“The children who have the least in their homes often have the least in their schools,” writes Dr. Ibram X. Kendi in his Boston Globe article, and I have to agree. It is no secret to us in Boston that while, in places like West Roxbury, there are a plethora of high-performing private and public elementary schools, in many other low-income neighborhoods, there is a complete lack of support that is needed to gain admission into a so-called “elite,” selective exam school.
I can remember, before coming to Boston Latin School, the amount of preparation I, and my classmates, sought out for the ISEE, being from a rather higher-income neighborhood in Boston. Is the exam truly a symbol of meritocracy, if our education systems reflect inequity? Dr. Kendi warns us that there will be those who claim that the white and Asian kids who score higher on average are “smarter or work harder,” that this can be translated into the implication: “Black and Latinx kids are not as smart or not as hard-working.” This is what our “meritocracy” allowed us to do — discriminate against those who have less privilege in a way where we can maintain a clear conscience. I was able to pay. I don’t think it occurred to me, back then, that there were children from specifically redlined neighborhoods and underfunded schools who could not do the same. I hadn’t known how you could be limited by where you lived, at least not in America. It was only through years of learning about Boston and America's racism that I could recognize this — that there is a clear need for a more structured curriculum, motivating and motivated teachers, and more resources and guidance counselors, in all of Boston Public Schools’ elementary schools. In this way, students from all neighborhoods could receive the education they deserve, and the seed will be planted for a love of learning in the future.
In addition to reframing elementary schools, however, I think there is much change needed at Boston Latin School specifically. I made a friend over the summer at a biomedical research program. Of course, it was completely virtual, but we bonded and soon began talking about our lives at school since I went to Latin School, and he went to Latin Academy. He began telling me about his disappointment at the lack of resources at Boston Latin Academy — how he’d thought he would have more opportunities in college applications at his school. I was shocked to discover he’d taken the test for entry as a Bsie, got into Boston Latin School, and rejected the invitation. Of so many people my age in Boston, he’s definitely one of the smartest, quick-thinking, and dedicated students I’d met, and he’s also Black. This last point probably meant more than I thought it did, because he continued to say that his mother asked him not to come to our school because it was too much pressure. From an Asian perspective, not accepting the invitation was practically unheard of. For a Black person, however, with all the racial inequities aired in the media, with the reputation as an “elite” school, with the common, white supremacist notion taught to our society that Black and Latinx students are naturally underperforming, perhaps Boston Latin School is not the welcoming environment for everyone that we assume it is, and now we have to recognize this. If we want students from all races, backgrounds, and zipcodes to be excited about Boston Latin School next year, we have to actually make an effort — not just with homeroom slideshow presentations, but with widespread engaging education courses (like Facing) or with creative immersions into cultures, with active facilitation of welcoming sixes, with less competitive and burn-out culture and more community building.
But how do we actually admit students into exam schools, if not through exams? Well, I don’t think we should have exam schools at all. I think our three “elite” schools are a mechanism many privileged and affluent residents can use in order to not properly address the lack of support in teachers, curriculum, and physical conditions for other high schools in Boston. Before, I mentioned giving elementary schools enough resources should they want to attend exam schools, but what is better, in my opinion, is abolishing them altogether, to invest in all high schools so each and every one of them is equipped to handle various needs of students. Since this doesn’t seem to be an option right now in Boston Public Schools, I suppose we have to focus on the exams and admissions process of selective schools. As a whole, I support the new shift our school has adopted. I’m not sure it is sustainable yet, because we never know with new initiatives what the result would be, but I am hopeful about it. Truly, what is the harm in trying? What is the harm in taking strides towards equality? Since the desegregation of Boston’s schools, we have found ways to obstruct Black children from receiving decent education — why must we argue and delay equality any longer? I think the new system this year, if anything, is a great experiment.
This opinion is obviously very controversial. And people might see my bias as someone who’s already been accepted into Boston Latin School, which is valid. But the fact is I can recognize that I, and many like me, would have resources and opportunities even if we weren’t accepted into Boston Latin School. From private high schools to places like Brookline or Newton, we have opportunities which, may be different, but are undoubtedly abundant. There are very many real people in our city, who do not have opportunities outside of exam schools like Boston Latin School. I think we ought to remember that when considering admissions. Another argument I’ve seen many people in the Asian community make is that setting aside seats based upon race is discrimination against them. Though I am Asian, I don’t see it that way at all — and I think it’s detrimental for our community to consider the advancements of opportunities for Black students and their families as a slight against our own. I also find it frustrating that the Asian representation in Boston exam schools can be double that in other Boston Public Schools, that Asian representation in New York City’s selective schools can be almost five times that in all other NYC high schools according to the data in Alvin Chang’s article, and we do not think that this is inequitable. Our community’s failings to recognize discrimination against Black, Latinx, and Indigenous groups are really awful to see. We have to look at the numbers, because they don’t lie, and realize the change we can create in education is far beyond the individual; but rather, for a future of equity.
I think we need to look critically at our past — how often in regards to education people have protested desegregation in Boston. I think by understanding the lack of equality that has always existed in our city, we can see the big picture of racism in our country and recognize the value in advocating for each other. We can be motivated enough to enact more substantial change, even if, like the new policy at Boston Latin School, we are not yet sure how it will turn out. I have hope that we can make our city better and brighter — but this will not happen until we take the racial faults in our system upon ourselves as a priority, instead of profiting from these injustices.