Friday, August 16, 2019

Stuyvesant and The Limits of Affirmative Action

I support public and private sector workplace affirmative action programs. Many people have a strong preference for their own and a disdain for Black intelligence and competence. We live in a very segregated society. 

People who live separate residential and personal lives are as a group often unable or unwilling to judge co-workers, business partners, or new hires solely by potential and results. Humans usually don't work that way. 

Whether it is law firm partners who find more errors in associates' work if they think the associate is Black, hiring agents who sight unseen reject candidates with "Black" names, people that just tell someone straight out that they don't hire their kind, immigrants who won't hire Black people, managers more willing to hire white felons than Blacks without criminal records, workplace bigotry and stereotyping remains a huge problem. It's partly why the black unemployment rate has stubbornly remained twice that of whites for about as long as the metric has been recorded. If you're Black and haven't experienced any workplace funny business, congratulations but I think your number just hasn't come up yet.  It will soon

We do need standards. Properly done, affirmative action should make people define and enforce objective standards. If a company hires an incompetent Black person, I won't cry when that person is fired, demoted or transferred. But evaluating job performance can be opaque and biased. A person who excels in one role or with one set of people can fail in a different role or with different co-workers. Measuring educational performance is different. This brings us to Stuyvesant High School. 


New York City's Stuyvesant High School is a public elite college prep school that requires successful performance on an entrance exam for admittance. Recently, out of nine hundred students offered admission to Stuyvesant, only seven were Black

And apparently of the few Black students currently enrolled at Stuyvesant (twenty-nine out of a student body of about three-thousand), many were Black students from immigrant backgrounds. So whether in raw numbers or in percentage, native born Black American students from non-immigrant backgrounds aren't making the cut. The numbers were slightly better for Hispanics but not by all that much. Stuyvesant is largely populated by Asian-American kids , who are about 74% of the student body. Whites are around 20% of the student body. Asian-Americans make up about 12% of the NYC population while Blacks and Hispanics combined are a little over 50% of the NYC population.

The admission outcome was embarrassing and unacceptable to many NYC movers and shakers.They argued that the admission test was biased or that Black students weren't getting enough test prep. The Mayor of New York Bill DeBlasio and the School Commissioner Richard Carranza wanted to change Stuyvesant's admissions policy so that top performers from various city schools could get in without the test or perhaps in addition to the test. But NYC could not change Stuyvesant's admissions policy without a change in state law, which proved not to be forthcoming. Many Asian-American organizations flatly opposed any policy change, pointing out correctly, if often rudely and crudely, that it would be Asian-American kids who would take the biggest hit. It would effectively create quotas by race as many of the schools are predominantly one race or another. Ironically, it would be an Electoral College system for schools.
Before the meeting, Bernard Chow, a Queens activist, spoke against the mayor’s proposal. “All the hard-working students, the students who are willing to give up basketball and stay home and study,” he said, speaking over “keep the test” chants and banging drums. “Those students who are willing to give up video games, and look at the book, it’s unfair to them.”
Wai Wah Chin, president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, likened Mr. de Blasio’s plan to the Chinese Exclusion Act, an 1800s law restricting Asian immigration.
Speaking before a packed room, Mary Alice Miller, a black alumna of Stuyvesant, said the arguments against change were filled with “racial coding.”
“It’s very offensive to hear all the racial coding: that African-Americans are not good enough, if more of us are accepted into the schools, the specialized schools will bring down their standards.” “The schools are a public good for everybody,” she added. “We do not want to be displaced from the schools that we helped build.”
Now the hands of Asian-American Stuyvesant students and alumni certainly aren't Ivory Snow clean with ongoing academic cheating scandals that echo those in Chinese schools but they were correct as to the expected impact.
Chan said he believes that if schools were truly doing their job, parents would not need to spend money to enroll their children in test prep courses to get a leg up on the exam. 
“We should address the diversity problem, but we should address it by bringing these kids up to par where they can pass this test, without test prep,” he said. Private centers that prepare kids to tackle the specialized high school test, along with other standardized exams like the SAT and ACT for college admissions, are staples of the city’s Asian-American communities — but not necessarily in others.
That could put test-takers on an unequal playing field, critics of the exam argue.
“It’s like saying two different sets of people are being asked to run a marathon: one was able to eat on a full stomach and the other one showed up with half a meal in their belly, and you call that fair,” Mun said.
I am somewhat biased here because back in the Neolithic Age I also attended an elite public high school which required an entrance exam for admission. I understand that we want to make sure that everyone has a shot at good things. But sometimes either you know something or you don't. 

Either you can do the work or you can't. NYC Black American students are being out worked and out competed by Asian-American students, many of whom come from poverty or immigrant backgrounds and households where English is not the first language. How in the Fibber McGee are you losing out on a test that partially measures English skills to people who may not even speak English at home?

One reason that Black Americans have often been over represented in sports is because sports was, relatively speaking, one of the few places where Blacks historically had anything remotely close to equal opportunity. Well the same thing is true on a test. In school and college I infrequently had indifferent or racist teachers. I always took pleasure in succeeding in spite of people like that and rubbing it in their face. People can't take that away from you. If you know your [stuff] , no silly little entrance exam is going to stop you. 



Another reason that Blacks have been over represented in sports was that both Blacks and whites accepted stereotypes that Blacks were naturally better at certain physical challenges. 

There were disproportionately more Blacks entering sports and therefore performing well. Both Blacks and whites accepted stereotypes that certain intellectual achievements were beyond Blacks. 

In other words, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.", as the Henry Ford quote reads. I wouldn't be against a change to make admissions more holistic-to include top performers from a variety of NYC schools. Many colleges do not admit solely based on tests/grades because there are so many applicants with perfect or almost perfect grades and test scores that there would be no way to choose strictly on those criteria and also because many colleges want an environment not populated solely by high test performers (read Asian-Americans) or disproportionately by one gender. 

Colleges make room for legacy students, athletes, people from different geographical regions, men, and so forth and so on. Should an elite high school do the same?

Maybe. Maybe not. 

But in the mean time this has to be a wake-up call to Black students and parents in NYC and beyond that what they are doing in regards to achievement in education must change. Affirmative action is on its deathbed, particularly in education. As the nation's demographics change, I believe that affirmative action for Black people will become less, not more popular. So in the Stuyvesant case why can't Black students make the debate moot by attaining the highest scores of any demographic? 

This whole "people of color" coalition idea is not real outside of some university dorms and campus coffee houses where old radicals from the sixties tell us young'uns about their battles. In real life, competition plays an important part in everything we do. We understand and accept this in sports. At the highest level of sport, usually if you don't put in the work you won't be able to compete. The same is true of academic endeavors. If we don't believe that Black American students are naturally inferior in academics, and I don't, then we must seek to remedy environmental factors. 
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