Not Rich Enough, Not Brown Enough (Gettin’ Schooled… pt 2)
A father is suing the New York Department of Education for denying his daughter access to a city-run tutoring program called the Specialized High School Institute, which prepares gifted students from under-represented minority groups for a competitive exam used for admissions into Brooklyn's top high schools. They are Chinese American, and therefore ineligible for the program that recruits black, Latino, Pacific Islander, and Native American kids. Here's more information on the lawsuit, taken on by conservative advocacy group the Center for Individual Rights.
I am very comfortable saying that generally my politics diverge from CIR. For example, I am in favor of Affirmative Action (while recognizing its limitations). In this case, it is completely unfair that families that have ambitious and hard-working kids but few resources to prepare the kids for today's ever more competitive school environment, should be denied access to programs that provide those resources to disadvantaged groups. In other words it makes no sense that Rudy Huxtable would have gotten into this program, but not Punky Brewster (yes, I am an '80s kid).
So the lawsuit gets to the heart of the need for a more comprehensive look at structural inequality in our society. And this opens up the can-o-worms that is elitism (and the myth that we live in a meritocracy) itself. We've got these fifth graders and eighth graders freaking out over standardized tests and grades and going to camps to boost their resumes so that they can get into the best high school so that they can get into an elite college.
Look, I'm not saying every parent shouldn't want the best for their kid. I'm not saying that I didn't take advantage of every opportunity I had, either. It's just funny when you enter the real world and you are faced with the cold hard fact that all of these opportunities essentially amount to access to a network. You may be brilliant as the stars above, but if you didn't go to an Ivy League school, you have to work nine times harder to get that credibility. And if you are from one of these "underrepresented" minority groups, even if you did go to Harvard, you still have the deck stacked against you.
I would love to see this case turn into a national conversation about privilege and power structures. But it won't. It didn't get there at the Supreme Court level, and I will bet it won't now. It will turn into pitting poor and middle class people who can't afford the prep schools and special programs, against groups that face racial discrimination based on their color and/or certain cultural attributes. And of course many people belong to both groups. And of course many who fit into one aren't included in the other, but should be. It's a mess.
And the lawsuit hinges on some serious issues that I sure hope aren't reduced to a simplistic and superficial fight against "reverse racism" (oh, how I cringe at the very idea that racism is only "supposed" to go in one direction, and is particularly appalling when it reverses it's "proper" course). Unfortunately, hope don't pay the bills.
This quote from the father who initiated the suit, found in the NY Post, puts it best: "It's not something that I take lightly," he said. "There are many Asian and white kids in this district who can't pay for tutoring. What is their recourse?"