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hidden disabilities
Jack Bradley is a junior at Dupont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky.

Editor’s Note: Jack Bradley is a junior at Dupont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky, where he attends the public high school’s math, science and technology magnet. He and his family have started an organization called JackBeNimble to advocate for transforming special education by elevating student, family and educator voices, and by working with school districts to examine limiting assumptions and to encourage greater innovation.  

He gave this speech on Oct. 27 to about 3,000 attendees at the annual iNACOL conference on blended and online learning.

Like everything in my life, it’s complicated. I spend half my days in accelerated classes and the other half in special ed. I didn’t start talking until I was almost 3 but it was worth the wait because my first word was “wow.”

I didn’t learn to read until I was almost 10, but two years later, I won an award for my ACT score in reading — a 34. When I was 14, I actually got a perfect score. But I had to have help writing this.

Unfortunately, the ACT does not measure what I am most proud of — overcoming my fear of going up on the stage to receive the award. If I hadn’t done that, I probably could not do this.

I have autism, ADHD and Tourette’s — which make my life pretty challenging. Sometimes it seems like people think that I have consciously chosen to have a brain that is physically different from others. Nope — I do not have a designer brain!

When it takes me longer to finish a test or when I need to get up and pace, believe me that’s not what I would have designed. Would you? A lot of the time I feel like I am on trial — that I have to prove that I need help. That’s how it is with hidden disabilities, which by the way, 70 percent of all disabilities are.

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Mostly I was homeschooled because we couldn’t find a school that wanted me or that was a good fit. I did go to a school for kids with learning differences for third grade. At the end of the year, they said we needed to find a new school because I scored too high on standardized math tests.

“Although I do not believe our election process is rigged, I do believe that in many ways, our education system is.”

The funny part is that they had put me in a remedial math class because I couldn’t read the story problems. It took several months and my Mom pushing before they realized that not being able to read didn’t mean I couldn’t do the math.

I’ve taken a lot of classes in many different schools and also online, including university courses. I’ve attended more camps, programs, and conferences than I can remember. For the moment, I am in a public high school because I have to learn how to be in that kind of setting. It’s o.k., but not great.

My teachers are really nice. They try hard and care a lot. But, my general ed teachers have to teach to the AP and other tests which makes for mostly boring classes and my special ed teachers are not trained to teach what I really need to learn or to help me with subjects like Calc B/C.

I feel like a lot of my time in school is wasted. Instead of motivating or inspiring me, it just leaves me feeling exhausted. Homework would be mostly unnecessary if what we did in classes was exciting and if those classes were organized by skill levels instead of grades — more like homeschooling, actually.

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What if classes were as long (or short) as they needed to be instead of a fixed amount of time? What if instead of taking tests, the students created them? That would be so much more interesting and useful.

Please don’t listen to my story and think, “oh, he’s just an outlier,” because while that is true in some ways, it’s not true when it comes to what is most important. I am just like each of you when it comes to wanting friends, wanting to do interesting work, wanting to feel like I am heard, and wanting to enjoy my life.

Although I do not believe our election process is rigged, I do believe that in many ways, our education system is.

In two years, I’ll be able to vote, but I shouldn’t have to wait until I am 18 to be heard. Thank you.

Jack Bradley is a junior at Dupont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky.

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