A “you couldn’t make this up” imbroglio has been roiling in New York City this year. It involves Mayor De Blasio’s efforts to change the way admissions to New York City’s handful of “elite” public high schools – the gems of an otherwise troubled public education system. Currently and for decades, admission is via a single test, and those who do best on the test get in. It’s served the schools well, and many graduates place in top colleges and universities.

But, in an era where discrimination is determined by outcome as much as or more than by action or intent, the current identity mix of students has informed our Best-and-Brightest that the system is racist, and practices, in De Blasio’s words, “massive segregation.” Why? Because the latest round of testing resulted in an admissions profile that’s 51.7 percent Asian, 28.5 percent white, 6.6 percent Hispanic, and 4 percent black.

Somewhere, somehow, and not too long ago, Asians got “delisted” from the ranks of “people of color,” it seems, but that’s a topic unto itself. In New York City today, “racism” only exists against blacks and Hispanics.

A thoughtful person might ponder the reasons for the disparity between these admissions numbers and the city’s overall ethnic mix (44.6% white, 27.5% Hispanic, 25.1% black, 11.8% Asian). A thoughtful person might also ponder the historical trends in the admissions mix (Brooklyn Tech used to be majority black/Hispanic, and the schools long held a reputation of being heavily Jewish). A thoughtful person might wonder if the primary schools in majority black or Hispanic neighborhoods are under-preparing students for the exam, or under-serving them more generally, and what the city and the Mayor (who runs the schools via his Chancellor, Richard Carranza) could do to improve those schools.

If such thoughtful people exist, they are far removed from the reins of power, because, nowadays, the existence of demographic disparities is itself deemed not only proof of racism, but a mandate for active ‘remediation.’

So, we have the Mayor and his Chancellor advocating for changing the single-test admission system by expanding a program that sets a few seats aside for low income students who didn’t get in via testing. Asian parents’ groups, recognizing that their children would bear the brunt of this change, are challenging the change in court.

This isn’t today’s news, though – it’s been raging in local news for quite a while now. No, today’s “wow” moment is Chancellor Carranza’s surprise upon learning that there are people of varied opinions living in the five boroughs of New York City. What set Carranza off was the very legitimate question of whether making this change would adversely impact overall academic excellence at the schools, and therefore reduce their reputation enough to affect college admission prospects for their graduates.

It’s a fair question. If you add non-academic factors to an admission process, you’re certainly going to end up with a student body that’s not as academically strong as you would were the admission process strictly academic. Some argue that there are benefits to a more diverse student body, and that may very well be the case, but it’s a deflective response. The honest answer would be “yes, but we have a different vision for the schools.”

Carranza’s reaction tells us something of the blindered, echo-chamber existence of our progressive Best-and-Brightest. He deemed the question ipso facto racist, as if prioritizing about your high-performing child’s college prospects is wrong, and in his comments informed us that he considers anyone who’s not “of the blue, liberal, progressive” to be racist.

Screaming “racist!” has long been a cheap and dishonest, but often effective, political debating tactic, because most people reflexively shift to defense, and feel obligated to explain that they’re not racists. I think that we’ve grown so used to this form of cheap-shot taking that we don’t react as vehemently as we should. Calling someone a racist is a really big deal, and it should be responded to accordingly. Recall how half the nation was deemed racist by the press, because it elected Trump over Clinton? Apparently, in Blue-Ville, that mind-set still exists, i.e. anyone who’s not a Progressive is a racist. This is borne out by a poll that shows a significant majority of Democrats consider Republicans to be racist/sexist/bigoted. In the other direction, the percentage drops by half.

De Blasio and Carranza are engaging in the common tactic of selling past the close. They declare, without bothering to provide evidence, that the demographic mix of the elite high schools is evidence of a racist admission system, and thus limit the range of responses to those that would forcefully remediate the mix. This keeps them from having to address the (far more likely) possibility that the mix is the result of a public school system that has failed black and Hispanic communities. The latter is the tough problem, and would involve making some hard decisions and breaking from some cherished but wrong beliefs. Shoehorning some more black and Hispanic kids into the elite schools, no matter that they may not be able to handle the work, is an easy out, and lets them brag while the underlying problems go unaddressed.

It also lets them get away with the vicious smear that anyone who disagrees with their conclusion and approach is a racist. I think it’s past time we stop letting such affronts go unchallenged.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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