Last week, I attended my daughter’s parent-teacher conferences at the Bronx High School of Science. The halls were crowded, at times virtually impassable, filled with parents shuttling from room to room for three-minute conferences with their child’s teachers. There were white, yellow, brown, and black faces—not exploited “people of color” but concerned parents, eager to help their kids succeed.
I heard no whining about disrespect, microaggressions, or cultural appropriation. The parents weren’t interested in the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren, liberal-elite narrative about oppression and demanding redress from the government. They were only interested in learning how their children were doing and how they could help.
Bronx Science students get admitted by a colorblind test. The result of this merit-based system? Most of the students are poor or lower-middle class. Many are immigrants or sons and daughters of recent immigrants. All are intent on taking advantage of the opportunity to obtain a first-class high school education and go on to college.
The government did not intervene to select this diverse group: it resulted from motivated parents who value education, hard work, and individual initiative. In fact, many succeeded in spite of the government, surmounting substandard public elementary and middle schools.
Forty years ago, I attended another of New York City’s specialized schools that relies on entrance exams—Stuyvesant High School. While the racial mix was different then, it was still diverse. One of my best friends was a Chinese immigrant who had moved to the U.S. a few years before and whose father eked out a living as a liquor salesman. His family lived in a crowded tenement a few blocks from my home on the Lower East Side. I never heard him complain. He worked hard, was on the math team, and held an afterschool job at a public library branch. After graduation, he attended Cal Tech and Stanford and went on to a successful business career.
The recent election makes me hopeful that we are moving past the culture of grievance that has poisoned our society and distorted our politics for the past eight years. Americans want equality of opportunity not equality of results. The opportunity that my friend and I took advantage of 40 years ago is alive and well in America. Long may it remain so.
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