Do 11-year-olds need to answer questions like this?

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Last year my youngest son was sitting at the kitchen table filling out the annual school climate survey initiated by our state department of education and administered by an outside consultant. It’s one of those annual perfunctory tasks that we all just accept as something our kids are supposed to do. There is also one for parents to fill out each year. He was in sixth grade which meant that he would take the survey for students in grades 6-12.

I had really never given much thought to these surveys. I honestly don’t know if that’s because they usually take took them in school and because of COVID, he was taking it at home for the first time. In fact, I wouldn’t have even known he was working on it if he hadn’t said the following out loud:

“I was drunk or high??? What if I just had a doctor’s appointment?”

I asked what he was talking about and he said that he was trying to answer a question about why he had been absent from school. He did have a long doctor’s appointment that was an hour away in the middle of the day and required him to miss all of his classes for one day. It only seemed logical to him that there would be a choice about a medical appointment. There was not.

I asked him what the other choices were. Below is what he read to me.

He was 11-years-old at the time.

I have thoughts about how these answers land with 11-year-olds, fully aware that for many, missing school because of drug and alcohol use, to take care of someone else or a feeling of being unsafe are completely foreign concepts to them. Mine said about a couple of them, “wait, does this actually happen?” Some will call this “privilege” but is the bar really so low that any 11-year-old who doesn’t miss school because they’re drunk or high or isn’t scared to go to school is “privileged?”

By Erika Sanzi

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