What Is Achievement?

There’s a ton of shit going on in the education world today. I’ll get to it, but first I need to vent about some personal stuff. As Ian nears the end of his high school experience, we’re hitting some bumps.

Suburbia is a machine for getting kids into four year colleges and replicating middle class life. More and more, I’m convinced that this is the only purpose of these communities. The original purpose of suburbs was to provide people with space and a backyard within a short commute of jobs in urban areas. But no one really wants to live in the suburbs anymore.

Before the pandemic, when workers still rode trains and busses into the city, it was clear that the only reason that families lived in our town was because the high school had a good track record getting kids into colleges. The day after graduation, the “for sale” signs appear on the front lawn, because people really want to live elsewhere. Gowns and sash, boxes and moving trucks — it all happens together here. Many moved back into the city, because things are a lot more fun there.

Post pandemic, people are moving here from the city in droves, because our schools are at least semi-open and because there aren’t homeless people permanently encamped on our front steps. Our schools are now open five mornings a week — hardly an awesome development, but much better than the cities. After the kids graduate in June, people might still move out of here, but instead of moving back to the city, they’ll probably go to lower tax states with larger homes.

Because the entire purpose of our town is to send kids to four year colleges, it’s very difficult to have a kid who isn’t going to a four-year college. It’s always been difficult to be a special ed parent; I have more in common with a parent of an autistic kid in the Bronx than my neighbor. But the past couple of months have been horrid.

Ian’s school is gearing up for “Decision Day” and “Award day.” For Decision Day, we were supposed to make a video of him wearing his college t-shirt. Awards only go to kids going to a four year college. No one will ever recognize my kid. So, let me do it here.

Ian was given a raw deal in life. Despite the fact that his IQ is in the top fifth percentile (maybe higher), his brain works differently than other kids, and the schools have never known what to do with him. For years, he was underestimated and undereducated in the worst classrooms in the building. He was physically assaulted by kids with behavior problems. He was forgotten by bus drivers who took him back to the bus depots. He was nagged and micro-managed by well-meaning, but stupid aides. He was excluded from school activities, clubs, and specials. He was treated like a second class citizen.

Despite all that, Ian worked hard. He has been on the honor roll, sometimes the highest honor roll, every semester for five years. He worked his way out of the lowest level special education math class to a regular pre-Calc class (with A’s) through sheer determination. He spent hours on a marching band field, even though the uniforms were scratchy and the sun was bright and he hated every minute, until he developed epilepsy and had to quit. When his epilepsy medicine put him in the hospital for three days last spring, he insisted on going to school the next day, even though his mouth was still covered in boils and blisters. He showed up for every Zoom class, when his school imploded last spring, even when teachers weren’t always there and weren’t doing any work.

Next year, he’ll attend various programs that will help him with his social skills and get his feet wet with higher ed at the local community college. The situation isn’t perfect, because he’s too unusual for any program. I’m hoping that he can continue to learn new skills and move towards greater independence. A four-year college might happen in the future, but definitely not next year.

I am so incredibly proud of my kid. I think there should be a parade for him. Instead, he continues to be ignored. Our family does not fit into this suburban machine.