Once she returns to school, Melinda finds herself in an indoor “fizz-ed” class, because there is too much snow outside. Ms. Connors, her teacher, begins by teaching basketball, specifically how to shoot a foul shot. Melinda is amazing at it, putting in shot after shot, and Ms. Connors wants her to meet her there during activity period, because she is “Going Places with That Arm.” Melinda has nothing to say in response to this observation. Unfortunately, Melinda cannot play basketball, because her GPA is a “whopping 1.7.” Ms. Connors talks between practice shots, musing whether she can get teachers to change Melinda’s grades.
Melinda, the whole time, never makes it plain that they couldn’t pay her enough to play basketball or any other sport. Nevertheless, she likes the sensation of succeeding brilliantly at something. When the boys’ basketball team comes into the gym, Melinda notes that they are “unbeatable as long as they are the only team on the floor.” Brendan Keller, the player who was in on her mashed potato humiliation the first day of school, cannot put in a foul shot to save his life. Ms. Connors calls Melinda over to demonstrate to the boys’ coach how well she can shoot foul shots. The players can only stare at Melinda’s ability. Ms. Connors and the coach decide that they’ll make a deal with Melinda: if she’ll teach Brendan how to shoot, she’ll get an automatic "A" in gym. Melinda just shrugs, not being able to say no, but knowing she’ll just not show up.
It is totally ironic that Melinda’s first real success in high school would be in sports. She has nothing but contempt for the jocks in the school and her teachers and the coaches have always just looked beyond her as if she didn’t exist. Now, because she can shoot a foul shot, they recognize she exists. Unfortunately, Melinda is not recognized as a real person with thoughts and feelings; she is just an “Arm.” What she can do is more important than who she is. So, the success she enjoyed for a few moments seeps into the bitterness that has been building in her the entire school year.
She is still just an Outcast. So the title is totally apropos: there is something foul about what she has just experienced.
Melinda returns to an Art class that is blooming like a museum full of great works of art. Mr. Freeman himself is now the most popular teacher in the school and there are rumors that he’ll be chosen Teacher of the Year in the yearbook. He allows his students relative freedom, as long as they don’t push the rules. Kids stay there late and come in on their activity periods. It is “Cool Central.”
Mr. Freeman’s painting continues to grow and attracts a news reporter who features it with a picture in the local paper. It’s the rumored that the school board members recognized their faces in the windows of the school.
Melinda keeps picking away at linoleum squares, trying to sculpt the perfect tree, but she just keeps ruining the squares and has to throw them away. One day, Principal Principal storms into the room, “smelling pleasure.” The radio is quickly turned off and a potato chip bag disappears before he can see it. Mr. Freeman calmly asks the man if he needs something, but there is nothing for him to complain about, so he just storms right out. Melinda thinks that someday she just might be an artist.
Mr. Freeman’s Art class fulfills the title of the chapter: he doesn’t easily conform to what is expected of him and he gives his students the same freedom. He is a living metaphor of his name. Principal Principal is just the opposite – always looking for some deviation from the norm to pounce on and correct. The students protect Mr. Freeman and themselves from this demand to follow the rules, because Mr. Freeman offers them something different from the sameness of their lives. His courage makes Melinda want to be artist just like him. She somehow intrinsically understands that his art is more than just paint on canvas; it is the ability to create a secure environment for everyone around him. He offers Melinda a place of safety and creativity she can’t find anywhere else.
Celis, Christine. "TheBestNotes on Speak".
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