By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Jackson bragged that his students study five languages, and the kids were quick to throw out phrases in Japanese and Russian. But pressed for more than a standard greeting, the kids couldn't deliver. Jackson explained that he teaches them only a few phrases, just enough to whet their appetite for each language.
Upstairs, in his office, he proudly displayed the books and videotapes that have influenced him: Education on Trial, The Learning Gap, some of Tony Robbins's motivational books. He described ideas he'd lifted from Japan, Korea and other countries, nations whose students trounced Americans on standardized tests. He saw no reason to heed the "pedagroggy" that condemns U.S. schools to languish.
With no warning, Alvin's six-year-old son, Aaron, burst into the office, crying and clutching his stomach. "Mr. Brown pushed me right here," the child said. (Mr. Brown -- Kareeam Brown -- is the teacher who held Erik Vidor while Jackson paddled him.)
Boom Boom took the boy out to the hall, and after a couple of minutes returned alone. Outside, Aaron was still crying.
"It's nothing," said Boom Boom, shrugging to dismiss the incident. "He slammed his finger."
Kim Vidor, Erik's mother, still holds the Classical School's academics in high regard, and remembers that the first time she encountered Jackson, his ideas impressed her mightily. In early '95, Jackson's ad in the Houston Chronicle caught her eye. As a "learning coach," he promised "extraordinary results in motivation, grade improvement and self-esteem" -- precisely what she wanted for Erik, a bright child with attention deficit disorder. She signed up for a Saturday "SuperLearning" seminar.
"You've got to get control of your son," Jackson told Vidor. "He's got control of you."
She enrolled Erik and his two sisters in the school's summer session. The girls didn't like the place -- they said the teachers yelled too much -- but Erik thrived. In January '96, he signed on for the school's regular session.
Last May, when a neighborhood newspaper ran a glowing story about the Classical School, Erik appeared as one of Boom Boom's success stories. The Village News reporter picked a question out of a textbook: What two modern inventions were designed by Leonardo da Vinci in his notebooks? "The parachute and the glider," Erik answered.
According to Kim Vidor, Jackson and his wife Debra, a school administrator, said that Erik was doing well, and she believed them. Like all students at the Classical School, his report card was perfect.
In the fall, though, Erik ran into trouble. A teacher said that he called black classmates "nigger"; other students remembered his involvement in fights, and that some kids flashed a Nazi salute when he walked by. He was smaller than his classmates, and he didn't socialize with any of them outside of school. For ADD, he was supposed to receive a midday dose of Dexedrine; later, Erik revealed that the school's office often didn't administer the capsules. (Jackson believes that ADD kids don't need medication, but should instead be taught to stand still.) The lack of medication couldn't have helped Erik's behavior.
In September, his parents got their first inkling of his problems. On a rainy afternoon, he ran away from the school and surfaced, sopping wet, at his parents' house in West University. He told his mother that his teacher, Kenneth Kossie, had spanked him with a board. Kim Vidor called the school and spoke with Debra Jackson. Debra, she says, told her that Erik had lied, that he hadn't been paddled.
A few days later, Erik ran away a second time. At home, he told his mother that Kossie had hit him on the hands and feet with a ruler, and had pushed him up against a wall, with his hands around Erik's neck. He also said that Kossie had escorted him to another classroom, and there had thrown him against a wall.
It wasn't the first time that Kossie had thrown a child into a wall. Erik described another incident in which the teacher had flung a problem child named Rudy so hard that he left a Rudy-size hole in the wall. (Kossie would later explain that he and the boy had been wrestling, "classroom clowning.")
Alarmed, the Vidors met with Boom Boom. They say he apologized, explaining that Kossie, a young ex-Marine, had gotten a little rough, and would never do it again. But during the talk, Jackson emphasized that corporal punishment was a crucial element of the Classical School's regimen. The Vidors agreed that if necessary, Jackson -- and only Jackson -- could give Erik "a pop."
On the morning of November 12, Erik found himself in the cafeteria with Aaron, Boom Boom and Debra's son. The two traded grade-school taunts -- your mother's an elephant; your father's a rhino -- and began to fight. Erik pushed Aaron against the wall, with his hands around Aaron's neck. The hold echoed one that Erik said Kossie had used -- only this time, Erik was in the more powerful position.
Debra Jackson broke up the fight. Shortly afterward, when Boom Boom arrived at the school, he spoke with Erik in the hall. Erik's classmates watched through the classroom's open door.