WESTLAND, Mass. It’s a Wednesday afternoon, the time when Emily Folkstone normally picks up her third-grade son Jeremy by herself, but today she’s accompanied by her husband Josh, who fiddles nervously with his necktie as he parks his car outside Pumpsie Green Elementary School in this upscale suburb west of Boston. “The teacher said it was important, that they wanted us to come in for a talk,” Josh says to this reporter, who will be allowed to accompany the young couple to the appointment on the condition that he not write a story such as this one. “I just hope Jeremy doesn’t have some kind of gross learning disability,” Folkstone says with a note of nervous anticipation.
“Maybe he’s lysdexic, like me.”
The Folkstones enter the office of Claire Pluginski, the school’s developmental educational specialist, and try to make themselves comfortable in plain wooden chairs while Pluginski makes polite chit-chat to put them at their ease.
“So what is it?” asks the husband, a venture capitalist used to “cutting to the chase” with chief financial officers of portfolio companies in the medical technology and used tongue-depressor “space.”
“contact us at usedtonguedepressor.com.”
“Oh, goodness,” Pluginski says, “I just realized, I may have alarmed you by calling you in for a conference!”
“Damn right,” the husband says, as his wife pats his knee and scolds him mildly. “Josh, please–calm down.”
“I have very good news for you about Jeremy,” Pluginski says.
“You do?” Josh Folkstone says, clearly relieved. “Well–what is it?”
“Well–we recently administered the BAT exam to all the third-graders,” the young educator says.
“And?” Josh Folkstone asks.
“Jeremy scored in the 99th percentile!”
“Wow–that’s great,” the husband says, as he turns to his wife with a big smile on his face. “Right up there, huh?”
“Wow–off the charts! This kid’s got C.P.A. written all over him.”
“That’s nice,” Emily Folkstone says with a more restrained tone. “What exactly does BAT stand for?”
Pluginski smacks her forehead with mock dismay at her obtuseness. “Gosh, we get so caught up in our education school jargon sometimes, we forget how to relate to people!” she says with a self-effacing smile on her face.
“So? Spill the beans,” Josh Folkstone says, resuming the anxious demeanor that burdened him when he first walked in.
“BAT stands for Boredom Aptitude Test,” Pluginski says with a comforting smile. “Pediatric psychologists have determined that the leading indicator of a child’s ability to grow into a well-adjusted and productive adulthood is the ability to endure boredom. Hence the BAT!”
The husband and wife look at each other with a somewhat mollified surmise, then the husband turns back to the educator. “So, you’re saying Jeremy’s good at . . .”
“Staring at the blackboard during math drills, listening to teachers read the school lunch menu, watching first aid and artificial respiration instructional videos.”
A bit confused now, but somewhat relieved, the mother presses for more information. “So . . . what does that mean for his future?” she asks.
“That’s my boy!”
“Just this,” the teacher says. “You know all the students you went to college with who dropped out to write the Great American Novel, or start a rock band, or make jewelry, or become a clam digger?”
“Yes,” the father says. “I know a pallet-load of them–losers.”
“Well, at the lower end of the BAT bell curve, he could become a mailman and retire with a soft pension, but that’s unlikely given his reading and math scores,” Pluginski says.
“Good,” the father says.
“Or he could become a tax lawyer, poring over IRS regulations to help people richer than himself make more money.”
“I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that,” Emily Folkstone says.
“As long as he doesn’t commit an artifice and device to defraud the I.R.S.,” Pluginski says, sounding a note of caution.
“What’s next up the ladder?” Josh Folkstone asks.
“Next is certified public accountant. You get crushed at tax time, but the rest of the year you’re calculating depreciation on strip malls and medical office buildings,” Pluginski says, “solid but not lucrative.”
“And then?” Emily Folkstone asks, hoping that there’s a future for her son, who’s absorbed picking his nose and wiping it on an inspirational poster on the office wall, more exciting than the jobs that have so far been enumerated.
“At the apex of the occupational pyramid for those who score high on the BAT are actuaries,” Pluginski says with pleasant finality.
“Refresh my memory,” says Emily Folkstone, who’s been out of the workforce for awhile raising Jeremy and his little sister Suzanne. “What’s an actuary?”
“An actuary,” Pluginski says in a dispassionately professional tone, “is an accountant without the personality.”