Chapter 17 Summary
When the bell rings, August checks his class schedule and sees that he is supposed to go to English in Room 321. He walks there with his head down, not stopping to find out if anyone he knows is going there, too. He arrives in a classroom where a bearded man is writing on the chalkboard. Once there, August again chooses a seat in the back of the room.
English starts out much like homeroom. August avoids making eye contact with anyone, and nobody except Jack sits near him. This interests August because Jack is obviously funny and well liked. If he wanted, he could probably sit with almost anyone.
When the bell rings again, the teacher introduces himself as Mr. Browne and tells everyone the plan for the semester. Again, August notices the exact moment when the teacher spots him among the class.
Mr. Browne writes a word on the chalkboard: precept. Nobody knows what this means, so he explains that it is a rule about something important. He asks the class to brainstorm things that are really important, and he writes down everything they suggest. They come up with ideas like school, family, the environment, and sharks.
Mr. Browne says all of these are good ideas, but he adds that one thing is most important of all. He writes this down on the board: “WHO WE ARE!” He says that they all need to spend time asking themselves what kinds of people they are. This is, in fact, the subject of Beecher Prep’s motto, “Know Thyself.”
When Jack interrupts to say he thought they were in this class to learn English, everyone laughs. Not missing a beat, Mr. Browne says, “Oh, yeah, and that, too!” With that, August decides he likes the man.
Continuing his lesson, Mr. Browne writes a precept down on the board: “WHEN GIVEN THE CHOICE BETWEEN BEING RIGHT AND BEING KIND, CHOOSE KIND.”
Mr. Browne says that every month in English this year, he will share a new precept with the class. Every month, the class will discuss the idea, and all the kids will write about what the precept means to them. Then, over the summer, they can send Mr. Browne a postcard with a precept of their own. A girl asks incredulously if kids actually do that part, and Mr. Browne assures her they do. In fact, he says, they sometimes send him new precepts many years after they leave school.
As August writes down September’s precept, he realizes that he likes school.