile thereof. Did that mean you could draw a box top on a sheet of cardboard and send that in with your dime? He wondered. He had wondered the same thing when he had been a rabid sender-inner. Especially for the Tom Mix stuff. He had received a magnifying glass, and a ring through which you could look and see people behind you, and a six-shooter. And he could never remember finishing a box of Ralston. He had also received the Little Orphan Annie shaker by sending in the aluminum seal from a can of Ovaltine, together with twenty-five cents. He would always remember the Little Orphan Annie shaker because there was a picture of the little orphan herself on it. And in the picture, she was holding a Little Orphan Annie shaker upon which there was a picture of Little Orphan Annie holding a Little Orphan Annie shaker. He had wondered if the thing would go on forever, orphans holding shakers with pictures of orphans holding shakers. He had used his Tom Mix magnifying glass on it, and was vastly disappointed when the series of pictures within pictures petered out after a few tries.
He looked back to the desk now. The frightened-looking fellow had still not moved. He had leaned forward earnestly, and was now entering on the second stage of his illustrious career, with Stanley looking more bored than he had before.
"Richie?" the voice asked.
He was surprised because he had not been called Richie since he was fifteen. He turned to his right, and the fellow on the end of the bench was beaming broadly and extending his hand uncertainly, the way someone will when he's not sure he's identified the right person.
"Yes," Rick answered, striving to recognize the fellow at the end of the bench. He was a short man with tightly curled hair and a broad nose. He had blue eyes that were crinkled into a smile now, and Rick studied the eyes and then the smile, and suddenly he knew who the man was because the wrinkles dropped away as did the dark circles under the eyes, leaving only the youthful face he had known many years ago.
"Jerome Lefkowitz," he said, using his full name, as if that was the way the name had come back in his memory. He reached over and took the extended hand, sliding closer on the bench. "I'll be damned! How are you, Jerry?"
"Fine, fine," Jerry answered, and Rick noticed that he still possessed the same mild manner he'd had in high school. "What are you doing here?"
"Hoping for a job," Rick answered. "Gee, how many years has it been? I haven't seen you since we graduated."
"That's right," Jerry said, still smiling.
"Are you still playing the fiddle?"
"On and off," Jerry said, still smiling.
"You certainly could play that fiddle," Rick said. "Say, what are you doing here?"
"There's an English teacher's job," Jerry said, smiling.
"Oh no! How do you like that?"
"Are you applying for the same job?"
"Yes," Rick said, overwhelmed by the coincidence.
"Maybe there are two of them," Jerry said, smiling.
Rick nodded. "Sure, maybe there are." It seemed unfair somehow that he should be placed in competition with someone he had liked so well so many years ago. It seemed doubly unfair because he was certain he would get the job instead of Jerry, and the knowledge left him feeling a bit guilty. "There probably are two jobs," he said hastily. "Vocational schools always need teachers."
"Sure," Jerry said, smiling.
He wanted to stop talking about the job because Jerry was such a hell of a nice guy, mild and even-tempered, and vocational schools didn't want nice guys who were mild and even-tempered. He wanted to get as far away from the subject as possible because the unfair coincidence of the competition had caused a tight knot in his stomach, and he was nervous enough without having tight knots to worry about.
"What have you been doing with yourself?" he said.
"I'm married," Jerry said, smiling.
"Well, that's grand. Who'd you marry? Anyone I know?"
"I don't think so. Shirley Levine, did you know her?"
"No, I don't think so. Well, that's swell. I'm married, too, you know. I don't think you know the girl."
"Congratulations," Jerry said, smiling.
"It's a little late for that," Rick answered pleasantly, wishing he had not been placed in competition with Jerry whom he truthfully and honestly liked. "We've been married close to two years."
"Well, that's wonderful," Jerry said. "I've got two kids, you know."
"Two kids! No, I didn't know. Two kids!" He was very happy to learn this because Jerry Lefkowitz was just the kind of nice guy who should have two kids, but at the same time he remembered he was in competition with Jerry for the same job, and the two kids didn't make him feel any happier about the whole damn mixed-up situation. "Boys or girls?"
"One of each," Jerry said, smiling paternally now, smiling the smile that always preceded the showing of snapshots in the gatefold of a wallet.
He rapidly changed the subject because he did not want to see the pictures of the children. It was bad enough he knew they existed. If he saw their pictures they would become real flesh and blood, and that would make taking the job away from Jerry even harder.
"Jesus," he said, "remember the time we played Monroe? Do you remember that football game, Jerr? Jesus, did we raise hell!" "The school had a good team," Jerry said mildly.
"Only City champs," Rick added expansively. "Remember the Elf? Brother, could he run!"
"He was very good," Jerry said mildly.
There was movement behind the railing, and Rick saw the frightened-looking man rise and shake hands with Stanley. He thought he saw Stanley heave a heavy sigh, but he wasn't certain. The blonde with the pencil in her hair came to the railing and said, "Mr. Lefkowitz?" and Jerry rose rapidly.
"I'll wait for you, Richie," he said.
"All right," Rick said, wishing Jerry hadn't wanted to talk more after the interviews. "Good luck, boy."
"Thanks," Jerry said, smiling. He walked to the gate in the railing, and then directly to Stanley's desk. He still walked like a duck; that big wide-toed amble, and Rick watched Stanley appraise his walk with slightly raised eyebrows. He likes a man who walks proudly, he thought, and then he felt immediately ashamed of his analysis. It was somehow unfair of him to benefit by Jerry's mistakes. If there was to be a competition, he would make it a completely honest one. Having set the rigid rules of the game firmly in his mind, he turned sideways on the bench so that he could not see the interview going on behind the barrier of the railing.
It seemed like a very short time, but that may have only been his imagination. The blonde said, "Mr. Dadier?" and Rick turned and rose, and saw Jerry crossing the room behind the railing. Jerry smiled and winked and indicated the corridor with a slight movement of his head, and Rick knew he'd be waiting for him out there.
Rick wet his lips, the bottled-up nervousness moving up against the cork of the bottle, swelling up into the neck, bubbling frothily. He threw his shoulders back, remembering to walk proudly, reminding himself that he was taking advantage of Jerry's mistake, but telling himself that he had learned that before he made up the rules of the game. Stanley appraised him as he came closer to the desk, and Rick kept his hands tightly clenched because he knew they would tremble if he loosened them. Stanley followed him all the way across the room, his eyes inquisitive.
"Mr. Dadier?" he said, and his voice was very soft, like the roll of distant thunder in purple hills.
"Yes, sir," Rick said.
"Sit down, won't you?"
He sat stiffly, fastening his eyes on Stanley's face immediately. Stanley's eyes were gray, a pale gray. His hair was not as blond as it had looked from the other side of the railing. He wore a soft button-down collar, and a simple gold pin held his narrow tie to his shirt. His suit was expensively tailored, and he looked the complete picture of the chairman of the English Department at Princeton or Harvard, except this was North Manual Trades and not Princeton or Harvard.
Rick made a mental note of that, with the nervousness bubbling noisily within him now. He wanted to get on with it, wanted the cork to pop.
"Why do you want to teach here?" Stanley asked suddenly. His gray eyes narrowed for just an instant, and then his blond brows went up inquisitively, as if he were surprised by his own question.
"I have to teach in a vocational school," Rick said honestly.
"Would you rather teach in another type of school?" Stanley said suspiciously.
Rick smiled a bit tremulously, wondering if he were taking the right tack. "Sir," he said, "I would rather teach at Princeton ... but so would a lot of other people."
Stanley smiled briefly, and Rick knew he'd hit the right spot, and suddenly the cork popped. The nervousness flooded over the lip of the bottle, a green bilious stuff that dissipated into the air. He felt his hands unclench, and he knew he could take whatever Stanley had to offer now. Fire away, he thought, and he waited impatiently.
"You said you have to teach in a vocational school. That means you have an emergency license, doesn't it?" Stanley asked.
"Yes, sir," Rick said. "A year in vocational high schools to make the license valid for any high school."
"A good move on the Board's part," Stanley commented dryly. "We need teachers in vocational high schools." He paused and smoothed his thin mustache, patchy in spots Rick saw, now that he was closer to it. It's probably a new mustache. A department chairman must look older, and he figured Stanley for no more than thirty-eight or -nine.
"Which college did you attend?"
Excerpted from The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter. Copyright © 1982 Evan Hunter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is where it began. mr. daddy-o walks into the JD school and notices signs all over the place--this way to principal, principal's office, principal's secretary,thus concluding does mr.daddy-0, By God,we believe in signs around here.and laugh out loud funny. it was in the 50s and of course is dated, but still we are continuing to be pretty much the same kind of human mostly. And he had such a writer's eye and ear. When daddy-0 comes to face prejudice of his own in a brief awful instant, and when his pregnant wife is made to doubt him, well, its just a great, exciting novel and it was actually the first.