A day after his son Dante de Blasio wrote in the Daily News about how the specialized high school exam fostered racism at Brooklyn Tech, Mayor de Blasio reflected on his son’s experience in the school system he now runs.
“I think he tried to, you know, steel himself to some extent for some of these realities during high school, tried to, you know, put on a brave face,” de Blasio said on his weekly appearance on WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show.” “But I think like many students he often felt isolated and he often felt judged unfairly.”
Dante’s op-ed came as the mayor and Chancellor Richard Carranza have proposed changes to how students are admitted to the city’s specialized high schools, a cadre of elite schools that includes Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx School of Science, among others.
Dante de Blasio: The racism I experienced as a student at an elite NYC high school »
Two out of three eighth-graders in New York City schools are black or Latino, but of the 5,000 kids offered admission to the elite schools, just 172 were black and 298 Latino.
Hizzoner has proposed scrapping the test — which both of his children used to gain admission to Brooklyn Tech, though his daughter Chiara chose to attend the Beacon School instead. He wants to set aside seats for the top 7% of students at all city middle schools, based on their school grades and state test scores.
But Dante de Blasio’s op-ed focused more on his personal experience at Brooklyn Tech, where just 16% of his graduating class was black or Hispanic and he recalled often being the only black student in a classroom.
“When I told some of my white and Asian classmates that I’d gotten into Yale, they were immediately dismissive. More than one said to my face that I’d probably only gotten in because of affirmative action or my last name,” he wrote. “These same classmates then often complained that black and Latino students were able to get into elite colleges without ‘working hard.’”
He also noted the experiences of other black alumni, which had been shared on social media: “The stories included a teacher laughing at a black student when that student shared her dream of becoming a doctor, white and Asian students using racial slurs to bully black students, and faculty members ignoring a black student’s complaints after he was called the N-word and ‘monkey’ by his peers.”
De Blasio said he found it “very sad” to know students had worked so hard to attend the schools, only to have their achievements be dismissed not only by students but also by adults.
“I hate to say that very little has changed in this light, but my wife Chirlane talks about teachers in her high school in Massachusetts overtly discouraging her from applying to Wellesley because they said she’d never make it and she couldn’t perform at that level,” he said. “The notion that adults would join in to discouraging young people of color from following, you know, their dreams and reaching their potential, that that’s still happening in this day and age is deeply, deeply troubling.”
Tackling that will include more than just revamping admissions at a handful of top schools, he acknowledged — and requires making clear that “we can’t tolerate any of these kinds of actions or behavior.”
For now, de Blasio’s quest to change admissions to the schools is stalled — the use of the test at three of the original schools is governed by state law, and leaders in Albany have said they will not take up legislation to change it this year.
While the law doesn’t cover a slew of newer schools, de Blasio argued control of those schools is a “gray area, and a debatable area legally,” and said he wants to change the admissions system for all the schools at the same time.