Posted on September 25, 2019

What the Gifted Education Fight Is Really About

David Kirkland, New York Daily News, September 20, 2019v

As a member of New York City’s School Diversity Advisory Group, I feel compelled to say something blunt about those attacking one of the core recommendations of our recent report. {snip}

The plain fact is that, in a city where the predominant student population is black and Latinx, enrichment opportunities are skewed against children in these groups. Last year, 17% of kindergarteners in the city’s public schools were white; 39% of kindergarteners in the city’s gifted and talented education programs were. By contrast, 65% of kindergarteners were Latinx or black; just 18% were offered seats in G&T programs and schools.

Yet some white commentators see this statistical disconnect as somehow natural, and the desire to confront it as somehow contrary to the notion of a meritocracy.

In its desire to address “the legacy of racism, together with a false meritocracy in America today that keeps children trapped where they are,” George Packer, a staff writer for the Atlantic, accused the Department of Education of playing identity politics. Though sensitive to the idea that racism is “the root cause of the inequities in the city’s schools,” Packer suggests that “calling out racism…[might drive] out families of all races who cling to an idea of education based on real merit.”

When you read his article closely, you realized that, by “families of all races,” Packer really means white families.

{snip} Though cloaked in language that attempts to make the focus on race less obvious, it boils down to a defense of systems that have unfairly and disproportionately benefited whites for generations.

For example, New York Post staff writers Julia Marsh and Selim Algar quote a parent named Lianne saying, “I’m one of those middle-class families that’s on the fence about moving out of New York because I have a son that I’m now applying to middle school and I have no faith that he’ll get into a good school…Do you want to lose families like me?”

Why would a school system value retaining families at the expense of families in the system who have nowhere else to go? This concern suggests that white children naturally deserve exception and, by virtue of that exceptionalism, separate spaces in which to learn.

It also plays on stereotypes that black and brown bodies, in contrast to a middle-class white norm, somehow lack virtue and merit or other fictive devices employed to legitimate the lies that uphold separate and unequal education.


This is not about identifying merit or talent; those are code words. Many of the children who wind up qualifying for New York City’s gifted education programs begin the process of racial sorting as early as 2 and 3.

{snip} The gifted and talented programs in New York City today reinforce racial hierarchies by sorting children by race under an illusion of objectivity.

Others may dance around saying it, but I won’t. This is a modern-day-eugenics project — one manufactured based on spurious science and reinforced by institutional consent. The price is heavy; some parents pay up to $10,000 to effectively purchase a seat for their children in gifted programs. {snip}


David Kirkland