Fairfax County, Virginia is ground zero for wokeness. It is 65 percent white and votes solidly Democratic. The median income is over $124k. I used to live there; it was common to hear white people brag about having black friends (but at work you know, not the kind that come over to the house) and worry about whatever the issue-of-the-week is as promoted by NPR. Hell, with the county’s proximity to Washington, DC, a lot of people there work for NPR.
The jewel in Fairfax’s public school system is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, known to all simply as TJ. TJ is widely considered the best high school in the country for STEM, and serves as a steady feeder into top universities. It would not be exaggeration to say TJ is a critical part of America staying ahead of other national economies. It’s a big deal, and it worked well until about a year ago based on the fact that the only way in was to pass a very competitive entrance exam. Kids would start studying in elementary school if their goal was TJ ten years later. Entry into TJ meant you were a smart kid with the discipline to put in the hard hours with no guarantee of success, a perfect definition of those who would also go on to succeed at Harvard.
The problem was with the danged Asians. As many as 73 percent of students offered admission to Thomas Jefferson High School were Asian. That drew criticism from people who felt black and Hispanic students were underrepresented. Typically only about two percent of the TJ students were black. The answer was a) to improve all middle schools in the area so they better prepare their kids to enter TJ; b) offer all students rigorous after-school programs to prepare for TJ c) or just lower TJ’s admission criteria to balance out the races.
Yeah, they did C. The crazy-hard entrance exam was dropped, the $100 application fee was dropped, and both were replaced by “A holistic review will be done of students whose applications demonstrate enhanced merit… Students will be evaluated on their grade point average; a student portrait sheet where they will be asked to demonstrate Portrait of a Graduate attributes and 21st century skills; a problem-solving essay; and experience factors, including students who are economically disadvantaged, English language learners, special education students, or students who are currently attending underrepresented middle schools.”
Catch that last part? Experience factors? That basically opened the door to one of the criteria being “whatever we say this all means.” The result at TJ was a drop of more than 11 percent in the number of Asians, and double-digit growth on the part of blacks and Hispanics, achieved by making being poor a criteria for acceptance. No matter white students account for only 22 percent of admissions, despite being 65 percent of the county population. This was done despite 85 percent of voters opposing race as an admission criteria; this is mirrored nationally, where 73 percent of Americans said colleges and universities should not consider race in admissions decisions.
But is it… racism? Seems so. One school board member texted another “I mean there has been an anti-Asian feel underlying some of this, hate to say it lol,” according to correspondence obtained by non-profit Parents Defending Education. In another exchange, Thomas Jefferson’s admissions director asked a school district official if she could “provide us a review of our current weighting (of experience factors) and whether or not this would be enough to level the playing field for our historically underrepresented groups.” She replied “My gut says that you may need to double all the points so the applicants can receive up to 200 points overall for these experience factors.” Another school board member wrote we “screwed up TJ and the Asians hate us” to which another responded he was “just dumb and too white” to address the diversity deficit in properly.
The school went further. There will now be three different “pathways” for admissions each year: the first for 350 high-performing students, the second for 100 students judged on a combination of half academic merit and half external factors, and 50 underrepresented students. Some people in town call them the Yellow, Brown, and Black lanes.
We’ve gotten so twisted in thinking America is shackled by systemic racism that we created a system of education admissions itself built on a foundation of systemic racism. We somehow think racially gerrymandering schools is a solution. We ignore John Roberts dictum “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Why are we hell-bent on self-harm by sacrificing our education system on layers of false progressive assumptions?
The first false assumption is access to learning equals learning. A student has to be prepared intellectually to succeed, or he fails, or the institution is forced to dumb down to accommodate him. Progressive education thought is to publicly disavow what we all know to be true in private, that some students are just smarter than others. We are absolutely not all alike. Imagine if colleges chose who’ll play on their football teams based not on athletic skill but racial quotas. Who knew education was only skin deep, and the football team more intellectually honest than the philosophy department?
The next false assumption is the magic number; XX percent of the population is black so XX percent of the student body should be black. If it is not, de facto some form of systemic racism is wished into being to blame. This typically focuses on the admissions process (to include testing, like the SAT) and thus the answer is to scrap every part of the admissions process that seems to rub against that XX percent. You don’t have to show question 27 on the SAT is itself “racist,” only that the SAT results won’t get XX percent of black kids into Harvard and must ipso facto be racist. So, let more black kids into Harvard by eliminating the SAT and that will result in more black doctors and lawyers and a more just society. Problem solved.
Well, sort of. There still is that issue of getting admitted to Harvard is not the same as graduating from Harvard; you have to be able to understand the classes and put in the hard work of studying, that ultimate form of delayed gratification. And Harvard only has so much space so to let in more black kids means saying no to others. In most progressive instances, that means telling “Asians” to go away (the term “Asian” itself is yet another false assumption, that somehow Chinese, Thais, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Laotians, Indians, Bangladeshis, et al, are lumpable into one omnibus racial garbage can.)
What you’re left with is the certainty that more exclusion by race is the answer to the alleged problem of exclusion by race. After some forty years of seeing something that egregiously dumb as a good idea, the issue is now coming again before the courts for a reality check, starting in Fairfax County, Virginia. Someone may decide it’s time to ask why we regularly end up with “cosmetically diverse” institutions, rather than anything real that leads to broad social progress.
A group calling themselves the Coalition for TJ sued the school system to reverse the admission process changes, which they allege were meant to diminish the number Asian students. That qualifies as discrimination based on race, outlawed under the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause, they claim. In late January a U.S. District judge turned down the Coalition’s request for a jury trial, claiming that since no material facts are at issue, he will instead issue a ruling later this year. Both sides will then be able to appeal, suggesting the issue will overlap another admissions season. A second suit is also in play. A bill before the Virginia legislature would also affect TJ, seeking to remove race as an admission criteria.
The move to eliminate racism in admissions processes in Virginia is mirrored at the national level. The Supreme Court agreed to decide whether race-based admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina are lawful (Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina.) The case against Harvard accuses the school of discriminating against Asian students by using subjective criteria such as likability, courage, and kindness, effectively creating a ceiling for them in admissions, a nasty echo of the 1930s when it was thought Jews lacked the “character” to be Harvard men. In the North Carolina case, the argument is simply that the university discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to PO other C. Don’t expect a decision before next year.
Once upon a time Americans decided race should not be a factor in education, doing away with segregated schools and ending separate could be equal. Somewhere we lost our way, to the point where leveling down, and creating twisty definitions of things like “experience points” brought race directly into education again. Only this time we convinced ourselves that discriminating against whites and Asians was perfectly OK. That current system is under fresh attack in the courts, and well it should be. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. You don’t have to go to Harvard, or TJ, to figure that out.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.
“It would not be exaggeration to say TJ is a critical part of America staying ahead of other national economies.”
“Exaggeration” is not the adjective to describe it.. Try Bullshit hyperbole.
Might we be in for more animosity between Chinese, Japanese and Korean folk and African Americans?
Some demand the US take in more Muslims I guess so we can add religious conflict to ethnicity clashes.