My school is approximately 92% black, 8% white, and less than 1% "other," which translates into about 1380 black kids, 100 white kids, and 20 "other." And an analysis of these numbers shows some other things to be true - that about 20% of our entering 9th grade classes went to private schools up until the 9th grade, and they're going to public school for perhaps the first time. The majority of these private school kids are white kids whose parents finally trust a public school for their kid's education.
We have two tracts for our students - Honors, and College prepatory. Because almost all our kids will go to college, both are fairly rigorous; we do not have tracts for, say, athletes who came to the school for sports and can't handle the lower level classes. We got a couple basketball player boys (twins, I teach both of them) from Towson Catholic this year that are struggling a little bit because we don't have the "easy" track that they were used to there.
I've taught both Honors and College Prep while at the school. My Honors classes end up being about a quarter white, while my CP classes end up being almost 100% black. This year, out of 120 CP students, I have two white kids. The Honors classes probably yield 10 or 15 white kids out of 50.
Having the kids - both white and black, but the majority white - from private schools there is a good thing for the school. Because these parents are affluent, they bring with them influence and action. There are still a lot of crummy things about the building (there is rarely soap in the bathroom, finding drinking water is a difficulty, we don't have enough textbooks, black mold creeps up the walls), but it's also pretty cool that we have kids and parents come in and participate in after-school steering committees, lobby folks in central administration, and bring concerns to politicians. We have the nephew of a Congressman, the daughter of a prominent Baltimore lawyer, the son of a screenwriter - these kids all were born with a bit of a silver spoon in their mouths, but they and their family have chosen to send them to a public school and the school is often stronger for it. And the parent gets a great education for their kid. There aren't many public schools in the state where a kid get an IB diploma, for example. We have an English curriculum that is both modernistic and classic, with some truly innovative ideas occuring (like the unique College Writing course, or the AP Language and Composition pairing with English IB 3). Lastly, I'd say that at no other school in the state will kids get as dedicated teachers. We really are a pretty good school.
Still, the (vast) majority of our students are in poverty and aren't coming to the school "instead of the private schools" as much as "instead of our zoned school," so I don't feel like I'm teaching kids who don't really need me. I don't think I could ever teach at a private school or a hoity-toity suburban school, because I really believe my purpose on this planet is to help make this country more equal and help give kids a great education who wouldn't otherwise have access to it. This school is often perfect for me, because it does have very high expectations, yet the student body is mostly in need financially and many will be first generation college students.
That being said, almost all of these kids that come from private schools end up in the higher track. If you look at the sixty or so kids that are in our higher track for 11th grade (the year when the curriculums most diverge) this coming year - admissions were just announced - about half of them were white kids. The majority of the rest were black females. There were two or three black males. Out of sixty.
This got my blood boiling a bit, because there's this sort of unspoken thing that occurs in our school. These white private school kids come in, which is a great thing for the school, and then they go to the higher track. And I certainly don't begrudge them for this; this is exactly what I would want my own child to be doing if he or she were a child in the school. However, for a school that serves the kids of Baltimore City, of which the vast majority are black, a percentage that is exceeded at the school the school, it just seems like we should have more black kids in that upper track. It turns our school's two tracks into a miniature segregation system, and this sucks.
And that brings me to William. Earlier this week, I scanned the IB program list for Wiliam's name, and it wasn't there. Out of the 120 ninth graders I taught last year in Honors, William would esily be top five. A lucid writer, a pragmatic thinker, a hard worker - he was, in short, the perfect student. He ended up getting 95's in my challenging Honors course. This year, apparently, his English grades have dropped into the eighties, but he also has the teacher who has given just two 9th graders A's this year out of sixty, so I can't fault him too much for that. Not seeing William's name there stung a bit. You see, I have his little brother this year. Like William, he is a great kid - intelligent, hard-working, great writer. I feared that the little brother might learn from his brother and not go for the Honors courses.
I ranted about it to whoever would hear me in the next two days. Finally, I saw William in the hallway yesterday. He shied away from me, knowing what I was about to say to him. He couldn't look me in the eye. After some pressing, he told me he didn't think he could "cut it" in the Honors tract. I told him, "Bullshit. You're a great writer and can read anything I throw at you." (And I'm not just blowing smoke here; I found out later he got a 62 on his PSAT verbal, putting him in the 97th percentile in the nation.)
Then I brought out race, even though I wasn't sure if I should. "Do you know how many black males are in the IB Program?," I asked him. He looked at the ground and said no. "Two. William, this program isn't meant just for the white kids. I hate to bring it out that way, but it's true. You can do this program." He didn't say anything. I let him slink away to class.
I called his dad shortly thereafter, to make sure he knew that William had decided to drop out of the program. He said he thought Williams was going through a rebellious stage. I thanked him, then after school went down to our Advanced Studies coordinator, telling her if this kid William comes to see her, that she should give him a chance to turn in his application late because he's a special kid. "Oh, William?" she said. "He just left. He's writing his essay this weekend and is going to get it to me on Monday. He told me he just got a 62 on his PSAT verbal. Why wasn't he here in the first place?"
I caught William on his way out of school. "William," I said. "I could hug you right now. Don't worry, though, I won't." And he looked away, laughed, and left out the door.
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