1-21-14 The Report Card
Will Fitzhugh, Publisher of the Concord Review
Will Fitzhugh, Publisher of The Concord Review shares this letter from one of his high school authors, Hana Lee a former New York public school student and a Harvard Graduate. Ms. Lee wrote two papers of over 6000 words each on Tiananmen Square and Transcendentalism. In her letter to Ms. Lee urges public schools to RAISE expectations and students will rise to the challenge).
Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,
It was a pleasure to finally meet you yesterday! [at the first TCR author dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club] Thank you very much for inviting me. I am currently concentrating in biochemical sciences, and my interests are more specifically in molecular biology and evolutionary genetics. At the moment, I’m working in a lab that studies a chaperone protein in Arabidopsis that may function to buffer the effects of genetic variation in phenotype.
I enjoyed the conversation at dinner very much. It was interesting to hear your views on education reform, particularly because I’m from New York, which has a horrible public education system. I was thinking about the issue of poverty that was brought up yesterday, and I thought I would like to tell you that I come from an immigrant family that has struggled for most of its years in America to pay the monthly rent. We are not destitute, but we are certainly far from privileged. The reasons why people like me are able to attend elite colleges like Harvard are twofold: scholarship and financial aid that enables me to pay my tuition, and the opportunity to attend an excellent—public—high school. Hunter [College High School] is funded by CUNY, not the Board of Education, but its source of funding is still public. And despite the underpaid teachers, the deteriorating building and the student body that spans the entire range of the socioeconomic spectrum in New York, our school demands academic excellence from its students and those demands are met. Admittedly Hunter is a selective school, and its students are among the best in New York. But what people don’t realize is that while some Hunter students live on the Upper West Side, many more are from immigrant families like mine, forced to work hard to make ends meet. Our social studies department demands that we write a research term paper every semester. There are students who work part-time jobs or come from troubled families–but such obstacles have not impeded them from writing a twenty-page paper, learning how to do research, and being able to think for themselves.
It is arrogance for the wealthy elite to assume that students from public high schools can’t out-compete students from Andover or Exeter if academic standards are raised. What prevents public schools from being competitive is not merely a simple lack of resources (although that is certainly one of the major factors) but also the lack of expectations. I think that human nature is extremely resourceful and that students will rise to the occasion if they are called on to push themselves to their limits. Hunter has an extremely low budget, even when compared to other selective public high schools, and yet we are listed as 26th on the list of top feeder high schools to the Ivy League. We are the highest-ranked public school on that list. That is only possible because we believe in our own excellence and potential to achieve great things. I was fortunate to be in New York, where there is opportunity for motivated students to escape the local public school system without having to shell out money to attend an academically rigorous school. But there are many places where that is not possible, and who knows how many intelligent students have gone unrecognized?
I think you are right to refuse to be satisfied with mediocrity, and although it seems to be a difficult task, I hope your “revolution” in education will succeed.
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