With a sense of tragic déjà vu, reactionary forces are once again pushing back against any proposed integration of prestigious, but largely segregated, schools. This development is so predictable that it would be comical – were it not for the terrible consequences. Already, several irate New Yorkers have called my district office to voice their displeasure with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans to diversify New York City’s elite specialized high schools. Many of these phone calls possess the same overt racial animus of years past, with arguments that had served the same purpose then: to maintain the broken status quo.
For a young black or Latino middle schooler living in Flatbush in the 1980s, the thought of going to one of the crown jewels of New York’s public schools seemed unimaginable. Even though I was ranked third at my middle school and enrolled in a gifted program, I did not for a moment consider taking the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test in order to apply to Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, or Brooklyn Tech. Left to my own young devices, I determined the SHSAT would be too difficult and too culturally biased for me to perform well on it. Instead, I opted to apply to the fourth specialized high school, LaGuardia. Although the school was the most competitive school of its kind, I based my decision in part on LaGuardia’s different application process, which entails a performance audition and tends to attract more culturally diverse applicants.