Monthly Archives: April 2013

Watch “The Big Brain Theory” on the Discovery Channel

Are you or your sons STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) enthusiasts? Do you want to be? Sounds like the new show “The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius” premiering on the Discovery Channel tomorrow (May 1) is right up your alley. This show will feature an impossible sounding engineering challenge each week which teams of skilled contestants will attempt to solve. Each week the expert panel of judges will determine the winning team and eliminate a team member from the losing team. The ultimate winner will receive $50,000 and a year long contract to work at an award winning design firm.

The show is hosted by Kal Penn, most well known as an actor (the “Harold and Kumar” films and a regular on the tv series “House”) but whose resume also includes a recent two year stint as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and an adjunct professorship at the University of Pennsylvania. The regular and guest judges include experts in renewable energy and robotics as well as astronauts and inventors. The show follows the contestants (which include one young man with an awesome Afro) as they work on the various challenges and captures the tension, excitement and angst of their creative process.

The show’s website, found here, has a lot of interesting information about the show and its participants. It also includes some Brain Games which you and your children can try. Check it out, and make a note to check out the show’s debut with your children. It comes on fairly late (10pm Eastern Standard Time), so you might want to record it and watch it with them at a more convenient time. Let us know what you think!

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Filed under Entertainment, Experts, Resources

Summer Camp Recommendations

Rachel Christmas Derrick, whose thoughtful piece on Affirmative Action you read on GCP a few weeks ago (“The Myths and Realities of Affirmative Action”, April 1, 2013) is back with recommendations for wonderful summer camp experiences that her children (and she) have enjoyed.

* * * * * * * * *

Looking for an excellent summer camp or travel program? Consider the following, all of which my family has loved:

Independent Lake Camp
My daughter adored this sleepaway camp for five years, starting when she was ten. You can choose the number of weeks your child stays, from two to nine weeks (for kids aged 6 to 17). A sprawling camp along a beautiful lake in Orson, PA (Pocono Mountains), ILC offers the usual swimming (lake or pool), sports, horseback riding, fine arts, drama, music, hiking, camping, etc. But the highlights of this camp are twofold:
1) the circus program (my daughter is now an expert flying trapeze artist–without lines!) in which kids learn everything from riding unicycles and juggling to clowning and tightrope walking
2) the multicultural, multi-geographical staff and campers: The Magic teacher might be a black man from England. A counselor might be a Chinese woman from Australia. Your child might be able to practice French or Spanish with bunkmates from Paris or Caracas–or compare notes on city life with fellow campers from Philly and LA.

Institute for Spanish Language Studies
When my daughter was 14, she lived with a family in Costa Rica, studied Spanish, and volunteered at an orphanage and a senior center, as part of the community service camp. The nice thing about the teen program in Costa Rica is that kids can select one-week increments, so, for instance, they could spend a week in the community service camp, a week in the surf camp, and in week at the travel camp. Or they could spend three or four weeks in one camp. The students in the different camps all get together on weekends for white water rafting, hiking, etc. Cooking and dance classes are among evening activities.

The Experiment in International Living
One of the most memorable experiences of my life was living with a family in a small red-dirt-road town in Mexico, studying Spanish, and traveling around the country–when I was 15 (a couple of years ago). This summer, my 15-year-old daughter is doing the Peru program: She’ll be living with a family in an Afro-Peruvian, Indo-Peruvian area, performing community service, and studying Spanish. The Experiment has a variety of other high school student programs in the Americas as well as in Africa, Asia, and Europe, from language study (French, Italian, Japanese) and eco-adventure to culinary exploration and arts immersion.

And if you live in or close to New York City:

Day Camp in the Park
In peaceful Harriman State Park, this lakeside camp has snagged my son with all kinds of sports, water activities, art, drama, theater, and nature (deer hang out under the main building, which is on stilts). The rustic waterfront setting and the cabins make it feel like a sleepaway camp–but every day the kids get DOOR-TO-DOOR transportation between home and the camp, about 45 minutes from Manhattan!

Please let me know if you’re planning to apply to any of these programs or camps!

Rachel Christmas Derrick

As we contemplate the myriad of summer camp options available for our children it is very helpful to read these glowing recommendations. If you haven’t signed up your son or daughter for a summer program yet, you should consider these. Thanks so much Rachel!

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Filed under Resources, Summer Camps and Programs

J.R. Smith and The Power of Mentoring

New York Knicks shooting guard J.R.Smith recently received the NBA’s 2013 Sixth Man award, which is given annually to the league’s most valuable player coming off the bench as a substitute. A recent New York Times article about the award found here describes Smith’s transition on the Knicks team from a talented but volatile lone wolf player to an incredibly valuable teammate. Smith made this transition under the guidance of Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who saw the potential in this young man despite his reputation for being hard to handle. Smith initially disagreed with Woodson’s decision not to include him in the starting five lineup, but took Woodson’s coaching advice to heart and worked hard to change his ways. “I’ve been known as such a selfish player for so long,” Smith acknowledged after receiving his award. “I just wanted to show everybody that I can be a team guy and it’s all about team.” Woodson was beaming like a proud father when Smith rose to accept his award.

This is a good story for many reasons, not the least of which is that I am a big Knicks fan. (Go Knicks!) But what I really like about this story is the lessons it offers us and our children. A lesson about having the determination to make a difficult situation better, and most significantly, a lesson about the power of a good mentor.

J.R. Smith is a talented player who developed a reputation early in his career for being a loose cannon on and off the court. When Smith joined the Knicks last year, Coach Woodson knew that Smith needed a different perspective. Woodson told the NY Times that he began by helping Smith look the part of a team player: “I want his shorts pulled up. I want him to look presentable, be a professional.” Woodson also knew that he didn’t want Smith to start. He strategized that Smith would be more helpful to the team and to himself if he came off the bench, and told Smith this on the first day of the Knicks pre season training camp.

Smith was not happy with this news. As he told USA Today Sports, “Once I heard I wasn’t starting it threw a monkey wrench into my goals.” He didn’t like Woodson’s explanation that “it’s not a matter of who starts but who finishes the game,” and that he wanted Smith to come off the bench to execute winning plays for the Knicks. But Smith figured out how to swallow his disappointment and anger, put things in perspective, and over time accepted his role. And he has become a better player for it, as evidenced by the Knick’s strong performance in the latter half of this season, and Smith’s being voted as the best sixth man in the league.

Smith had tremendous professional and personal growth this season: he faced a difficult situation, learned to accept it, focused on a goal bigger than his individual desire, and success followed. But key to this was having Woodson as a mentor. Some might say that this is just part of a coach’s job, but Woodson took a focused interest in helping Smith change his ways. He assessed Smith’s strengths and weaknesses, engineered a plan to use Smith’s talents to maximize team effort, and guided Smith along the path to becoming a more mature and better player.

The power of mentoring was also greatly in evidence at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC’s fundraising benefit which I attended a few nights ago. Their mission is to provide children facing adversity in New York City with professionally supported 1-to-1 mentoring relationships with adults. This organization, which has been facilitating such mentoring relationships for over 108 years, proudly declares as their motto that their mentoring work has “The Power to Change Lives”. We saw this in action that night as three pairs of “Bigs” (the mentors) and their “Littles” (the children) introduced themselves, talked about their mentoring relationship, and introduced the honorees for the evening.

Watching those adorable, well spoken “littles” (one of whom proudly proclaimed that his favorite Knick was J.R. Smith, by the way) confidently tell the packed room how much they admired and appreciated their “Bigs”, and hearing the “Bigs” say how rewarding it was to spend time with and learn from their “littles” was truly inspirational. No doubt that these are life changing relationships.

So as you are watching the Knicks sweep the playoffs(!), and J.R. Smith makes an impressive move on the court, chat with your sons (and daughters) about how he got there, and the lessons he learned along the way. Remind them that everyone can benefit from the power of mentoring.


Filed under Sports

Talking To Your Children about Boston

As we continue to hear news from Boston following the multiple explosions that have rocked that city, we should be mindful that our children are hearing this news as well. GCP covered the topic of how to talk with your children about tragedy after the Newtown massacre (“How Do We Talk to Our Children About Newtown?” December 17, 2012); how incredibly sad it is that we must return to this topic just a few months later. Boston Children’s Hospital has just posted “Talking to Children After Tragedy”, found here, to help us help our children cope with the frightening events of this afternoon. As their piece notes, the advice for today is not vastly different than the advice given after Newtown. But it is worth reading to prepare ourselves to be as helpful and supportive as possible to the young ones who may need it.

Our thoughts and best wishes are with everyone affected by this terrible circumstance.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Saving Our Sons

A.D.H.D. Diagnoses On The Rise: Overdue or Overuse?

Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.), according to new data from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled by the New York Times and reported in a recent article found here. The data indicated that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 41 percent rise in the past decade. A.D.H.D. is described by most experts as resulting from abnormal chemical levels in the brain that impair a person’s impulse control and attention skills. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. However, experts note that extended use of these drugs can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.

The numbers of children diagnosed with A.D.H.D. is likely to rise even higher because the American Psychiatric Association plans to change the definition of A.D.H.D. to allow more people to receive the diagnosis and treatment. While some doctors view the increase in diagnoses and the move to expand the definition as an indication that the illness is being more readily recognized and treated, other doctors are concerned that even at current levels, the diagnosis is being made and drugs are being prescribed too hastily, and it will only get worse. Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine notes in the NY Times article , “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.” C.D.C. director, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden agreed. “We need to ensure balance,” Dr. Frieden said. “The right medications for A.D.H.D., given to the right people, can make a huge difference. Unfortunately, misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate.” Moreover, doctors note, some parents are pressuring doctors to help with their children’s troublesome behavior and slipping grades. “There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal — if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk — that’s pathological, instead of just childhood,” said Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Certainly the far greater number of boys than girls being diagnosed would support this notion.

On the other hand, however, many of us know children who have been diagnosed with A.D.H.D and have received medication which has helped them progress from being distracted and frustrated students to happier and more successful ones. The diagnostic process is not medically driven: the disorder has no definitive test and is determined only by speaking extensively with patients, parents and teachers and ruling out other possible causes. I’ve spoken with parents who have gone through the process of having their children receive this diagnosis, and they are generally satisfied with the process and their children’s response to the medication. Trying to get a distracted and bouncy child to sit still and do homework night after night is no joke. But if doctors are too quick to diagnose A.D.H.D., how can parents determine whether their child is just naturally bouncy, which would lead parents to seek more natural outlets for this energy, or whether their child needs to be medicated?

GCP will continue looking into this issue. Meanwhile, GCP readers, what do you think? Have you had any direct experience with the A.D.H.D. testing process? Do you believe that teachers, parents and/or doctors are too focused on labeling our kids (especially boys) A.D.H.D.? Or are doctors and educators correctly recognizing and identifying an issue which has been ignored for generations?? Please let us hear from you!!

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Resources

Tell Your Sons About Kevin Ware

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Earlier today ESPN released their on camera interview with Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware, his first after breaking his leg during Louisville’s game against Duke on Sunday. In case you haven’t heard (hard to imagine in my NCAA crazed household): Ware suffered an extremely bad break while playing in the game, twisting and breaking his leg in a horrific way. His terrible injury horrified the coaches and both teams, bringing them instantly to hysterical tears and bringing the game to a halt as he was attended to and as players tried to collect themselves. (Warning: Don’t watch the video of this injury that is floating around the internet unless you have an extremely strong stomach, and even then I wouldn’t recommend watching it, as it is heart breaking. And do not encourage your sons to watch it, either. Guaranteed to scare them silly.)

As he lay on the court in shock, Ware kept repeating to his coach and his teammates, “I’m going to be fine. Just go win this game.” The Louisville players pulled themselves together, won the game, and sent the trophy over to Ware’s hospital room so he could see it when he came out of surgery. The very good news is that Ware’s surgery was very successful. He is already out of the hospital and walking on crutches, and is expected to make a full recovery.

Even if you couldn’t care less about basketball (again, hard to imagine these days, but I know that there are some of you out there), you have got to watch Ware’s interview, which you can find here. This is an extraordinarily impressive young man, who has been overwhelmed by the national outpouring of support, but whose calm and centered demeanor shines through. To hear him describe himself as a not very emotional, quiet guy, and then to watch him go on to passionately and eloquently describe his feelings about his teammates and his coach after his ordeal is tremendously moving. While he is still amazed at the extent of his injury, he believes that everything happens for a reason and is prepared to do whatever it takes to return to the court. His grit and determination are inspirational, and brought to mind the wise words of Dr. King.

Show your sons this video as well. Show them this strong young man who is dealing with adversity as we would all want our sons (and ourselves) to: with dignity and grace. Regardless of how the Final Four shakes out, and despite his current challenge, Kevin Ware is already a champion.

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Getting Ready for Summer: Camps

The Summer Camp search season, which began in January, is well underway. If you haven’t made any camp decisions yet, don’t worry, but know that it is really time to focus on this, as programs are filling up. Lots of issues to consider: Sleep away or Day Camp? Sports, arts, or academically focused, or some combination of all three? GCP offers some guidance to help you figure it out.

Sleep away Camp: At some point, often sooner than you expect, your son may ask you about going to a sleep away camp. He may have heard about it from a friend whose older siblings have gone, or perhaps he just thinks it would be fun adventure that he’d like to try. Sleep away camps generally have programs which can range from a 1 week stay to an 8 week stay. Usually the camps which offer the longest stays do not allow children to opt for a shorter stay. Sometimes the 7 or 8 week camps may have a 4 week option, but rarely for a shorter period. Sleep away camps can have a single focus (e.g., sports) or include a variety of activities for your son to try.

A common question parents have as they begin to look into sleep away camps is: Is my son ready? Parent’s magazine has developed a short quiz, found here, to help you answer this question. Much of this decision turns on how independent your son is, how easily he adapts to new situations, and the strength of his desire to go. It is important to remember that even if you are ready for him to try camp and are tempted to really encourage him, it should be his decision to go.

How to Find The Right Camp?

Suggestions as to where to send your son to sleep away camp can be found all over: on-line, in most family magazines, at local camp fairs, from friends whose families have been going to the same camp forever, from parents at school who have loved (or hated) their child’s camp experience. One shortcut you may want to take to use a camp advisory service. These services provide consultants who can listen to the list of things you are looking for in a camp and make a recommendation as to what camp might be good for your son. Many of these advisory services are free of charge to the families. Should you choose to use an advisor, you should feel free to discuss any criteria you deem important. When I spoke with a counselor about camp for one of my sons, I wanted to be sure that we looked at camps with diverse populations, and the advisor was very helpful with this request. There are many camp advisory services available. A good one to try is Tips on Trips and Camps, which as its name suggests offers advice on all sorts of summer programs for your children.

Day Camps: If your child wants his summer days filled with activities but doesn’t want sleep away camp, day camps are the way to go. He can learn new skills, find new interests, make new friends, and sleep in his own bed at night. Finding a good camp for your son also takes some time and effort. It is helpful to get recommendations from friends, but it is important to consider whether the camp will work for your child. A recent article from Manhattan Family magazine, found here, offers tips for finding the right day camp for your child. It suggests that you pay close attention to the schedules offered at the day camps, consider the costs (and whether scholarship or financial assistance is available), and explore open houses offered by the camps. Manhattan Family also offers a very helpful list of questions to ask camp administrators before choosing a camp, which can be found here.

More to come on camps. But if you haven’t gotten started on this already, time to get going!!


Filed under Parents, Resources, Summer Camps and Programs

More Good News from Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies

As college admissions results roll in, here’s some good news to consider: For the fourth year in a row, all of the 167 seniors in Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies schools have been accepted into four year colleges or universities.

The Urban Prep Academy network has expanded since GCP reported their success last year (“And Now For Some Good News from Urban Academy Prep”, April 3, 2012), and now boasts three all male charter schools in the Chicago area. These college bound seniors attend two of the three Urban Prep Academy schools; the third school will graduate its first class next year. The Huffington Post covered their celebration of this event in an article which can be found here.

The all-male preparatory charter school network was founded in 2006. At that time, only four percent of its freshman class at its flagship Englewood campus was reading at grade level at the start of the school year. By 2010, all 107 of its graduating seniors were headed for college or university programs. 85 percent of the students at Urban Prep’s campuses come from low-income families and many of the students start at least two grade levels behind where they should be. All of this year’s graduates are African American males, as are the majority of the network’s students.

How are these students succeeding? The old fashioned way, with a lot of hard work. CEO Urban Prep’s founder and CEO Tim King dismisses talk of the “magical” success rates of his students, noting, “the only magic going on at Urban Prep is the magic that these guys put in with their hard work and dedication.”

Check out the pictures in the Huff Po article of these young men beaming at the celebration of their college bound status. They are proud of themselves, as they should be. And we are proud of them as well! Congrats to them all.

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Filed under Academics, Experts, Saving Our Sons

The Myths and Realities of Affirmative Action

Today’s post comes from Rachel Christmas Derrick, a widely published writer and communications consultant specializing in socio-economic development, youth empowerment, and education. Rachel originally posted this piece on The Independent School Diversity Network’s website.

You may recall that Wendy Van Amson, one of the co-founders of The Independent School Diversity Network (ISDN), was the very first person GCP interviewed after our launch (“What Parent’s Can Do: Wendy Van Amson”, 2/11/2011). Please check out ISDN’s updated and impressive website here, where you can find lots of interesting and helpful information.

* * * * * *

Asians and Whites Against Blacks and Latinos?
The Myths and Realities of Affirmative Action
and College-Bound High School Students

by Rachel Christmas Derrick

A high school teacher recently gave a student a lower grade than she expected. She told him after class, “I can’t get grades like this! I’m not brown. If I was, it wouldn’t matter, but since I’m white, I won’t get into college with grades like this.”

Two close friends were discussing where they were applying. The Asian-American student said to the African-American student, “Of course you’ll get into your first choice—you’re black.”

A white mother lamented, “I didn’t know what to say to my son when he told me that a less academically gifted classmate, who’s Puerto Rican, got into a highly competitive college where my son was wait-listed.”

“Most of the white and Asian students I hear talking about affirmative action really dislike it,” Hunter College High School history teacher David Joffe says. “They rarely reference the historical or, for that matter, the current socio and political contexts that make race-based affirmative action, in my mind, still necessary. When it’s discussed in terms of increasing diversity, many white and Asian students see it as meaning fewer of them in favor of more black and Latino students. So they view it as anti-white and anti-Asian.”

These uncomfortable issues, which high schools across New York City and across the country are grappling with, were at the core of a thought-provoking discussion at a recent Hunter PTA meeting.

As at the Department of Education’s specialized high schools, the student body at Hunter is mainly Asian and white, with African-American and Latino students vastly under-represented. Of the students accepted in March 2013 into the DoE’s specialized high schools, only 5% were black and only 7% Latino. The percentages are likely even lower at Hunter. This is way out of proportion to the city’s population, which, according to the 2010 Census, weighs in at 45% white, 25% black, 28% Hispanic, and 12% Asian. (These figures add up to more than 100% because Latinos can be of any race.) The percentages of the city’s school-age black and Latino children are higher still, with white kids actually in the minority (since the white population is older).

The paucity of brown faces at Hunter and the city’s other high schools for gifted students has led more than a few children and others to conclude that African Americans and Latinos just aren’t as smart or as driven as Asian and white students. However, the truth about the disproportionately low numbers of black and Latino students at schools like Hunter, and at top independent schools, actually lies in a complicated concoction of racial, socio-economic, political, curricular, and geographic challenges.

For example, the locations of “feeder schools” play a key role in the low numbers of black and Latino students in high schools for gifted students. According to Sharon Gordon, a social worker in East and Central Harlem for many years and the former director of a Head Start program in East New York in Brooklyn, “there are very few, if any, G&T [Gifted and Talented] elementary school seats for kids in these Harlem and Brooklyn neighborhoods or in the Bronx [all predominantly black and Latino areas]. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t very smart kids from these and other schools in regular ed classrooms, but they wouldn’t get the same academic stimulation that their peers in G&T classrooms would get before applying to specialized high schools.”

Hunter parent Andy McCord explains further: “Very few school districts produce most of the students at the [gifted] high schools, including [the mainly white] 2 and 3 in Manhattan and a couple of [heavily Asian and white] districts in Queens. Some districts produce none.”

To enter Hunter, which accepts students in 7th grade only, children must leave middle school before completing their 6th through 8th grade programs. Gordon, a Hunter parent, says, “I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve worked with who might have had a chance to get into Hunter in 7th grade but the middle schools they were attending discouraged them from applying because they didn’t want to lose their high test scores for the rest of middle school!” So, along with geographic obstacles, self-serving guidance is a problem as well.

In addition, some of the brightest black and brown students, who might otherwise have gone to Hunter or the city’s specialized high schools, are drawn to the bells and whistles of independent schools. But these private schools can offer hallelujah financial aid packages to only some of the many families that can’t afford the hefty tuition.

Against this backdrop of unequal access to the city’s most stimulating academic environments, the topic for discussion at Hunter’s annual Queens PTA meeting was the myths and realities of affirmative action for college-bound Asian students.

The first speaker, the head of a college Asian-American Studies program, began by asking for a show of hands of parents who believe that being in a diverse environment is important for their children’s wellbeing and future. Several parents who raised their hands said that, to be truly successful in life, our children must learn to value and interact with people who offer different perspectives, come from different cultures, and have different backgrounds.

Quite a few parents in the mostly Asian audience, however, did not raise their hands.

The Asian-American Studies director said that she holds the often unpopular belief that, in addition to its role in increasing diversity, affirmative action is necessary because a society must right wrongs that have been done to its individuals, even if righting those wrongs doesn’t directly benefit (or doesn’t appear to benefit) all members of that society.

She reminded us that we need to teach our children that no matter how bright they are or how hard they work, they won’t always get what they want (such as admission to their first-choice college). No college is going to accept every “qualified” Hunter student because no school wants that many Hunter students. And because there are already relatively large numbers of Asian students at elite colleges, there is a great deal of competition among Hunter students for those colleges.

Therefore, she said, we must teach our children how to be resilient. We must help them (and ourselves) understand that there are amazing opportunities for our students in an array of colleges, not only at the “top” schools.

One audience member, who wasn’t buying the merits of affirmative action, brought up the “mismatch theory” mentioned in a recent New York Times article. The theory goes that when top colleges “lower their standards” to admit black and Latino students, these students struggle and/or drop out. Thus, affirmative action fails the African-American and Latino students it is intended to help as well as the “more qualified” white and Asian students who are passed over to admit those “less qualified” black and brown students.

The other speaker, an attorney for an Asian-American civil rights organization, explained that the mismatch theory has been broadly debunked, on a number of fronts. In fact, when colleges use a variety of indices to choose students to admit (instead of relying only on their grades and test scores), these schools are able to identify students who ultimately perform very well in college and beyond. Colleges select students who they think are the best fits for their incoming classes. No admissions team wants to make themselves or their college look bad by accepting students who are doomed to flounder or crash and burn.

He addressed the basic premise held by far too many people—that affirmative action is anti-white, anti-bright, and means lowering standards to admit black and Latino students. He talked about the current University of Texas case in which a white woman is claiming that she did not gain admission because of affirmative action and her race. Her case is weak, he pointed out, because there were other white applicants with similar or worse academic records who were accepted. And no one ever talks about “discrimination” or “lowering standards” when top schools give preference to children of donors, legacies (children of alumni), and athletes.

Affirmative action is not actually about lowering standards at all. Instead, it’s about new definitions of what “qualified” is. There are many ways of measuring and predicting academic success in addition to grades and test scores. The more all students explore their passions both in academic realms and beyond, the more attractive they become as candidates—and the more successful they will be as college students.

True, a white student with high grades or test scores might be turned down by a college that accepted a brown student with lower grades or test scores—but this would be due to pivotal factors such as exceptional personal essays, demonstrated leadership abilities, unusual extracurricular activities, stellar teacher recommendations, sustained community service contributions, or the student’s geographic, cultural, or socio-economic background.

By the same token, a college might accept a Finnish-, Portuguese-, and Mandarin-speaking Chinese-American student with lower test scores than a Chinese-American student who was turned down. Or they might select a nonprofit-starting, short film-making white student over a white student with higher grades.

We should not forget that there are also black and Latino students with both impressive resumes and high test scores and grades—and not just from middleclass and upper-middleclass families or in private schools. Part of what affirmative action is designed to do is to identify and attract students like these.

Among high-achieving students, no matter what their race or ethnic background, there is often a sense of entitlement: “I deserve admission to an elite college. I’ve worked hard and done well, so I’ve earned it.” When it comes to admission, however, no college owes any student anything. Schools each choose the students they wish, regardless of their number of A’s or impressive activities. There are never any guarantees, no matter how outstanding a student may seem.

“As a parent of a white senior who is getting an incredible number of waitlists from selective schools and a few acceptances so far from slightly less selective schools, the hardest thing to get my head around is how hard it is for everybody,” McCord, who also has a child at Bronx Science, says.

In the audience at the Hunter PTA meeting, the question on many minds was, How does affirmative action help top Asian students, whose high grades and test scores already make them attractive to the best colleges, and who already attend some of the top colleges in relatively large numbers? Although the meeting ended before we could delve deeply into the answer, I offer this response:

First, we need to remember how things got this way. Without the hundreds of years of free labor of the enslaved Africans who helped build this country, the United States would never have become as wealthy and powerful as it is today. To make slavery work, Africans were torn away from their homes, from those they loved, those who spoke the same languages, and those who shared the same religions, all so that they could be broken and more easily oppressed.

This early cultural annihilation and enslavement (along with the subsequent racial discrimination, segregation, public lynching and burning, and other social, psychic, and physical violence against black Americans) is directly related to the lower socio-economic status and self-esteem of most African Americans today compared to that of most immigrant groups.

Asians came and still come to this country not in chains, but as willing, hopeful immigrants believing that this is the place where they could and can forge better lives for themselves and their families. Certainly they too have faced terrible racism, from the early Chinatowns out West destroyed by fire to Japanese internment camps. But they could always draw on the support of fellow immigrants from their countries.

No matter how hostile their surroundings, Asians could be strengthened and inspired (even if secretly, at times) by the familiar languages, foods, spiritual beliefs, and customs of home. Once Chinese Americans and successive Asian groups were allowed to naturalize and immigrate with family members, their shared cultural backgrounds and cohesive communities made it easier for them to believe in and instill in their children the belief in the value of a good education as the gateway to success.

Latinos also came and continue to come as hopeful immigrants, and those who look more European have fared better in this country than those with the most African and Indian ancestry. However, most Latinos of all races have faced ethnic discrimination that has resulted in low self-esteem for many, despite their cultural pride and close-knit communities. Moreover, many still are not recognized as American by some, because of the stigma of immigration and low socio-economic status.

White people, on the other hand, particularly males, have always reaped the automatic benefits of doing nothing more than being white. Of course Irish, Italian, Jewish, and other groups have not had an easy time. But simply because they were not black, Latino, Asian, or Native American, they have always had a much better chance of making the hard work of the American Dream pay off than those who are now under-represented in the country’s best schools.

Clearly, black and brown students have been left out or pushed out of the cream of the educational crop for far too long. Yet affirmative action is not about white and Asian kids with good grades and high test scores having to selflessly step aside to right the wrongs started by past generations.

It’s not Us against Them.

Affirmative action is about leveling the playing field, so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of a more just, more equitable society, a society in which everybody feels valued, safe, and welcome to strive for better opportunities.

It’s about helping all students understand that, no matter what college they attend, the more they interact with people from varied backgrounds, the more enlightened, capable, and successful they themselves will become.

It’s about encouraging students to fortify themselves now, since, for the rest of their lives, they will also be competing with or measured against others. Like it or not, they will be judged continually for a variety of accomplishments and characteristics—whether they are in college, applying for a job, vying to rent a coveted apartment, or bidding on a house.

It’s about teaching them to broaden their perspectives, instead of falling prey to the stale belief that the sole key to a happy, prosperous future lies in attending one of the three or ten most popular schools.

At the very least, affirmative action challenges students to think creatively about how to distinguish themselves in a crowded, competitive field, a skill that will certainly serve them well throughout their lives.

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