Friday, August 3, 2012

I Met this Chinese Kid

Lately I’ve been engaged in STEM education in an all encompassing way.  The broad national challenge outlined by President Obama trickles down to individual states and there is where I plug into this complicated educational social  challenge.  There is nothing novel about the challenge of minority student performance in the STEM space.  Neither is there anything new about the acute difficulties facing black men.  Program after program, initiative after initiative, bleeding heart after bleeding heart are all focused on figuring out how to make black males behave themselves, do better in school generally and in STEM fields in particular.

The question of black family and individual engagement and commitment is always looming darkly in the background.  Some advocates are loath to say in public, what they feel in their hearts, that black families simply don’t value education.  Others point out that many black families do value education, but don’t have enough successful experience in it to know how to “do school well”.  Another argument suggests that the vast majority of black students are trapped in underserved schools with unqualified teachers.  Then there is the basic question of commitment, a question of the gut dedication of the individual black boy – Kamau or Dey’Quan, La’Trey or Quintavious, Cedric or Deante – to do absolutely whatever is necessary to succeed in school.  Do they, do we, have the academic ambition, the fortitude and courage to succeed at all cost?

I met this Chinese kid recently from the mid-west.  He said he goes to Stuyvesant High School in New York.  Stuyvesant is the premiere public high school in the City and the number 5 STEM high school in the United States.  I asked him how he ended up at Stuy if he’s from the mid-west.  He said his parents wanted him to go a good high school for science and math and Stuyvesant was one of the best.  He casually said they moved to New York and stayed with family so he could go there. 

“Your family did what?”

In order to get into Stuyvesant students have to take a test that is arguably one of the most competitive exams in New York that thousands and thousands of 8th graders take.  There is absolutely no guarantee of admittance.  I said, “your parent’s moved you to New York just to go to Stuyvesant? How could they be sure that you’d get in?” 

“They were like, making a big sacrifice and I guess taking a risk, but I was like, I’m gonna do whatever it takes.  I worked really really really hard and I guess it worked out,” he said as he smiled.