The penny drops

What is tolerance worth? A litre Mason jar? Half a litre? Recently, in attempting to quantify the ways that the public education system was failing my family, I found myself asking just this.

Let’s back it up a bit. My son Gabriel is autistic, minimally verbal, and has attended public school in District 68 (Nanaimo/Ladysmith) for his entire career. Wringing a decent education out of the public system is a challenge at the best of times. For students with special needs it is nearly impossible and requires Herculean efforts and constant vigilance from parent advocates.

We managed through most of elementary school because my expectations were calibrated closely with the system’s ability to deliver (read: very low). By the end of elementary school I was noticing huge gaps in Gabriel’s needs and the school’s ability to provide him with meaningful instruction. Yes, they kept him from winding up under a bus, which I appreciate, but there was nothing in terms of measurable outcomes.

This is when I began contemplating moving him out of the public system. It was a conversation I had with myself several times a year. We have quite a few options for children with special needs here. Demand breeds supply.

It was still a scary prospect though so I held my breath and put my hopes on the Skills For Life (SFL) program in high school. Surely this would have experienced, skilled educational assistants working under the direction of an actual special education teacher. Surely they would accomplish, well, things. Two years later I despair that the program appears to be little more than a warehouse for the kids. There may be measurable outcomes but the lack of meaningful reporting makes it hard to know. My frustration grows. I consider leaving the public system for one of the better-equipped private alternatives, well, monthly.

Ranting to myself out loud last night, Sean challenged me to put my money where my mouth was. He challenged me to quantify my frustration and put a measure on my waning tolerance, much like a thermometer infographic for a fundraiser, except going the other way. So we came up with The Jar.

The Jar (inspired by The Douchebag Jar from “The New Girl”) is to be filled, symbolically, with my frustration. Every time something about Gabriel’s current situation in public school irritates me, I drop a penny in the jar. It’s like a report card on the system, representing the way it fails our kids, my kid. Sample infractions include, but are not limited to, introducing a shortened school day, failure to write in the communication book, closing the SFL class during exam week, and other random acts of discrimination. A specific incident gets a penny while an ongoing issue gets a penny every time it comes up in a way that sends my heart rate flying.

Scientific? Not particularly. Simple? Yes. When the jar is full, it’s time to go. Stay tuned.


  1. Wow- this post is fantastic Alexandria. Beautifully written but so sad it had to come to this. I hope something great comes along so we can just dump the jar upside down and spend the pennies on pizza for Gabriel. Hugs!

  2. Alexandria, I was very moved by your expression and I’m sorry for your frustration. You are right. The public school system is barely able to provide a decent education for children without disabilities. I can’t imagine what you go through. How is your jar now?

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