The day I beat the class champion

Mrs. Duncan was old. She had been my dad's teacher 30 years before I wound up in her class.

I loved to read books. This was long before computers and smartphones and Google. If you wanted to learn about something, you had to read about in a book. Knowledge was power. It was fun to read and learn new things and look at National Geographic magazines and read about other cultures and countries.

I remember a game we played in fourth grade to help us learn our multiplication tables. We would start out, two students at a time, and Mrs. Duncan would give us a number between 1 and 12. We would have to write out all the correct multiples of that number up to 12. Whichever student had all the correct multiples first won that round. The winner of that round remained standing at the blackboard, the losing student would sit down, and the next challenger would go up to the board. It was fun, competitive and a good way for us to learn and memorize our “times tables.”

I enjoyed tests, I enjoyed math and multiplication. It seemed as if the winner of the times table competition was always Mike Wilson. He was white, son of the grocery-store owner in town. His family was rich, by our standards. My skin was brown, my Dad worked on a 2,000-acre cattle ranch. We may have been poor in material things, but we were rich in family values. I had three older sisters to fight with and two younger brothers to play with. What more could I ask for?

I had come close to beating, Mike Wilson, so when the day came for our last times-table contest, I was determined to defeat the class champion. We had gone several rounds, and many students had been eliminated by Mike. Now, it was him and me, and the students were on their feet.

Mrs. Duncan cleared her throat. Our number was 12. We were ready, I had all my times tables memorized and I was anxious to win. The contest started, and we both began to write out 12 times 1 and then 2. All you could hear was the clatter of chalk on the board as we wrote our numbers.

The class cheered us both on. When the chalk dust settled, I had won, I had defeated the class champion. I had not allowed his family status or the color of his skin to intimidate me. On that day I believed that knowledge was color blind, even if the all-white administration was not!

— Noe Salinas lives in Medford.

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