Reorientation by Colin Kelly

Jason announces to his family that he’s gay. His sisters and his father tell him that it doesn’t make any difference, they love him regardless of whether he’s gay or straight or whatever. But what about his mother? Can she come to accept that her son is gay?

Chapter 7 Math, Homework, and the GSA      Story Index >>

Betty Phillips and Tammy Cantham continued to chat after they had finished their meals. The Cantina didn’t rush them; the lunch crowd had thinned out after one-thirty and they liked having patrons sitting at the outdoor tables where they could be seen those passing by the restaurant on foot or in their cars. Besides the table occupied by the two mothers there were three other tables still in use on the outside patio, and that made the maître d’ happy, and usually would draw in some customers who wanted drinks and snacks. Finally, Betty and Tammy decided to wander around downtown and visit some of the shops and department stores.


While Betty and Tammy were strolling, Jason was sneaking peaks at the clock in Ms. Grimbauer’s Spanish 3 class. Jason was convinced that foreign languages were totally foreign to him, and that only by constant repetition would he be able to pass quizzes and tests. Finally, the bell rang announcing the end of the class, and Jason left and found that to get to the teacher’s office where he was going to meet Mr. Brockton he was going against the flow, so it was a real problem to struggle his way through most of the 1,750 students at Hillcrest to get to his meeting.

When he arrived he knocked on the office door.


He went into the small, cramped office that served four of the teachers. Mr. Brockton was the only one in the office, which pleased Jason.

“Have a seat. Tell me what you’re here to talk about.”

“Two things. The first is about my math classes next year. This year I’m taking Geometry, and as you know I’m getting an A. I’m certain that will be my final grade for the year. Next year when I’m a sophomore I’m going to take the Algebra 2 and Trig class. I’d like to take the Algebra 2 and Trig class and the AP Statistics class concurrently. Then I’ll take Pre-Calc when I’m a junior and AP Calculus AB and BC concurrently in my senior year. That way I can focus on Calculus starting in my junior year.”

Mr. Brockton looked at Jason and sat thinking for a few seconds.

“While you can take AP Calculus AB and BC concurrently, that’s a tough pair of courses. Are you sure you want to have that heavy a math focus in your senior year?”

“I do. I’ve been studying Algebra 2, Trig, Statistics, and Pre-Calc at home on my own. I think I could test out of Algebra 2, but that would leave the Trigonometry part and that’s not offered as a stand-alone course and I don’t think I could test out of it. Statistics is pretty easy. And it’s fun. I got a used copy of the Statistics book that’s used at U.C. Berkeley and it’s pretty easy.”

Jason looked at Mr. Brockton and paused a couple seconds then gave his summary. “So what I want to take is Algebra 2 and Trig and AP Stat together when I’m a sophomore, Pre-Calc when I’m a junior, then AP Calc AB and BC together when I’m a senior.”

“Why do you need to take statistics?”

“I’m going to go for a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and a Masters in Information Management at Cal. Statistics is required for both of those degrees, and the Masters courses require even more statistics.”

“Why not wait until you get to Cal to take statistics and Integral Calculus?”

“There are a lot of other math courses I’ll have to take at Cal. I’ve got a list.” Jason pulled a spiral notebook from his backpack and opened it to a dog-eared page. “I’ll have to take Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, Discrete Mathematics, and Concepts in Computing with Data which is a Stat class. These are prerequisites for some of the Computer Science courses I’m going to take. I’ll also have to take Quantitative Research Methods for Information Systems which is a stat class in the Information Systems graduate program.”

Mr. Brockton smiled. “Well, you’ve certainly done your research. Let’s do this. If you get an A in Geometry this year I’ll approve your request to take Algebra 2 and Trig and AP Statistics concurrently next year. I’ll need a written request…”

Jason grinned and pulled a neatly printed letter from the back of his spiral notebook and handed it to Mr. Brockton who chuckled.

“…and I’ll approve it.” He read the letter, signed it, and put it in a thin stack of paper on his desk.

“I’ll make a copy for you and give it to you in class tomorrow. How’s that?”


There was a knock at the office door.


It was Ron, as Jason had assumed. Mr. Brockton didn’t know Ron; he was taking Algebra 1 from a different teacher.

“Uh… I’m here with Jason.”

“Ah. So you must be the second thing that Mr. Phillips wanted to talk about. And what’s your name?”

“Ron Cantham.”

“Alright, sit down, sit down, please.” Mr. Brockton waved toward the two empty chairs in the tiny office and turned to Jason as Ron sat in the chair closest to his friend.

“Ron, is your father Norman Cantham?”

“Yes. He teaches at Livingston High.”

“I know him from the time I taught there. He’s a very good teacher. I hope you’re as proud of him as he is of you.”

Ron blushed. “Thanks. I am proud of him.” 

“So, Jason, what’s item two on our agenda today?”

“Umm… before I get to that, could I ask a couple more questions?”

“Certainly. Ask away.”

“There was an article in the Chronicle this weekend about homework.”

“Ah, yes, I read it. Very interesting.”

“One of the things that it said was that there’s less homework in college classes than in high school. Is that true?”

“Yes, for some courses that would certainly be true but perhaps not for others. It depends on the course, and the professor, the level of the course, and how many days a week the class meets. One difference between high school and college or university is that your classes meet every day in high school, and at a college or university they usually meet two or three days a week. Another difference is that in high school most classes last all year while in college they are only one semester long. In my experience in college lower division courses have more assignments, which is what homework was called when I was at U.C. Berkeley.”

He saw that both of the boys seemed somewhat confused. “Lower division is freshman and sophomore years at a college or university. Upper division is the junior and senior years. In upper division the number of assignments is usually fewer and they are sometimes replaced entirely by projects. Graduate level courses usually have no assignments, just projects. Of course, all have exams. No escaping exams, I'm afraid.

“The difference between an assignment and a project at U.C. Berkeley is the same as it is here at Hillcrest. For example, you’re given homework, an assignment, to complete a problem set in your Geometry or Algebra textbook. You’re given a project in English to read a novel and write a report about what you’ve read. The difference is that homework is often due in a day or two and you typically have more time to complete a project and a project requires more thought and planning.

“But I haven’t answered the question you’re asking. You want to know if you take AP Statistics here at Hillcrest will you have less homework, like a college course, than you would have in a high school math class? The answer is no, AP Statistics will have the same amount of homework as any other high school math class. There is a difference. In college the equivalent Statistics course is one semester long. In high school that same course is a full year long. That gives you twice as much time to do each homework assignment in high school. When I teach the AP Statistics class I emphasize how everything in a college Statistics course is squeezed into one semester. So the amount of homework is the same for that class and for AP Statistics, what's different is the amount of time you have to learn the subject matter and complete your assignments. But now compare Algebra 2 to the college equivalent Algebra course. You would find that the college course does have less homework than the high school class.

“One of the reasons for that answer is the differences between classes in high school and courses in a college or university and what’s expected of students. In high school you’re constantly being urged by your teachers to read your textbook, to listen to the lectures, to participate in discussions, to do your homework, to understand what’s being taught, to study for tests, to do well on tests. Your teachers in high school really want to see you do well, in fact it’s our responsibility to see that you do well, and we spend much of our time urging and helping each student in each of our classes to do well.

“Professors and instructors at a college or university certainly want each student to do well. But it’s up to each student to decide to do the assignments and projects, to read the textbook, to come to class and listen to lectures, to do lab assignments, to study for exams, to do well on exams and pass the course. It’s not the responsibility of a college professor or instructor to see that you do well, it’s each student’s individual responsibility. I remember what my father, who was a professor at Stanford, told me. He said, ‘James, your professors and instructors aren’t going to give a damn if you pass the course or not. It’s entirely up to you.’ That shocked me, and what shocked me even more is that I discovered that what he said was correct.” Mr. Brockton grinned, then went on. “There’s no mollycoddling when you’re a college student.”

Jason started to giggle, and that made Ron laugh out loud.

“Mollycoddling? What’s that?” Jason asked.

“That’s an old fashioned word that we should use more often in our high schools. The definition of mollycoddle that I like is ‘to spoil or overindulge’. What that means is that we teachers sit and hold a student’s hand all the time they’re in high school, in other words we spoil and overindulge students. And, believe it or not, an important part of that spoiling and overindulging students is why we give you more homework.

“The reason that you get more homework when you’re in high school is that without the threat and reality of homework, students, present company excepted I’m sure, wouldn’t bother to learn the subject matter. The threat of failing a class isn’t real to most teens.” He put up his hand as both boys started to object, then continued, “It isn’t real because the perspective is too far in the future. It’s months and months and months off in some dim, distant time that isn’t real to a teen. Now on the other hand, homework is real because the perspective is immediate and can be understood by a teen. It’s tomorrow or the day after or Monday, a perspective that’s short enough for students to understand the threat of what will happen to their grade if they fail to turn in their homework. So homework serves to provide a short-term perspective that helps high school students learn that getting your work done is meaningful.

“I suggest that you think about what I’ve told you and relate it to your own perspectives about your homework and about your projects, and answer, for yourselves, these questions: when do you start working on your homework that’s due tomorrow, and when do you start working on a project that’s due in a month.”

Jason sat thinking, and Ron sat fidgeting not knowing his place in this discussion. Jason finally responded, and his answer surprised Ron.

“You’re right, Mr. Brockton. Teens don't think very far ahead, I know I don't, and that’s the perspective idea and why homework is important in high school, to keep us focused. I want to think more about what you’ve told us, and maybe we could talk about it sometime?”

“You’re always welcome to come in and talk to me, Jason. And you too, Ron. By the way, there’s one other aspect of homework I’d like you to think about. Do you think that you’re getting too much homework in each of your classes? We can include this topic in our next discussion.

“Now, is it time to move on to the second thing you wanted to talk about?”

“Yes, the other thing is that Ron and I were thinking about joining the GSA. But when Ron went to one of the meetings he worried because it seemed like he was the only freshmen.” Jason looked at Ron and shrugged his shoulders, and Ron continued.

“Everyone else at the meeting seemed to be a junior or a senior. No one talked to me, they just ignored me so I split. That’s when I gave up the idea of joining the GSA.”

“When was this?”

“In January at club rush at the beginning of the semester.”

“Well, I think you’ll find things quite different if you go to the next meeting. The club meets on the first and third Thursdays each month right after school in room C-202. We have about fifty members, and I’d guess that at least a third of them are freshmen.”

“What if we’re not gay?” Ron asked.

“It’s the Gay-Straight Alliance. It’s open to anyone who wants to stop by. When I say there are about fifty members those are the ones who’ve signed up. There are more drop-ins than members at the meetings. So if you want to drop-in and not join that’s fine. If you want to join then you’ll receive a tweet with information about the speaker scheduled for the next meeting. In addition it’s posted on the bulletin board on the outside of room C-202. You’ll also be able to vote and run for an office in the club election each semester.”

“How did you decide to become the faculty sponsor for the GSA?” Ron asked.

“My son is gay, and when he went to school at Hillcrest he kept bugging me to take the job when the teacher who had been the sponsor retired. So I said I’d fill in for one year. That was five years ago and I’m still the sponsor, and I still love it.”

Jason turned to Ron. “Well, I guess we don’t have any excuse so let’s go to the meeting. That’s the second Thursday. Mr. Brockton, what’s the date of the meeting?”

“It’s the seventh of April. The meeting starts at twenty after three, and lasts an hour or a little over.”

Jason and Ron stood. Jason shook hands with Mr. Brockton, then Ron did as well.

“Thanks for helping me with the AP Statistics class. I’ll see you in class tomorrow. And thanks for telling us about the GSA. We will come to the next meeting.”

Jason and Ron left the campus and headed home. They were both pleased with the meeting with Mr. Brockton.

“So you’re going to take an AP class next year. AP Statistics. What’s that all about?”

“I need Statistics because it’s a prerequisite for some of the Computer Science courses I’m going to take at U.C. Berkeley. I’m taking Geometry this year, I have to take Algebra 2 and Trig next year, I have to take Pre-Calc in my junior year, and that means I have to take AP Calculus AB and BC concurrently in my senior year. The best time for me to take AP Statistics is next year instead of my junior year. Got it?”

“All I got from what you said was a headache. I’m sure glad that I’m not a math or science geek like yours truly. It’s going to be a hell of a lot easier being an English major and following in my dad’s footsteps and teaching English in high school.”

“Okay, Mr. English Major. When you said you’re ‘not a math or science geek like yours truly’ that ‘yours truly’ part is referring to you, not to me. That’s why you end a letter with ‘yours truly, Ron’ meaning it’s you writing the letter.”

“Arrgh! I told you I had a headache from all that geek-speak you said. It screwed up my brain so I can’t even talk correct English. I’m doomed! Doomed, I tell you!”

Jason bumped shoulders with his boyfriend.

“Remember the rule: ‘Before you talk, think.’” The quote was from Ron’s dad, and hearing it from Jason made Ron growl. That in turn made Jason laugh.

“Hey, I have our tickets to Friday night’s basketball game. Buying season tickets is the best idea I ever had. Right, Jason?”


“Nope? Why not?”

“Because deciding to be my boyfriend is the best idea you ever had.” Jason bumped shoulders with Ron once again and grinned.

“You’re right as usual. But the season tickets to our home basketball games are number two, ‘eh?”

“Okay, the season tickets for basketball are number two.”


“I’m wondering what our mothers talked about. Besides the Braille. Like about me being gay. Do you think they talked about me and you being boyfriends? I think we oughta ask your mom if they talked about that. That would totally freak me out if they did. My mom would probably go ballistic on me if she learned we’re boyfriends. What if she asked your mom if we’ve… you know… done it?”

Ron grinned at Jason. “If your mom asked mine if we’ve done what? Clarify your question, please!”

“Asshole! You know what I mean. I mean if my mom asked if we’ve messed around with each other, if we’ve had sex.”

“I wish.”

“You wish my mom asked your mom if we’ve messed around with each other?”

“Don’t be a wise ass. I don’t care if she asked or not. That’s because my mom wouldn’t tell her that we’re boyfriends. Even chaste boyfriends. She said she’d tell your mom that we’re just best friends and that’s all.”

“Well, that’s pretty easy then. She told her that we’re best friends, so there’s no reason for my mom to ask if we’ve messed around.”

“Yeah, maybe. But if your mom is still not happy that you’re gay, she might ask if we’ve been messing around, anyway.”

“That would really suck if she did. How could I ever prove to her that we’re just best friends and best friends don’t mess around with each other.”

“I bet lots of best friends, straight best friends, mess around with each other until they get girlfriends. They’re best friends with benefits, the benefit is messing around with each other. I bet that’s what gay best friends do too. Or should do!”

Jason had a smarmy grin. “What, gay best friends are supposed to mess around with each other until they get girlfriends? That doesn’t make sense.”

Ron punched him in the bicep. “No, dufus, I mean in the case of gay best friends, they mess around with each other until they get boyfriends.”

“Then that can’t mean us then, ‘cause we’re already boyfriends.”

“Shit! You’re right. So obviously we’re doing something wrong. When two gay guys become boyfriends they should start messing around, having sex with each other, being boyfriends with benefits. We’re just boyfriends without benefits. And I’m tired of it being that way. I want to jump your bones, Jase.”

That caused Jason to bust up laughing, and it lasted about ten seconds before he was able to stop and reply to Ron.

“You want to jump my bones? What, am I a skeleton or something?”

Ron stopped walking causing Jason to stop and turn around. Ron was looking Jason up and down.

“You’re not skinny, so you’re sure not a skeleton.” He grinned. “I was thinking of a different kind of bones that I want to jump.”

Jason pretended shock, opening his eyes as wide as he could, and putting his hand over his open mouth.

“Oh. Oh! Oh, my! I’m shocked to my core, sir. Shocked, I tell you. And here I thought you were a gentleman. Oh my, oh my!”

Ron wiggled his eyebrows at Jason. “Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you happy to see me, Mr. Phillips?”

“This, sir, is a baseball bat in my pocket I’ll have you know.”

“Yeah, you wish it was a baseball bat. Or a banana. What it is, actually, is a Tootsie Roll. The penny candy size.”

“Oh! Slander, sir! You should be ashamed. I demand an apology, sir!”

“You’re not getting no stinkin’ apology from me!” With that Ron took off running for his house, which by now was only a block away. Jason took off and was gaining on him by the time they arrived on the front porch of the Cantham home.

“Wait!” Jason shouted.

“I’m not waiting. I’m escaping!” Ron shouted back as he tried to find his keys, having forgotten which pocket they were in.

Jason caught up to Ron before the door could be unlocked. He put his hand on Ron’s shoulder. “I’m serious. My mom might be here visiting with your mom. We have to go in quietly.”

“Oh. Okay. I didn’t think about that.”

Ron unlocked the front door of the Cantham home and they entered.

Ron called out, “Mom! I’m home!” like he did every school day. There was no response.

“Let’s go on back to the living room. If they’re back there talking she might not have heard me.”

As usual at the Cantham’s, they took off their shoes. Then they walked past the kitchen and dining room and entered the living room. Their mothers weren’t there, and Jason let out a big sigh.

“I guess they aren’t here.” Ron looked outside at the shaded patio. “They aren’t sitting outside either. I wonder where they are.”

“They might be at my house. Or maybe they’re still downtown, shopping. My mom never passes up an opportunity to go shopping.”

“They’ll get along great then because my mom’s never been in a store where she couldn’t spend at least an hour.”

“Well, let’s go to your bedroom and get going on our homework.”

When the got to his bedroom Ron grabbed Jason by his shoulders and looked at him. Then he wiggled his eyebrows.

“I have an idea about what we can do before we start on our homework.”

“And what is that?”

“Let’s mess around.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s a great idea. There we are, lying on your bed, mostly naked, messing around, and our moms come walking in and catch us. Magnificent! Superb! We’ll be grounded until we’re twenty-one years old.”

“Shit. You’re right. Damn, damn, damn!”

“Not only that, but you’ll remember that we sat in your living room with your folks and promised that we wouldn’t have sex until we were in college. We promised them.”

Ron growled. “Jase, it always gets really hard when you keep reminding…”

Before Ron could finish what he was saying, Jason’s eyes had widened and then he burst out laughing. He threw himself on the bed and couldn’t stop or catch his breath. Ron was clueless, so he stood waiting until Jason was able to speak.

“Alright, what was all that about?”

“It’s what you said.” Jason began chuckling.

“Stop laughing! What did I say? I just don’t get it!”

“Nah. It’s one of those thing where you would’ve had to have been here.”

“I was here! I mean, I am here!” Ron jumped on Jason, and used his weight and height advantage to pin Jason to the bed and straddle him. “Now tell me what I said or I’m gonna start tickling you. Capiche?”

Jason lay there grinning. “You said, ‘it always gets really hard…’ — get it?”

“No.” Ron thought for a few seconds. “Oh, shit! You perv!” Ron grinned then started giggling. “That’s why I love you, Jase. You’re such a dufus and a perv and you’re so freakin’ cute.”

“Well, get up offa me and let’s start on our homework. I don’t wanna be working on it at midnight.”

“Not until you tell me that I’m cute too.”

“You’re cute, Ronald Cantham. And I mean that, cross my heart.”

Ron rolled off of Jason and lay alongside him.

“Do we really have to do our homework now?”

“Yeah. We have to get good grades so we can both get into U.C. Berkeley. I want to go to college with you and live in a dorm room with you.”

“Can we mess around then?”

Jason grinned and bumped Ron’s shoulder. “Absolutely.”

Ron got up, held out his hand, and pulled Jason to his feet.

“Then let’s get to it. What do you want to tackle first?”

“Spanish. That’s my toughest class. We can help each other. Okay?”

“Ya got it, Jase.”

Jason and Ron sat on the floor, backs against the side of the bed, their Spanish textbooks and spiral notebooks open, and they did their homework. Every once in a while one would look at the other and smile. Everything seemed to be going great with their lives.


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