In which my mother is laughing at me

When I was in fifth and sixth grade I was in a special program for academically talented kids called DEPTH. I will, if I live to be a hundred, never forget what the acronym stood for: Differentiated Educational Experiences for Promoting Talent Development in Highly Capable Students.

Yeah, it’s not the most elegant of acronyms.

Anyway, they took a bunch of fifth- and sixth-grade smarty-smarts and put us in an honest-to-God trailer in the parking lot of the school with the lowest standardized test scores in the city and then bragged about how that school’s scores had gone up the next year, which was an early lesson for me in both the abhorrent cynicism and blatant manipulation of basic mathematics that grown adults can get up to when test scores are the only metric of a school’s success that anyone pays any attention to. And if you’re doing some strategic guessing and theorizing that maybe the gang of imported smarty-smarts weren’t, shall we say, a good demographic match to the rest of the school, especially given the optics of literally separating us from the rest of the students in the school … well, pat yourself on the back, because we learned some things about institutionalized racism along the way too.

That’s not why I’m talking about that program right now, though. Those first three letters– Differentiated Educational Experiences? The idea was that the class wasn’t all taught the same stuff at the same time. The teacher was supposed to be a facilitator of those differentiated experiences, and we signed contracts with her each week that specified how much work in each subject we were supposed to be doing– the idea being that the contracts would be tailored to each student’s individual needs and preferences, and we were all off learning at our own pace.

I played a lot of D&D in fifth grade.

I also managed to go something like three months without doing any math at all, because my teacher was (I thought, at the time) lazy and was probably (I think now, reflecting on this nonsense) massively overwhelmed by the immense amount of record-keeping and paperwork she was expected to keep track of, and no doubt undertrained as well (she was literally the only teacher in the corporation with this job) and one way or another I figured out that so long as I told her I was doing whatever math assignments every week, she wasn’t going to check them.

Well, that fell apart eventually, and my parents, who were already not happy with the school for a variety of reasons (my favorite: we were sold shirts emblazoned with the logo and name of the program and our names on the back, and then the school declared that we weren’t allowed to wear them to school. This was way before uniforms were a thing, mind you) basically landed on me like a ton of bricks, and I basically had to do three months worth of math over one long, miserable fucking weekend, and then my poor fucking teacher had to grade all of that shit over the next week and give it back to me, so that I could correct anything that I’d done wrong.

So. Fast forward, oh, 32 years or so.

My son has been working from home all year. My wife works, broadly defined, in the healthcare field and I’ve obviously been home all year as well, and both of our dads live alone and one of them is seriously immunocompromised, so all of that has made us just a touch more paranoid about the virus than most. My kid hasn’t seen another kid in person in nearly a fucking year. His science teacher either forgot to let him into class today or had technical difficulties and wasn’t able to and she emailed me to let me know what had happened and tell him about his assignment. He’s got a packet for this science unit and he was supposed to do pages 17 and 18.

Go ahead, take a moment and make some assumptions. I’ll wait.

No, of course there wasn’t a single fucking mark on pages one through sixteen. Now, I’ve not torn the boy’s head off yet, because I don’t know how this teacher runs her class, and it’s possible– I don’t think it’s likely, mind you, but it’s possible— that she’s either jumping around or they’ve been working through this as a class and he hasn’t necessarily needed to write out his answers. It’s possible. I’ll withhold my swift and terrible retribution until I know for sure.

But yeah. Just one more piece of evidence that he’s my goddamned kid.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

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