Does Diversity + Inclusion = Lowering The Bar?

When this article about Raisbeck Aviation High appeared in the Seattle Times, I read it and then posted my thoughts on Facebook.  Then I looked at the comments and sure enough, this article brought out the usual racists who equate diversity to lowering the bar and somehow taking away opportunities from those most deserving (read white students and the occasional Asian). I know I shouldn’t, but I read the comments on articles like this to get a feel for where folks stand, and they always disappoint me in that they don’t seem to ever grow out of their perceptions of who can and can’t be smart.  Maybe I should either not look or change my expectations.

My first thoughts when I read this were, I wonder what prompted this move and how prepared they are to implement this new lottery system? Could it be that we live in the area of WA State that is a leader in high-tech, yet our companies complain about not enough talent to draw from and certainly not enough to diversify their workforce and here we have a tech school that isn’t opening its doors to everyone? Could it be that someone put enough pressure on the school district that Superintendent Enfield said enough is enough? Superintendent Enfield is quoted:

“Being a public school system, you have to have an equitable and defensible system,” Superintendent Susan Enfield said. “Because we have more students each year than we have seats for, the [school] board and I have to be able to look any parent and student in the eye and say, ‘You have an equal chance of getting into this school.’”

But why now? Why this moment? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back?  And then part (and I say part because I believe there is something else) of the answer was in the very next paragraph:

The decision also followed a complaint from the parent of an Asian student, alleging the interview process was discriminatory. Although the student had been in Highline’s highly capable program, her father said she didn’t receive enough points on the application or interview rubrics.

Enfield said district officials already had been thinking about changing the admissions policy before that complaint was filed last July, and she and the Highline School Board determined that no discrimination occurred in that case. But the move to the lottery system ended a state investigation into the matter.

“The concerns signaled to us that we needed to find a solution, or that solution would be determined for us by an outside entity,” Enfield said.

But kudos to Superintendent Enfield because frankly a lot of superintendents who have tried to tweak things a little at a time, effectively doing nothing. Now the really hard work begins.

Then I started moving my mind to how the hell they’re going to do this well.  History has already shown us that when students are forced to integrate (in this case they are being enticed to), bad things tend to happen mostly because of the adults. You can look at busing, the mandates that all kids get tested for giftedness (instead of the club where only people in the know get to send their kids to gifted classes whether they are really gifted or not), and more recent district mandates where if you pass a certain level on your state tests you are automatically put in the advanced classes.  All for the most part good intentions to provide opportunities for those left out. None of this works for the adults of the kids who “earned” their way there because they don’t want their genius children to be dragged down by “those kids”.  Teachers are not prepared for all the cultural differences that come with this new crop of kids and slowly (or quickly depending on the teacher) start to believe these new kids were misplaced.  And eventually, sadly, the kids themselves start to see themselves as unworthy. Plus, there was no indication of whether there is an academic bar to meet before students were placed in the lottery and if that’s not the case then these teachers will need to be retooled to facilitate the academic gap closing of all the students, regardless of race, who come in with knowledge gaps.

young-gifted-blackFinally, as a Black person, I know all the Black kids that were chosen for the lottery will need a lot of moral support (and I’m guessing the Latino kids will too, but I’m only speaking from my knowledge and experience as a Black person). They will be told and shown in so many ways why they don’t belong–more so than they have already experienced in our education system and society–and eventually they will believe it if we don’t wrap ourselves around them and lift them up.

When I was growing up in the late 50’s through 70’s on the east coast, there was this sense of pride and hope we Black folks had that helped us fight perceptions like this.  The 1958 song “To be Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone was like a theme song for us.  Today we have no such thing.  We have been conditioned to think we’re the problem and we somehow need to be fixed.  If we don’t get out of this tailspin, we’ll have our very own apartheid here in the good ole U S of A.


To be young, gifted and black,
Oh what a lovely precious dream
To be young, gifted and black,
Open your heart to what I mean

In the whole world you know
There are billion boys and girls
Who are young, gifted and black,
And that’s a fact!

Young, gifted and black
We must begin to tell our young
There’s a world waiting for you
This is a quest that’s just begun

When you feel really low
Yeah, there’s a great truth you should know
When you’re young, gifted and black
Your soul’s intact

Young, gifted and black
How I long to know the truth
There are times when I look back
And I am haunted by my youth

Oh but my joy of today
Is that we can all be proud to say
To be young, gifted and black
Is where it’s at

–Nina Simone 1958

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