Two weeks before school lets out, things aren’t going well. Ishmael is buried in homework and studying for exams, and Mr. Barker tells the debating team that they’ll speak at the “end-of-year assembly/mass/prize-giving/speech night/extravaganza thingy.” This event always takes place on the Thursday of the last week of school; Friday is the first day of the Christmas holidays. Almost everyone attends (if they don’t, they get two weeks of detention once school resumes). The debating team will be reading the prayers of petition, or the requests for world peace and wins for the St. Daniel’s sports teams.
Learning he’s going to have to speak at this final school event adds insult to injury, as Ishmael already seems overwhelmed with tests and homework. It’s a sign of how upset and stressed Ishmael is that he finds this so worrisome, as he got through the last debate just fine and has even spoken intelligently to Kelly Faulkner recently. Also note that Ishmael mentions none of his friends by name here; without debating actually happening, Ishmael may also be feeling more alone.
Ishmael stews and worries about having to speak in front of people at the event until the day that Bill presents his final speech in Study of Society with Mr. Barker. Students are supposed to “examine the livability of [their] suburb[s],” and most of the talks are boring or unserious. So by the time Bill is up, Mr. Barker is in a terrible mood. Ishmael knows that Bill is taking the assignment seriously. He’s put together an extensive PowerPoint, and he’s practiced his speech for Ishmael. Ishmael is certain Bill did well.
Given how Mr. Barker has spoken to Bill in the past (recall he told Bill specifically to be productive earlier), it seems as though Bill hasn’t put much effort into school before this. Debating, it seems, has helped show Bill that he’s capable and can do well in school. It’s also significant that Bill has asked Ishmael for help preparing, as this speaks to the strength of the boys’ friendship.
Things start out fine as Bill introduces his criteria for assessing livability. But then, on the next slide, there’s a photo of an overweight woman in a bikini and a warning to whale-watchers. Mr. Barker asks what Bill is doing in a growl. Bill insists this isn’t a joke. But as he clicks through his slides, some of them are the ones he made—and others are weight loss ads, hippopotamuses, and pigs. In the back of the class, Barry, Danny, and Doug stifle their laughter. Finally, Mr. Barker says that Bill has wasted his week of preparation, as usual. When Bill sits down, Ishmael sees Mr. Barker put a D on the marking sheet.
Mr. Barker’s anger at Bill is clearly misguided—Barry, Danny, and Doug’s laughter heavily implies that they sabotaged his PowerPoint. But the fact that Mr. Barker blames Bill, when others in the class have a track record of bullying and making “jokes” like this, shows how little the adults understand of what’s going on at school. Recall that Mr. Barker isn’t aware that Barry is currently leading a crusade to torture Bill—because Bill is too afraid to tell an adult he needs help.
When class is over, Ishmael stays in his desk. Razza hangs back, and Ishmael tells him that Barry ruined Bill’s speech. Ishmael insists it won’t do any good to tell Mr. Barker—all it will do is push Barry to torment Bill even more. Ishmael says he wants to make Barry pay. Razza insists Barry isn’t worth it, but Ishmael says Bill is worth it. They have to help him. Razza insists he’ll take care of it.
Remember that Razza takes a more levelheaded view of Barry’s bullying and thinks Barry’s victims should just vow to not care. Ishmael, though, doesn’t think that’s an option anymore—not when Barry is making Bill feel terrible and ruining Bill’s grade in this class.
Just then, Barry runs back into the classroom to fetch a football and notices Ishmael and Razza. He taunts the “girls” and asks if Razza is still wetting the bed. Then, Barry asks if Ishmael is upset about Bill’s “piss-weak presentation,” which was so bad because Bill wasn’t prepared. Ishmael says someone messed with Bill’s speech. When Barry says that Ishmael should find that person and talk to them, Ishmael says he is. Suddenly, the tenor in the room changes. Ishmael tells Barry to leave Bill alone, but Barry tells Ishmael to make him. He then acts like he’s going to throw the football in Ishmael’s face and says that Ishmael doesn’t have a prayer before strutting away.
Barry is extremely concerned with looking big, strong, and traditionally masculine, which is why he so regularly calls people girls—he’s implying that they’re the exact opposite. Ishmael’s anger spurs him to confront Barry again. Ishmael seems to be hoping that one of these times, his words will be enough to get Barry to stand down. But when Barry threatens Ishmael verbally and with the football, it shows again that Barry only responds to physicality and violence.