by Alkinee Jackson
“Some children just can’t learn, Mrs. Jackson. I think your son would do better around his kind.” These words just seemed to reverberate through my entire being. They hit me at my core. It seemed like an eternity had passed before I could respond. As I sat in my chair staring at my son’s elementary school principal, I felt infuriated and intimidated. I was furious because I knew what I had just heard was a bold-faced lie, yet I was apprehensive because I didn’t know how to refute it. If she, a celebrated educator felt this way, who was I, a mere parent to challenge her diagnosis and prognosis?
This meeting was the climax of a series of events I had the displeasure of experiencing during my son’s second grade year, over thirteen years ago.
At the beginning of that school year, we felt so fortunate to have found a way to get our children out of our failing neighborhood public school and into a Blue Ribbon School. We exercised school choice within the public school system by way of a school transfer known as Majority to Minority or M to M. The way this transfer worked was students zoned to a school where they are among the majority race could be transferred to a school where they would now be the minority race. I had heard so many great things about this school and was ecstatic for my two children to have an opportunity to be educated there.
The reality of the world I had placed my children into came to surface a few months into the school year. While my daughter received glowing weekly reports, my son on the other hand got weekly conduct chart marks. Every week it was a new issue. We would sit him down, discuss the issue and then discipline him. We would then report back to the teacher that we were working to make sure he understood the importance of being on his best behavior. At home, we talked privately about how we didn’t want him to mess up this opportunity for a “good education.”
Looking back now, I’m shaken about how much we sounded like our parents and grandparents.
That’s a topic for another day.
So back to school he went, armed with a new set of strategies that would help him to avoid getting into trouble. When he finished his work early, he was to pull out one of the books I had packed. He would stay busy and engaged. I had even asked the teacher to give him extra work when he finished before his classmates. I trusted she would appreciate my suggestions. Unfortunately, she didn’t. She felt I was being intrusive and refused to let him read his books after he had completed his class work.
This of course led to more incidents of my son talking to his table mates and consequently interrupting class. We were frustrated and sought answers. Some friends had advised that we may need to ask the school to test him for the advanced classes or gifted and talented. They suggested that maybe the reason he was so talkative and busy was because he was bored and not being challenged.
The school agreed to the testing and later informed us that he had missed the qualifying requirement by one point. So, we were back to where we started. My husband and I felt like we needed to have a meeting with the teacher and the principal to see what else could be done. I went into the meeting with the principal extremely hopeful and excited. I felt like I would finally get what I desired for my son.
As soon as she invited me to come into her office, I felt my expectations melt away. Her speech was cold and short. She told me that she prided herself in having one of the best schools in the district and how hard her teachers worked to educate the children. I thanked her, and asked for help to make sure my son got the same stellar education. She then began to insult my child and my intelligence with a series of condescending remarks.
I told her I disagreed with her statements about my child and asked for a withdrawal slip. She handed me the form, and then informed me that she would make sure his student folder would be marked. Wherever I chose to send him, this mark would follow him.
It was in that moment that I knew what I needed to do. I informed her that I would homeschool him. I would make sure that he received everything he needed. She laughed and said I would be back.
With the help of a few veteran homeschool friends, I was able to create a learning environment specifically for him. I had him tested privately and discovered I had a certified genius on my hands. He thrived at home where he was free to experiment and learn at his pace. He graduated from high school at sixteen, classified as a sophomore in college.
He is the reason why I do what I do. I fight every day to make sure parents know their rights and how to effectively exercise them. Parents really can be their children’s best advocate if they are given the tools they need and are respected as such.