The Invisible Asian Student

as03Steve points me to another weird argument for diversity in elite schools in The New York Times, Elite, Separate, Unequal: New York City’s Top Public Schools Need Diversity, which sidesteps the fact that students of Asian background are overwhelming these institutions. The writer seems to put a particular focus on Stuyvesant High School, which is only 3 percent black and Latino. But if you see its US News profile you notice that Stuy is 76 percent minority! That’s because 72 percent of Stuy students are of Asian background. Only 24 percent are non-Hispanic white. In the New York City public schools Hispanics are 41 percent, blacks 28 percent, Asians and American Indians 17 percent, and whites 15 percent. Whites are over-represented at the elite schools, but not nearly as much as Asians.

It isn’t as if The New York Times hasn’t covered this particular angle, For Asians, School Tests Are Vital Steppingstones, or To Be Black at Stuyvesant High. An important point to observe here is that Stuyvestant students are not economically privileged, 45% receive free or reduced price lunches. The culture of test-prep which is helping produce these figures does need to be examined; see Up-and-Crammers, which highlights why there has been recent Bangladeshi success in getting into selective New York City public schools. But if “holistic” admissions are used everyone knows what the outcome will be. The proportion of Asians will drop, yes, and blacks and Hispanics will increase. But it is also plausible that the proportion of whites will increase, because white students come from backgrounds with the cultural fluency to understand the importance of broadening extracurricular activities, some of which might be costly in terms of time and money.

This all brings me to thinking about an issue which came up in Peter Heather’s The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders. Heather points out that Procopius’ Secret History, much of which is crudely pornographic, can best be understood as a form of satire which would be transparently obvious in its intent for its intended literate audience. Intellectuals in antiquity assumed a particular background in literature which allowed for an allusive and multi-layered form of writing, where casual references might point to a deeper meaning or connection than a plain reading to the uninitiated might suggest. Op-eds which blatantly ignore the demographic elephant in the room when it comes to American elite education strike me as similar, as the omission is obvious to any “insiders.” I have friends who have gone to Stuyvestant, so I am casually familiar with its demographics. But to the typical national middlebrow reader of The New York Times such realities are not obvious, and the standard racial paradigm of the United States since the 1960s (where Latinos are added as auxiliaries to the story of blacks in relation to whites) can be marshaled as an interpretative framework. But the authors of such works, often the product of elite education themselves, have to know how outmoded and anachronistic such a discussion is. So why continue with this line of logic? I don’t have the patience to construct the games being played here, but obviously a plain reading makes no sense.

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