Commentary Magazine

The Ugly Condescension of the Enlightened

Mike Licht/

The New York Times editorial board has weighed in on admissions to some of New York’s most selective public high schools, including Stuyvesant High School, the Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Technical High School. It is a disgusting performance.

A single test, the SHSAT, determines admission to New York City’s “specialized” high schools. Controversies concerning the test regularly arise because, although black and Latino students make up a majority of New York City’s public school students, they compose a relatively small minority of successful SHSAT takers. To remedy this disparity, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed to admit the “top 7 percent of students from every middle school, based on a combination of grades and performance on state exams.” “City officials” estimate that this system would render the specialized high schools “about 45 percent black and Latino.” This year, black and Latino students made up a little over 10 percent of specialized high school admissions.

As a Stuyvesant graduate, I have written about the enrollment controversy before, and I concede that reasonable people disagree about the merits of the SHSAT. What’s disgusting about the editorial board’s approach is its condescension toward Asian students and their families.

Give the board credit for facing the fact that the specialized high schools are majority-minority. Asian students won more than 50 percent of the slots this year. In New York City, as of 2016, Asians had a higher poverty rate than blacks and Latinos. Many Asian students admitted to the specialized high schools, according to the Times, “come from families that have scrimped on essentials like food to pay for test prep.” Notice that the editorial board seeks subtly to suggest that Asian parents sacrificing for their children are actually engaged in a species of child abuse. They’re starving their children to get ahead!

Richard Carranza, the city’s school chancellor, is favorably quoted telling Asian families that he intends to save them from such sacrifices—by closing off the possibility of gaining admission to specialized high schools! “I’m sorry that the system has forced you to spend your time, your treasure on preparing your kids for that test,” he tells Asian families. “Help is on the way.” It takes a politician’s gullet not to choke on words like these.

Not satisfied with this level of grossness, the Times ends the editorial by invoking “the spirit of Jim Crow” to describe a system in which white students receive a little more than a quarter of admissions offers and in which the city has been making more or less good faith efforts to increase black and Latino admissions rates. The Stuyvesant Black Alumni Diversity Initiative, “an informal association of Black alumni of Stuyvesant High School and other supportive alumni” has outlined a plan to improve on those efforts by identifying gifted black and Latino students “as early as possible in their academic careers” and providing appropriate support, both general and specifically geared toward “admission and success at specialized high schools.” The plan in no way denies—indeed, it proceeds from the premise—that “educational opportunity is not the same” in every neighborhood. It does deny that the way to address this disparity is to dole out an equal number of slots to each neighborhood.

But whether because he has grown impatient with the efforts the city has made thus far, or because identifying and supporting gifted students costs money, Mayor de Blasio wishes to gut a system that has opened doors for countless students who cannot afford to escape New York’s struggling public school system. He relies on the fact that most of his constituents don’t care about unfairness where Asians are concerned. Such political calculations are to be expected of politicians.

What is the New York Times editorial board’s excuse?

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