What’s wrong with this picture?

I am asking the question above to settle a grade school fight. It started when I read this in the New York Times. It says that New York City Public Schools, just now, decided to end the practice of denying deserving kids spots in what they call gifted programs (and what some of us might call “white flight programs”) based on having to give it to some other kid, whose sibling already had staked a claim to the school. The reason that had been considered okay, the article explains, is that if one kid is in the program already (having demonstrated a skill at puzzles, or giving the expected answer, or having a parent who knows someone in the school system), the next sibling has an edge, and will displace another kid, who might have a higher score, but not a parent who would be inconvenienced by having to drop their spawn off, pick them up at separate institutions of learning. Not to mention the potential for labeling that might go with that. Better to give the second kid a lifelong benefit, earned by family connections, that some other kid who could use a break simply doesn’t have. That sounds a little like how George Bush, and probably his father as well, got to go to Yale.

I had never realized, though, until I read that article that sibling preference in elementary school was actually sanctioned on paper. In terms of having anything actually at stake it didn’t make a difference to me. I was not displaced, nor did I benefit from any previous family going to the school I got into at the age of three, for mysterious reasons that I have no memory of, that have not otherwise benefited me. I have no chip on my shoulder, no dog in the fight, nothing to prove. I had noticed that some of my classmates either were, or had, greatly less impressive siblings than ones who had passed before them at our school, and wondered in my dull, innocent way, at the coincidence that, with such an apparent span of skill between them, they had both, or in some cases all, managed to make it into our selective little institution.

Then years later, when I taught at a school for gifted students, seeing the same thing, I wondered again, still in an accepting, stolid way, at the whole families of kids who all got into the same competitive school that, otherwise, only, like, one in every 50 applicants got into.

So, half a century later, I was relieved to finally have it spelled out for me, in the article above, which says the practice is being ended in New York City Public Schools. Good. That should even things out in another century or so. So I shared the good news on the social media page I belong to with my old elementary school alumni.

One of them, who looks both a great deal younger than me — no grey hair, no lines or bags showing in her mug shot — and somewhat older — done, satisfied — who, whatever generation she belongs to, I never knew, responded to explain that our school was not a New York City Public School, and that our school was not mentioned in the article. I am guessing she was a younger sibling beneficiary, as it can’t be possible to have an even average IQ and not have that degree of obnoxiousness knocked out of you by adulthood.

As I’ve said, I got into that school on my own merit, which could open another argument about what merit is being measured, because I found it necessary to reply.

I noticed that, I said, and I am aware of the difference between our school and the ones in the New York Times story. I was going to explain  that I extrapolated — but if you have to say that, it’s already too late. So instead I said that most of us, of my generation, at least, only have to look at our class pictures to be able to see that admission wasn’t gained on a level playing field.

She wrote back to say that she believes that’s all changed now. What great news.


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