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The TJHSST Debate

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology gets a lot of grief because of its lack of diversity. A little while ago, the NAACP filed a complaint against FCPS, detailing exactly how black, Latino, and disabled students were being discriminated against by the TJ admission process. As a recent graduate of TJ, I care about the future of my high school and I have a very strong opinion regarding diversity in it, so I’m posting a response to this complaint. I’m going to sound abrasive, so I apologize in advance for that. 

Diving right in. The section labeled “Most Recent Evidence of Discrimination” amuses me because the only thing stated in it is the percentage of Blacks and Latinos is small and not representative of the percentages of those groups in FCPS as a whole. That is not evidence of discrimination, that is evidence of a lack of Blacks and Hispanics at TJ and should be labeled as such. And just like how we don’t scream, “DISCRIMINATION, DISCRIMINATION”, at the profound lack of Asians in the NBA (because really, Asians don’t tend to outmatch Blacks and Whites in basketball, and the NBA is generally about skill), we shouldn’t be pointing at the lack of representation and automatically cry discrimination when getting into TJ is about working to make the cut, not re-working the admissions process to target a certain group because they aren’t making it. This theme of noticing that Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented and turning it into the result of “obvious” bias and discrimination continues throughout the complaint. 

It makes sense that TJ draws from the 4 middles schools that are Level 4 academic centers (I’m assuming that means the school has a GT program, or at least advanced math courses). Because those school offer the academic challenges that TJ applicants need to get in. And you know what? That’s also not discrimination against people who don’t go to those schools. You have to be selected or test well to get into advanced math and the GT programs. You start that process in early elementary school, and you have opportunities to be proactive about getting into the programs if you aren’t chosen the first time around, in 2nd grade. It’s not as if most students would actually thrive in those environments. To be very blunt, a large portion of the non-GT students (and even some in GT) at Rocky Run didn’t exactly care about their academic education. So I find it odd that we’re now supposed to think that not being in a GT program is discriminatory. 

What flabbergasts me is the opinion that TJ needs even more students with a single-minded commitment to science and technology and that those students deserve the spot more than “exceptionally bright students who happen to test well in math and have strong GPAs”. Why? Because I don’t believe that letting in people equally as qualified (measured subjectively since we apparently shouldn’t care about test scores), but more dedicated to the subjects of math, science, and tech, will increase our diversity at all. People can appreciate and enjoy the variety of science courses at TJ without wanting to find a career in a science field. Our school is actually supposed to turn out well-rounded students in addition to engineers and doctors. Having the humanities be exceptionally strong and not that far behind our math, science, and tech is a stated goal. 

And I have a thought: just because someone is extremely interested and dedicated to a subject doesn’t mean they’re good at it. It’s just true. This is reflected by having lower test scores. Now, I see that there is a correlation between really liking something and being really good at it. But a lot of the times people make up for lack of natural ability by sheer effort. This is commendable. It also doesn’t work in a place like TJ, where the pace is fast and the students are mostly great at what they do. Those students who need more time than given to process, disregarding their passion for the subject, just fall behind. Falling behind at TJ is a really, really bad thing because it tends to snowball, and suddenly the student is on the B list which doesn’t lessen the stress. 

At the same time, the complaint criticizes the subjectivity of 65% of the admission decision, the part that relies on essays, teacher recommendations, and such. So if the process can’t be based on concrete test scores, and shouldn’t be subjective…how the heck are we supposed to select the incoming class? Pull names out of hat? Somehow, I think that wouldn’t exactly bode well for TJ’s future. 

Note also the interesting interpretation of the fact that “some have unfairly blamed increased the need for ‘remediation’ at TJ on recent efforts to increase Black and Hispanic student admission”. Instead of acknowledging what this actually means - we changed some policies in an effort to increase diversity, which didn’t work and also are probably at least partially responsible for the rise in academic deficiency - the writers of the complaint instead have chosen to interpret this as people thinking the actual Black and Hispanic students are the problem. Simply. Not. True. 

I also think the complaint has implied some causation and correlation that just isn’t supported by evidence or isn’t logically sound. Overall, it doesn’t read like a legal complaint, it reads like a press document meant to make you feel upset that supposed discrimination is going on. The entire document basically presents a fact, such as not adopting the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission or noting the low numbers of Blacks and Hispanics in GT programs, and says that this is discrimination without any evidence to support this theory. And the bulk of the complaint is not why the TJ admission process is discriminatory, it’s about why FCPS in general discriminates against Blacks and Hispanics, starting in kindergarten. But, the complaint wants TJ to change things, because apparently our student body reflects all the discrimination that happens. I find this very stupid. 

I believe in trying to get more diversity at TJ. I don’t believe in doing these things at the expense of other, just as deserving kids. Making sure Blacks and Latinos receive as good an education as Asians and Whites before they hit high school and have the same opportunities for advancement in public schools is a much better goal than tailoring TJ’s admission process to create diversity. People don’t go to TJ because they want to be diverse - they go for the community of intelligent individuals who tend to be motivated in furthering their own educations and who support others who want to do the same.  

I know that discrimination is unfortunately still alive in America. But the extremely low numbers of Blacks and Latinos at TJ doesn’t automatically equate to evidence of discrimination, despite what the complaint says. The lack is not “shameful”.

What is shameful is the amount of complaining being done. Stop whining and start putting effort into bettering the conditions of black and Latino students in elementary school, middle school, and their homes. Writing complaints while providing absolutely zero intelligent suggestions for change besides a very broad “FIX THIS” is just annoying. TJ isn’t responsible for admitting those who are not as qualified as the school requires. It does those students no favors if they can’t keep up. Nor is it fair to other people who may not be Black or Latino, but are just as passionate and just as exceptional. The same applies to GT programs. Like many things in life, advanced education is not handed to people on platters.

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