It's no secret that the education system in the US is in trouble. It has been for decades, study after study showing the decline in performance among millennials in the United States as compared to millennials in the rest of the developed world. The PISA has shown a steady decline in US results going back to when the OECD first started doing the testing more than a decade ago. You can visit their site here if you're really interested.
But this is not really a post about the education system and what I think, after being involved in it in three different states, is wrong with it. Nor is it a post about how to fix it. Or a post about who or what caused it or who or what should fix it.
No, this is a post about my son, my younger son, and how the system has failed him, specifically.
Now, let me make one thing abundantly clear, my son is smart. Brilliant, even. And I know that's what all parents say about their kids and they probably even believe it, but I'm not saying this from any point of bragging, and the things I'm writing about here are facts, not beliefs. Look, my kid is probably smarter than me, and I don't say that lightly. To put this in perspective, if we're talking about the 1% of smart people, I'm that. I also don't say that to brag. It's an objective, testable thing, and I want you to understand what I'm saying about my kid in this post.
Which is to say that if there's anyone the system should not have failed, it's my son. Smart kids, really smart kids, not the ones who are just a bit above average, should not have to struggle through school the way they so frequently do.
So what happened?
It all started in 1st grade.
[Note: Much of what I'm going to talk about throughout this post is stuff I personally witnessed while working in the various classes at my kids' school.]
There were three smart kids in my son's 1st grade class.
The first one was very obnoxious and a know-it-all. When given assignments, he would flat out refuse and say that he didn't have to do the work because he already knew how to do it. He would also make comments about how smart he was and that the teacher was dumb. Remember, this is a 1st grader. It didn't take long for the teacher to get tired of dealing with him and transfer him up to 2nd grade... just to get him out of her hair.
The second one was also obnoxious and, actually, a troublemaker. His mother was on staff at the school, and he was frequently sent to her classroom to sit because he was in trouble. His strength was math, but he was a poor reader, and the teacher actually gave him over to my son to tutor in reading. And my son, a 1st grader!, was really good in that capacity. But, then, my son was already independently reading Harry Potter in 1st grade.
After the first boy got bumped up to 2nd grade, the second boy's mother put in a request to have her son, also, get bumped to 2nd grade, and it was granted. I can only assume that that happened because she was on staff. That and the boy was a troublemaker whom the teacher was glad to be rid of. But, remember, he was only advanced in math and was actually a bit behind in reading.
Now, I found it a bit annoying that the first kid got promoted, but he was actually smart enough for it. He might have been obnoxious (and, actually, that boy got better as he grew older), but he was a bright kid and was telling the truth when he said he already knew how to do the work they were doing. He's probably on about the same level as my son, math wise, but he never rose to the same level in other areas as my kid.
That the second boy also got promoted, though, made me mad. Both we cases of kids being rewarded for their bad behavior, but the second boy didn't actually deserve it academically. (And to draw a comparison, he did not grow out of his obnoxious behavior and remained a troublemaker all the way through middle school.)
So I went to the principal and requested that my son, also, be promoted. She said it had to come at the recommendation of the teacher. So I went to the teacher one day after school when I was picking my kids up. It went something like this:
Me: I'd like to have Phillip promoted to 2nd grade.
Teacher: Why do you want to do that?
Me: Phillip is at least as capable as <student 1> and more capable than <student 2>. Phillip was tutoring him in reading, after all. If they are going to be promoted, Phillip deserves to also be promoted.
Teacher (at this point, she pulled Phillip to her and hugged him against her): Oh, no, I could never promote Phillip this soon; I love him too much. He's the sweetest boy in the class.
I kind of stared blankly at her, because how do you respond to that? You want to think that teachers have the best interest of the kids at heart but, although it was great to hear her say how much she liked my kid, it was clear that she was more interested in her own well-being than what was good for the kids in the class. It didn't take her response to me to show that because she already had when she promoted the other two kids because she was tired of dealing with them.
To make matters worse, there was a boy with Asperger's in the class, and Phillip was the only kid he felt comfortable with. In fact, my son and that boy were best friends all the way through elementary school. Basically, until the other boy left the school and it became too difficult for them to maintain their friendship.
The long and the short of it is that, after my wife and I discussed it, we decided that it wasn't worth a fight to get him moved up to 2nd grade. It was, after all, only 1st grade, and it would all work itself out, right?