Over the course of our meetings, many students lamented the lack of diversity at our schools, specifically with regard to black and Latino students. They shared that the lack of representation at their schools created environments that bred racism and other forms of prejudice both inside and outside the classroom.
This atmosphere does not foster the inclusivity and diversity that all New York City public high schools ought to embody, and inhibits underrepresented students from experiencing their education as equals. While the paucity of black and Latino and Latina students at the specialized schools is certainly reflective of larger, systemic flaws in equitable access to New York’s education system, their absence also prevents white and Asian students at those schools from receiving an education that lives up to the spirit of Brown vs.
This opinion piece dates SHSAT test prep to the 1950s. Of course, the entrance exam was not called “SHSAT” back then, and there was one exam per school.
When I was an 8th grade student in the 1957-58 school year at George Gershwin JHS, a jewel of a school recently opened on Linden Blvd in East NY section of Brooklyn, male students were offered an opportunity to take an after school class in prepping for the test for Brooklyn Tech, at the time the only specialized high school that went from 9th-12th grade.
Just because students are intelligent enough to pass a test doesn’t mean they understand people who might be ethnically, racially or culturally different.
That’s what happened to Gordon in his freshman biology class when his lab partner blamed him for the AIDS virus. Or when he was told to “go back to Africa” because he disagreed with some of his peers on the merits of the Specialized High Schools Admission Test (SHSAT).
And both of us have repeatedly heard something along the lines of, “Black people don’t care about education.”
While these stories may seem shocking or anachronistic, they are not unique among Stuy’s black and Latino students.
A NYTimes overview of the test and experiences in 1998.
The Stuyvesant test is officially called the ”Examination for the Specialized Science High Schools” — Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School. The same test is given for admission to all three, and students simply list their first, second and third choice. Since a majority of students list Stuyvesant first — 11,397 out of 18,524 eighth graders who took the most recent test — the cutoff for admission to Stuyvesant is higher.
The students — members of the school’s Black Students League and Aspira, the Hispanic student organization — recalled painful memories of having heard racist comments behind their backs at school. They reflected on their shared sense of alienation. They said they worried that adults would allow inequities in the system to persist. “It’s frustrating to see that nobody wants to do anything, until it’s like, ‘Oh no, nobody got it in,’” said Katherine Sanchez, 17, whose parents are from the Dominican Republic.
You would never guess that Victory Collegiate is located in one of the most diverse and wealthy cities in the world: my school was 90 percent black, 7 percent Hispanic, and had a few Arab and South Asian kids. Most of us qualified for free lunch.
One day, in my AP Biology class, a bullet flew into the classroom, lodging itself in the whiteboard, missing our heads by inches. The teacher was so traumatized that she never returned. But we, the students, were back in the same room two days later.
“We used to joke that whoever had the most money to spend on test prep would probably go to Stuyvesant.” That was how Ms. Rahman was introduced to the specialized school debate as a young Bangladeshi immigrant living in Brooklyn.
In high school, she came to believe that the admissions process was about money, not merit. Now, she said, “I feel like that system shouldn’t really exist.”