With only two weeks to go before Schuyler begins her junior year of high school, on a new campus with a new group of students and a special ed team that is unfamiliar with her unique qualities and challenges, I’m going to do something unusual. I’m going to break my Curmudgeons’ Code. I’m choosing to be hopeful. I think Schuyler is going to have a good year.
I’m a huge believer in public schools. I think any civilization that chooses not to educate its citizens and leaves that task to market forces might as well throw its doors open to the Visigoths and be done with it. It’s that important, in my opinion. Having said that, public education in this country is an uneven affair. I feel like the quality of public education depends largely on exceptional teachers. I know a lot of them; indeed, it seems like every teacher I know is an amazing educator. I believe there are a lot of them. They are never more appreciated than when they’re not the teacher your kid gets. I wish our society rewarded them more meaningfully.
Schuyler’s own experience in school has been an adventure, to be sure. Her first school district, in Austin, handled her so poorly that I wrote a book about it, after all. After we moved to the Dallas area, things improved. Schuyler attended a class designed for people who used assistive technology, and her general education teachers were part of the process, so much so that I don’t know if Schuyler could have told you which classes were which. The line between special education was blurry. I wish I’d understood at the time exactly what a good example of inclusion this class represented; I’m not sure I even entirely grasped the concept at the time. It was a kind of perfection, even if it couldn’t last. Which of course it couldn’t.
Over the past few years, through middle school and her first two years of high school (her district splits high school into high school and then senior high school; don’t ask), Schuyler’s trajectory through school has been mothlike. She’s had great teachers and she’s had uninspired ones. She’s made some good friends, but not as many as she would like. The love of school she had when she was very young has gradually been replaced a kind of wariness. She’s had some good experiences, and a few burns, never forgotten by her. In that sense, she’s not all that different, although the nature of those burns can be both unique and heartbreaking at times.
Schuyler has been attending percussion camp and band camp for the past few weeks, at a new school that her last school doesn’t feed into. This means that there are very few people who know her and have experienced her weirdness and her wonderfulness. She was nervous about this, and so was I. Schuyler is an extraordinary person, but she can also be a tough nut to crack.
The first time I had cause to visit Schuyler’s new school while her camp was in session, I had a feeling things were going to be okay. Everywhere we went, her classmates greeted her enthusiastically, and genuinely. She’s using her iPad to communicate, driven by the revelation that her friends think it’s super cool. She has a teacher who has taken her under his wing and accommodates her needs but also pushes her and keeps expectations high. Things are starting off strongly.
Because I am who I am, I look at Schuyler’s positive new school experience, and I wonder what’s the catch. But being an overbeliever in Schuyler sometimes means extending that overbelief to those around her, too. So here we go.
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