So we finally reached the disaster that was the Analgesic Scare of 1975 in history class last week. One instance of someone poisoning over the counter painkillers early in 1975, while having tragic results, sure had a huge effect on the public’s fears about pain relievers. This is especially noticeable in comparison reaction to the similar 1982 event in Chicago. I mean, there was no scientific evidence that the medications themselves were harmful, but people still avoided them as if they had caused it. Nine months of declining sales lead to someone finally offering that new “all-natural” product you are well aware of, which quickly because the leading painkiller in this country. It then took the government three years to notice that a large percentage of the infants being born had speech delays and banned the substance that caused it. Then everyone went back to regular pain relievers and since then they are all perfectly fine the way it was before some people decided they needed to be changed for no good reason.
Everyone was assured this new substance was “safe” because it was all-natural, although that didn’t stop people from not taking medication that has the same active ingredient that is found in all-natural willow bark. But the new reliever caught on because it was extremely effective and didn’t seem to cause any side effects. But even if didn’t feel any different, it permanently changed various reproductive processes enough that the effects were passed down to their offspring. People didn’t notice at first; even if a child low-functioning you won’t know for a while if there’s a speech delay. And it took until a whole lot of them before a pattern emerged, and a longer period before they figured out what the cause was. By that point most people had gotten pain from arthritis or headaches or some other ailment and had taken the new reliever to help them. It was long after that that people figured out it affected all the children of people who had taken it at the time; it just affected us each differently.
So once the truth came out the birth rate plummeted. I mean, human biological urges, birth control failures rates, and the stigma of abortion being what they are babies were still being born, but there were much fewer and very few were planned pregnancies. There were few kids to fill the schools, hence the name the Missing Generation. Our history teacher showed us pictures of this school’s cafeteria in the early 1980s and the early 2000s. In the first picture, the room was completely full; in the second it was over half empty. I also noticed that in the early 1980s picture the room was painted in garish colors as opposed to our current off-white walls. Those that hadn’t taken the new pain reliever during the period were still having kids, and eventually drifted into communities populated by similar people. There are still some kids like us and some kids like them in each other’s schools, like Paul for example, but that got increasingly rare as time passed after the scare. Their kids desired things that we didn’t, and it resulted in mostly homogeneous communities.
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It’s warm enough outside that Mark can start wearing shorts again, thankfully, which was important because he didn’t want to go to his new job in snow pants. The convenience store near me put up a help wanted section on the municipal employment website for a shelf stocker because they fired the one they had for making a few too many mistakes while hungover. Since there was an official employment request he had to pass a skill based test, which in this line of work just meant putting a few items in their correct areas. It’s standard procedure that has to be followed, nobody involved really took it seriously. At least now when I go to the store for toothpaste I won’t have to look in the soft drinks aisle.
The requirement for skill based testing for any job openly advertised is great for people like me. It allows us to show that we can do the job, or have potential to do the job given training, without taking into account our lack of social skills. Some jobs have easier tests than others. My mother, despite having a master’s degree in accounting, had to do series of exams on various real world accounting problems when she applied to different firms. This was in order to get experience so she could get a CPA license after she passed another series of exams. My father’s tests were a bit different, since working in Human Resources does require you to have social skills so interviews, both with you as the interviewee and interviewer, are required parts of the tests. Every business has to set up the system so that it holds up to legal scrutiny, because if the tests don’t apply to the job, for example by adding in unnecessary interviewing, they could get sued over it.
The problem with the system is that it only requires skill based testing for jobs that are openly advertised. People still get jobs through connections, either alumni groups or websites or friendships or family or some other method. Sometimes they bring in multiple people for interviews, so there’s still competition but one that someone like me couldn’t win. And a lot of businesses only recruit students from the private schools that are designed to drive away people like us. It’s still standard operating procedure in a lot of sectors like consulting, law, medicine, and government, although if you’re really good and lucky you can still get into one of them even if it’s at a low level. Most senior level management positions also hire this way, although that makes sense because they would need good social skills to manage large numbers of people. But the system still makes it a lot harder for us to get some of the top paying and highly prestigious jobs in the country, even if we are just as good if not better than people not like us in some of them. At least skill-based testing allows for more of us to get jobs, and having a good but not great job is much better than having no job at all.
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I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I took a nap in the afternoon and consider it lucky that I managed to wake up and get this done by midnight. Spring break went well, just like winter break I had a lot of time to do the stuff I enjoy. On Friday we took a flight to go to visit my mother’s family for Easter, and we didn’t get back home until 3 A.M. last night. I wish we had the break the week after Easter instead of before, because then I’d have gotten to sleep in today.
The visit to my mother’s family was enjoyable. Her parents are very comfortable with someone like me after raising my mother, so there were fewer issues than with my father’s family. It also helps that I have two cousins, although they’re both younger at ten and five. My uncle was affected the effects of the scare, so he’s like his parents but his children are like me. There was very little small talk, no questions asked if we needed to take breaks, and very few sensory disturbances. My mother talks about how my grandparents had no idea how to deal with her when she was my age, but they’ve learned well in the years since then. I know my father’s parents try hard, but having to care for a kid and then three grandchildren like us instead of just one grandchild makes a world of difference in knowing how to cope with us. And I know we can often be difficult to cope with.
My five year old cousin is a cause for concern for his parents. He was a late speaker, which put him in the track for the lower schools so he could get the help the school administrators thought he needed. But he’s nearly finished with kindergarten and he seems better than I remember a lot of the kids being when I was that age, and not that much worse than when his sister was five. He’s still not great, but his parents have a dilemma with deciding what to do about the schooling. Right now his test scores put him right on the dividing line between the upper and lower schools. His parents could appeal and say that his speech delay means that he’s made progress faster than normal and he should be moved to the upper school for first grade, but if he gets stressed out there and fails to pass the classes he will get sent back and might not be able to return. Or they could wait and see if his test scores and teacher evaluations definitely make him eligible for upper school, but the type of teaching at the lower school there may set him back and lower his scores. The divide is sort of arbitrary anyway, with Mark and his brother being obvious as to where they belong but a lot more kids being so close to the line that they end in the wrong environment where they can’t thrive.
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Last Thursday Mark invited Paul to join us when I went to his house. It’s slightly odd that he never invited Kat despite knowing her for longer, especially since she’s stopped talking about Daniel as much and seemed to have been in a better mood lately, but then again he didn’t recognize her at all when she got a new haircut a week ago. Since he got a job as a Spanish tutor this was one of the few days that Paul could come over. Mark’s brother had to have the addition of a new person explained to him before he came into the house, and even then every time he saw Paul he kept staring at him. Luckily he stayed in the living room while we were in Mark’s bedroom; otherwise it would have been a really awkward evening.
We played video games like usual when I go to Mark’s house, with the addition of a third person. The first game we would switch as each of us played the other. After nine rounds I only won one and Mark and Paul both won four, so they had a lengthy play-off match that Mark won. Apparently Paul also has a console at home, which is why he’s about as good as Mark. The second game we played three way competitively, and again they were even and I was outmatched. The third game was cooperative, which I preferred because I wasn’t getting beat all the time.
Dinner time arrived, and this time it was Mark’s father’s turn to cook. The meal was perfectly fine, and when asked Paul said it was delicious. Mark’s brother was staring at Paul so much he wouldn’t finish the dinner until after we’d left. When we returned to Mark’s room, Paul asked us if we thought the meal was as bland as he did. Mark was confused because Paul had called it “delicious” when we were down there, and Paul replied that he was just trying to be nice. I said that I thought the meal was good, just like every other meal I’d had there. It makes me wonder if Mark’s parents think that the meals they prepare for our sensitives are as bland as Paul does, and they have to eat it every night.
I know that we were taught in our social skills classes years ago about proper manners and small talk. The teachers admitted it was usually small lies that were used not to hurt the other person’s feelings, which made sense but doesn’t make it easier to do in practice. Paul just seemed so comfortable lying to them, like it was second nature to him. I suppose it made his father feel better about his cooking abilities, assuming that they couldn’t hear him dismissing them in Mark’s room afterward. If you lie to protect a person, then if they find out then they can be hurt both by your actual feelings and by the fact that you broke their trust. Maybe if I was better at lying that would be less of a problem, but my father can always tell when I’m not telling the truth. So it seems safer to me to just be honest all of the time.
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Last week I was sent to the guidance counselor to have them give me advice in regards to what I’d do after graduation. I’ll be a junior soon, which means it’ll almost be time to start looking at colleges to go to so they figure I should start planning now. The counselor asked me what I wanted to do as a career, and I replied that I had no idea. So he gave me a test that theoretically gives you a sense of what jobs would be best suited to you, but the result was about seven completely different professions having close to the highest score. Now I’m more confused about my future than ever.
The only thing the professions had in common was they required at least a bachelor’s degree, and I was planning on going to college anyway so that wasn’t a big help. I have good grades, so far, and I’m pretty sure I can do well on a standardized test. This means I’ll be able to get into a good public school, which is fine considering my parents financial status and the environment at public schools. In every state public colleges are legally required to at least some extent to have safe rooms, accommodate student classroom needs as long as they learn the curriculum, and provide single-room student housing. So, if a student is overwhelmed by having to attend too many lectures, or can’t do any sort of speaking in front of the class, or would rather do an individual project instead of a group one they have to be accommodated to the best of the school’s abilities. With these accommodations they can provide an atmosphere similar to the one here.
Private schools, the ones with enough money to survive anyway, are a different story. Legally, they can’t discriminate and have to offer some kind of accommodations in order to keep getting Federal funding. But of course they have ways to get around those laws. For example, they cannot discriminate against students who are equally qualified. Their solution is to include extracurriculars and interviews as qualifications. The first is a problem because some of us are too tired from going to school to do anything extra, and if we do a lot of us prefer to do things alone instead of together in clubs or other groups. This doesn’t look as good on an application form. The fact that we’re notoriously poor interviewees hurts us with the second. And even if you get in, their set-up is very similar to their traditional one. You may have to deal with a roommate, taking away a space where you can relax. They can set you up with group work you might not be able to get out of, which is even worse than it is here because you have to deal with scheduling meet-ups outside of class when everyone is available which throws off your plans. Lecture attendance could be mandatory, but class notes may not be provided which leaves someone who can’t pay attention to lectures both stressed out and unprepared for an exam. Private schools giving accommodations may be legally required, but they’re both more limited and far more difficult to get than at a public school. Despite all that, a lot people like me have been successful at private schools, but not as many as you’d expect from our high school academic records and test scores. They’re expensive anyway, and I’d prefer not to have to take out tens of thousands in loans to go to a school that doesn’t want me there.
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Today we had to do group work in biology class. Unfortunately, it isn’t a leap year thing that only happens one day every four years, for this one we’ll be doing it for a whole week. We chose our own groups of three, so I ended in a group with Kat and Mark. Paul ended up with two people he’s been talking with in gym, so at least he isn’t stuck with being in a group of leftovers. I’m pleased that I got to get into a group with the people I wanted to, but I don’t understand why the teacher doesn’t pick the groups. Usually, once all the more social people form groups with their friends all the less social people are stuck trying to make patchwork groups among themselves. So most of the class gets to work with people they want to, and the people who want to do group work the least have to work with those who nobody else wants to work with. It seems like it would be fairer to randomly select groups in order to level the playing field, but I guess I shouldn’t complain in this situation.
At least we don’t have to do group work too often, but we have to do it occasionally because a lot of us are going to go into careers where it’s unavoidable so we’d have learn how to do it sometime. It’s not so bad this time because I know the rest of my group and we were able to decide within the first couple of minutes how we were going to split up the project. Once you know what you’re part is, you can just pretend it’s a solo project. But sometimes you get stuck with a project you can’t split up or, very rarely here, a group that wants to do the work together. Having to constantly communicate what you’re doing, and trying to figure out what the other people are doing, is tiring and usually not very efficient. If you split up the project, once you’re done with all your parts you just combine them and the work is done. Well, unless somebody in the group did a poor job, then the other members might have to redo their part. But I don’t see that happening here at least.
The worst potential group, though, is a group that decides to spend their time socializing instead of working. It’s an occasional side effect of having groups selected by the students, which is another reason they should be randomized. For example, Paul’s group spent most of the day joking around instead of planning how they were going to do the project. I know this because their talking and laughing was so loud it made it difficult for me to concentrate on what I was doing. Eventually the teacher had to get involved in order to get them to be more quiet, but you could still hear them joking around even if the volume was lower. I’m sure they’ll get it together before the project is due at the end of the week however.
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It’s tax season, which means my mother’s stable work schedule has gone out the window. At least we’re out of the beginning part where we eat terrible overcooked meals because my father hadn’t cooked in almost nine months and now it was solely his responsibility. Sometimes I help with parts of it, but I’d probably do even worse and I don’t want my mother to come home to a bad meal. She already has to deal with a lot, not just the hours but the uncertainty of when the day will end. She normally takes the same lunch to work every day, but now she takes more or less depending on when she thinks she’ll get home for dinner. If she brings too little, she’s hungry when there’s still work to be done, and if she eats a snack she might not be hungry for dinner right when she gets home. And then there are the Saturdays where she has to go through her entire preparation routine just to go in to the office for a few hours. It’s a good thing that this only lasts for a few months.
Not having a steady dinner time disrupts me too. It takes me a long time to start on assignments, and I have more homework than I should because by the time the working section ends I’m still getting ready to start. I get distracted at school by the noise of other kids, and I get distracted at home by going to random web pages. I neither accomplish anything nor spend the time relaxing or enjoying myself. But at some point, I’m able to start my work, and it usually takes less time to do than to start, but I can never tell how long it will take before I do it. If I don’t know when dinner is, then I don’t know how much time I have to get things done before I’m called to the table. So I end up not starting anything before dinner so I won’t have to stop what I’m doing just when I spent the past several hours starting it. I have a half hour warning usually because my mother calls us and tells us she’s coming home soon, but thirty minutes usually isn’t enough time to get anything done.
If my father and I eat at our usual time it would probably be better for me, but then my mother won’t have the stability of coming home to a hot meal with her family. Instead of sitting around doing nothing, I could help cook. But in order to help cook I need to learn how to cook. Cooking has a lot of little rules that you need to follow otherwise things like terrible tasting meals, or food poisoning, or your house burning down might happen. So at least one of my parents would have to teach me the steps involved with each recipe, and since they both have jobs even if they want to help me learn they may not have the time or patience to do so. At least I’ll be taking cooking class next year so maybe then I’ll be of some help.
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