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Thirty Years Later

When I was 16, half way through my sophomore year of high school, we moved from Texas to Georgia. My school was 2 weeks into the new semester, most of which I had missed because first I had the flu then my mother had surgery. I attended only the last 2 days out of those 2 weeks.

All of my teachers, except the brand new Geometry teacher, sent me to my new school with all A’s. My new geometry teacher made me take a test I wasn’t prepared for which I failed and so she transferred me with a 50 in geometry. Yes, I earned that 50, but I had maintained a high B the entire prior semester, and if I had known about the test I would have studied for it and passed it.

Note that at this stage I’m in the top 5% of my graduating class.

When I got to my new high school, they were 2 weeks away from the end of their second trimester. I transferred in taking honors English, honors history, honors French 3, biology, geometry, dance, and something else I don’t recall.

They were writing closed 5-paragraph essays in English. I didn’t know how to do that.

In my French class they were speaking fluently, I was not. We had been studying the French Impressionist Movement in English.

In geometry they were seven chapters ahead of me. It might as well have been the entire book ahead of me.

Despite the fact that I was an out of state transfer, I was made to take all of the trimester finals when all of my classmates took them. I failed all of them.

I was told chin up! I had a chance to catch up and redeem myself and my grades in the final trimester of the year, but I was a 16 year old girl from Texas who didn’t fit in at her new school. They teased me about my accent. We weren’t rich so those kids didn’t think I was anything special or warranted attention. The racial divide was something boiling on the surface and I wasn’t accustomed to that tension. The school was old and felt like a prison. It was all shades of gray with bars everywhere. Some were nice and I did make some friends, but it was hard won. Mom cried every day for 6 months, the adjustment was that hard for her. I tried to just get by. I was somewhere I didn’t want to be, against a curriculum I couldn’t catch up to, overwhelmed, drowning, and the end result?

I failed all of the 3rd trimester finals too.

I ended the school year with more F’s than not. I had never made an F in my life, and now I had several. My parents were mortified. I sat bawling at their feet in the living room while they verbally and strongly expressed their displeasure at my academic performance.

I was now in the bottom 50% of my graduating class.

The following year I had to start over with geometry. I had to be dropped from everything that had been an honors class to regular classes. I never took French again since I had fulfilled the graduation requirement. My grades recovered, but I didn’t.

I’ve written before about the English teacher in Georgia who tortured me with the 5-paragraph closed essay until I got it, which took me almost up to the time that I left that school, but I did manage to master it.

Then half way through my junior year we moved back to Texas.

The decision was made, because of my academic performance prior to transferring, that I could be placed back in honors English and history. I had to return to the teacher who gave me an F in geometry for the final semester of the year, but I managed to survive her class. My grades rebounded to their pre-Georgia status, but I cared less. I frequently turned in homework late, and I got away with it. I was accused of cheating by my English teacher and all 4 of my school principals because I could write a 5-paragraph closed essay. Appalled, I asked for paper, pen and topic, which I was provided, and proceeded to write a perfect essay in front of them. The head principal read my paper and simply said, “you may return to class now.” I responded with, “I’m still telling my parents you accused me of cheating so you’ll be hearing from Mom tomorrow.”

I was a bit mouthier, yes, but I also just wanted to get out of that hell. I wasn’t even learning challenged, and the experience completely changed me, as well as the trajectory I had been on. Emotionally I didn’t care anymore, and I had developed a new level of apathy towards my own personal education that stuck with me for several years.

Thirty years later, this series of events came up again between my father and I.

See, the deeper I delve into education and all things dyslexia, the more questions he asks. A profoundly moral man, in love with politics, the deeper I go the more he wants to understand the why’s that I discover. We can spend days on what education has turned into, the issues with various curricula, and more. As I fight to save his last grandchild from drowning in a system that doesn’t care if he ever learns to read and write, the more my own father thinks about and ponders himself.

I’ve educated him on the difference between balanced literacy and the science of reading, we’ve discussed which side his educator mother would be on were she still alive, we’ve discussed how history has been pushed out of schools in favor of larger English / language arts blocks, and we’ve discussed state standards and how they vary by state. Then my father gave me a gift that I’ve had a hard time putting words to. Thirty years later he’s told me he never should have moved me to Georgia mid way through my sophomore year. He said he didn’t try to find any alternative solution, he just made me move. He said he saw me drowning and blamed me for it. Hindsight being what it is, he apologized to me. He said one of the greatest injustices he did to me was placing me in that school and allowing me to drown. He said he should have intervened, moved me back to Texas, or moved me back an entire grade level considering how far ahead they were from Texas, anything to have protected me as opposed to what happened.

We agree that the incident had profoundly negative ramifications for me academically, and for a few years in regards my mental well being, but over time the experience made me tougher. I think he sees that time as a valuable experience I don’t want repeated with my child. I think he sees this as insight I gained on why I can’t let my dyslexic child be devoured by the system.

My experience versus my child’s experience don’t compare, I simply had a small taste. That experience still haunts me though. I spent most of my life not viewing myself as intelligent. I always struggled in math, but that eleven months of my life changed something fundamental about how I viewed myself when it came to how intelligent I was. It’s hard to explain but let me try it this way.

Before leaving for Georgia, I had a friend named Kelli who I had always competed against grade wise. Her father was a genius of a man, (Literally! He finished high school at like 12 or something insane like that!) and Kelli definitely inherited his brains and I was always competing against her on grades. She probably didn’t know that though, lol. I came back accepting the fact that she was smarter and I just wasn’t. I viewed everyone that way. Hell, I’m about to be 49 years old and while I KNOW how intelligent I am, the implication that I’m not is the fastest way to bring out the insecure child in me.

But again I am not dyslexic.

My dyslexic child has lived in this reality from day one of Kindergarten. He’s in his 9th year of school and he definitely carries scars from the experience. He has anxiety. When he makes a mistake the first thing he says is, “I’m so stupid!” I cringe every time. The whole experience hurts my mama heart. I’ve tasted his reality and I know what it did to me, and I throw him to the wolves every day.

Tomorrow I walk into yet another IEP meeting for him. The goals are still not appropriate. They never will be despite my best efforts. My child can read well ahead of grade level, but his writing is barely at a 2nd grade level. I also know this is it. I’m done. He’s done. Neither of us wants to play this game anymore. It’s not worth the cost. We can do better on our own.

It’s time for peace at last for our little family as we work to rebuild his self-esteem. It’s time to remind him how brilliant he is. It’s time for him to know that deep down in his core and never doubt it again.

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