How I Got into Stuyvesant High School

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Randy with his mother Rathenia Jackson

By Randolph Jackson

“All that I am or hope to be I owe to my angel Mother.”

            Abraham Lincoln

 Lately, there is an uproar over the paucity of Black students in the New York City Specialized High Schools. Only 7 of 895 students admitted this year to Peter Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan were African-American. This is nothing new. The exact same condition existed in 1960 when I graduated from Stuyvesant High School. There were only 7 Blacks in our graduating class of 698 students. The school was 90% Jewish at the time and there was no outcry about the ethnic makeup. Today, however, the school is 74% Asian-American and there is a big furor!!!

The issue is how to get more Black students into Stuyvesant and other Specialized High Schools without freezing out qualified students of other ethnic groups and without destroying the number one public high school in the country, which is Stuyvesant.

            There are three elements involved in a positive solution:

  1. The homes of our children must be supportive of a middle-class, upwardly mobile attitude.
  2. The culture of the community must encourage intellectual aspiration. There is a certain element of anti-intellectualism in the Black community, which must be addressed and eliminated. Our values must include achievement and success. All rich people are not crooks and all smart people are not nerds. Striving to be the best is not elitism. Aiming for average is not egalitarian, but rather, encouraging of mediocrity.
  3. The elementary and middle schools must do their part in educating and preparing students for future successes. But they cannot do the job alone.

It starts in the home. A student is not likely to become a doctor, or other professional, if their mother was 15 years old when they were born or if they are sent to school late every morning without breakfast. I was born and raised in the ghetto, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, New York. However, I was IN the ghetto, but not OF the ghetto. My mother was a schoolteacher, a woman of the book. She taught me to read a newspaper before I started kindergarten. There was a park one block away from our apartment building and inside that park was a library. Every Friday afternoon, I would check out four 200-page books and read them, cover to cover, over the weekend. I learned about the Bible in Sunday School at the church.

I found the entrance examination for Stuyvesant High School to be ridiculously easy.

While other kids were sweating bullets and throwing up with anxiety, I sailed through the test with ease. I needed no special prep course for the test. My prep courses had been my mother’s tutelage, her intellectual attitude and the community culture of achievement and upward mobility surrounding me.

In turn, I took my own children to church every Friday night for choir rehearsal. Every Saturday morning, I took them to church for piano lessons. Every Sunday morning, I took them to church for Sunday School. During the week, their mother handed out vocabulary lists, administered weekly spelling tests and mandated monthly book reports. Television was a privilege, reserved for Fridays and Saturdays. It should not come as a surprise that they entered Specialized High Schools and became professionals.

Focusing on these three elements, the home, the culture of the community and the elementary and middle schools can help to increase the numbers of Black students in New York City Specialized High Schools. Eliminating the entrance examination for Specialized Schools without focusing on these previously stated elements is misguided and will result in the withdrawal from the public-school system of highly qualified students, the denial of admission to students capable of passing entrance examinations and the introduction of cronyism, nepotism and favoritism into the admission process.

My advice to anyone wishing to gain admittance to a Specialized, “elite” High School is very simple: Put down the basketball and pick up a book! Read more and dribble less!

Hon. Randolph Jackson is a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York