Over the weekend, as part of our pandemic-winter challenge of weekend day trips, we walked around Princeton University. While it’s only an hour drive from our house, with its gothic arches and its smug and sheltered students, Princeton is a continent away from our reality.
I tied up an article on boys and mental health for Edutopia (coming soon) on Friday, and started a hiatus on freelance writing. I’m going to be very busy figuring out a plan for my youngest son, who will finish high school in three months. As I explained in my newsletter a couple of weeks ago, I am not entirely sure of what we should do for a kid with autism (a light form) and no intellectual disabilities. Since a four-year college isn’t an option, at least right now, I have to trek through a variety of options in the next month.
In addition to visiting programs, I’ll dive into the research, which I’ll share as I go along. Right now, I don’t have any answers or big points that I want to make; I’m a tabula rasa on this topic at this moment. Hopefully, I’ll have answers for my kid — and come to some broad conclusions for all kids — when I’m done with this process.
Yesterday, I observed one school’s 18-21 program, via Zoom. 18-21 programs are supposed to be for kids with higher level disabilities, who didn’t take regular math or English classes or meet the standard graduation requirements. But parents must know about the secret diploma loophole, in order to get their kids into those programs. If the kid walks during graduation and the school hands him a diploma, then it’s game over. The kid is booted out of the system. Those kids are on their own for three years, until the age of 21, when the state has to step in to help. There are plenty of very disabled kids who are pushed out the school door and then have nothing waiting for them.
Kids, like mine, who have completed their high school requirements and don’t have an intellectual disability are in a grey area. They aren’t ready for work or college. They do have a disability. They don’t technically qualify for those 18-21 programs. But many parents, who don’t see a plan materializing for their kid, demand that the schools hold onto the kids for another two years. While the school district doesn’t technically have to keep educating them, most do it anyway. School administrators can challenge a parent who wants to stop the graduation process, but it takes two years to go through the legal system, so district leaders usually just roll their eyes, sigh, and warehouse the kid for two years.
As I said, I’m still doing my research, so I have lots of questions. How well do any of these programs — both in and outside of public schools — help disabled students, lightly disabled students, and students who have been made disabled by their crappy schools? (More on the overlap between disabled kids and kids who have been deprived of a proper education soon.) Do they enable these young adults find jobs, housing, independence, and all of the good stuff that we associate with adulthood?
Part of the problem is that there are few low skill jobs available, beyond pushing shopping carts. There are no factories with assembly lines, where these folks can turn a screw on a widget or weld a widget on another widget all day. The cost of living is too high to live on minimum wage of the crappy low skill jobs that are available. Schools have no clue how to deal with these kids, who aren’t going to college, so instead just waste their time for two years teaching them “work theory,” like writing a resume or talking with a boss about being late for work. It’s absurd.
We have separated education policy from work/employment/wage policy. And, we shouldn’t. The two are interlocked.
(More info as a I go along.)