Colum­nists share their thoughts

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Richard Cohen’s email address is co­henr@wash­post.com.

Find out what peo­ple have to say about lo­cal and na­tional is­sues.

It is amaz­ing to me that Pres­i­dent Trump has not, on a rare day when he’s in New York, ex­ited Trump Tower, made a sharp left, and limoed down to Stuyvesant High School. It is New York City’s crown jewel, where -- like in the fic­tional Lake Wobe­gon -- all the stu­dents re­ally are “above av­er­age.” And just to make mat­ters more in­trigu­ing and com­pli­cated, Stuyvesant’s student body is ma­jor­ity Asian. The mayor thinks this is a “mon­u­men­tal in­jus­tice” and that more of them should be His­panic and black. For that, he re­cently asked a black church for an “amen.”

In­stead, from cer­tain crit­ics, he got a groan of op­po­si­tion and dis­be­lief. In the name of racial eq­uity, fair­ness and that most de­cep­tive of all words, di­ver­sity, he would de­mol­ish a sys­tem that at Stuyvesant and seven other elite city high schools has, with­out a doubt, pro­pelled count­less poor kids right into the mid­dle class -- and be­yond.

The rea­son I men­tioned Trump in the first para­graph -- be­sides en­tic­ing you to read what I’ve writ­ten -- is that his base con­sists, in no small part, of white males who think the deck is stacked against them; that the lib­eral poli­cies of the Obama years, per­son­i­fied by Hil­lary Clin­ton, un­fairly fa­vored other groups or, when it came to trade, other na­tions. You and I may quib­ble with this view, but then along comes Bill de Bla­sio to de­mand an “amen” to his ef­forts to tilt a color-blind ad­mis­sions sys­tem to get a dif­fer­ent blend.

Blacks and His­pan­ics com­prise 67 per­cent of New York’s pub­lic school stu­dents. Yet Stuyvesant’s in­com­ing fresh­man class con­tains only 10 blacks, 27 His­pan­ics, 151 whites -- and 613 Asians. A sim­i­lar im­bal­ance ap­plies to the city’s seven other elite schools, in­clud­ing Brook­lyn Tech, where the mayor’s son just grad­u­ated. Clearly, some­thing is off. In the best of all pos­si­ble worlds, these schools should have student bod­ies that re­flect the city’s de­mo­graph­ics. This, though, is not the best of all worlds. It’s the one we have.

And in this world, the chil­dren of Asian im­mi­grants walk away with the lion’s share of ad­mis­sions. Why? Sim­ple. They study. They study hard. Ad­mis­sions to New York’s aca­dem­i­cally elite schools is based solely on an en­trance exam. That’s it. No alumni rec­om­men­da­tions. No of­fer of a con­tri­bu­tion. No ath­letic abil­ity or any­thing of the sort. Take the test. Score high. Get in. That’s it. Noth­ing could be fairer. Yet, de Bla­sio wants to do away with the exam all to­gether.

In an ex­haus­tive piece for the City Jour­nal about Brook­lyn’s Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity -- one of New York’s sev­eral “Chi­na­towns” -- Kay S. Hy­mowitz writes that “If, as some­times ap­pears the case, ‘Har­vard’ is the first English word that im­mi­grant Chi­nese moth­ers learn, the sec­ond is prob­a­bly ‘Stuyvesant.’” Just read­ing Hy­mowitz’s de­scrip­tion of how these par­ents work around the clock for their chil­dren -- ris­ing be­fore dawn to en­sure that the home­work is done -- is ex­haust­ing in it­self. Of­ten, they put aside money to have their kids prepped for the Stuyvesant ad­mis­sions test. This is not a perk of the rich. This is yet an­other sacrifice these par­ents make for their chil­dren.

My lim­ited tol­er­ance for af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion -- pos­si­bly per­mis­si­ble when the poor are ad­van­taged at the ex­pense of the rich -- hits a wall in this case. By and large, the Asian-Amer­i­cans of Stuyvesant are not rich. Many of them are poor, so-called Ti­tle I kids, en­ti­tled to all sorts of aid. They and their par­ents played by the rules and stud­ied hard. Why should they be de­prived of what they earned on the ba­sis of race or eth­nic­ity? That’s what the mayor wants to hap­pen. Asian kids have to make way for black or His­panic ones.

The fig­ures are both stark and tragic. But they prove, to the ob­sti­nate blind­ness of the doc­tri­naire, that poverty is not al­ways the de­ter­mi­nant. You can hardly get poorer than many of the Asian im­mi­grants. They come to Amer­ica with lit­tle. They of­ten can’t even speak the lan­guage. In her ar­ti­cle, Hy­mowitz says that Chi­nese fam­i­lies of­ten “main­tain that they have been dis­crim­i­nated against, and they tell their chil­dren to expect dis­crim­i­na­tion as well.” It’s a hard, hard life.

Al­ready, the mayor has re­served some slots for stu­dents who al­most pass the exam so that more black and His­panic kids will be ad­mit­ted to the spe­cial schools. For him, it is only a be­gin­ning. In the name of di­ver­sity, he wants to scrap the test and, thereby, de­stroy a sys­tem that epit­o­mized the Amer­i­can dream and -- as Trump might say -- made Amer­ica great.

Richard Cohen Colum­nist

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