So I’ve been going through the blog, making some updates, and some of my formative posts are pretty cringey. But life’s a process and I felt confident enough at one point to publish this, so, despite all my better judgement, published it remains.
Middle school: the roaring jungle of puberty and teenage angst. One of my closest friends recounts those years as some of the happiest of her life. But I would have to say that those three crucial years were some of my lowest.
My middle school was a magnet school, which basically means there was a separate program for gifted and talented (GT) students, and another for students zoned to the area. While this seems relatively harmless, there is something somewhat flawed about separating students deemed to be “smart” and ostracizing the others. It produces a feeling of entitlement in the “gifted” students, and inadequacy in the other students. Non GT students see their peers with better teachers, field trips, and opportunities to learn, and cannot see what they have done (or not done) to not deserve the same treatment.
There were three clusters at my school, Cluster A was for students not in magnet classes, while clusters B & C were for magnet students. Clusters B & C mixed for field trips and presentations, but we never mingled with the students in Cluster A. In retrospect I can honestly say that I thought they were beneath me: lazy and undriven. And while I never said this aloud to anyone, or even acknowledged it myself, I’m sure this sentiment was shared by my classmates. As a result the students in Cluster A resented us. Of course it did not escape my notice that all of the “lazy undriven” kids in Cluster A were black, and I did my best to distance myself from them. I didn’t want to be associated with blackness because to black was to be unmotivated and unsuccessful. Again none of these beliefs were ever said aloud, but they were ingrained in us. The result was an incredible amount of self-hatred. I hated the other black kids for what I thought was not trying, I hated that when people saw me they immediately thought that I was lazy or less intelligent, I hated that the other black kids disliked me for what I thought was no reason, even though I looked down on them just as much, if not more, than the white kids. I overcompensated, excelling in every class, taking on leadership roles, joining honor societies, rolling my skirts and sleeves like the white girls, forcing the slouch and air-headed accent. But it didn’t really help. Every day I rode the bus back to my neighborhood with a ton of black kids from Cluster A, and on the bus the similarities between us were apparent to everyone. The black kids made fun of me for daring to think I was too good for them, for having the same back skin but for whatever reason being treated better by the school system, for trying to smother my blackness. At school the white kids were cordial but never let me close, it did not matter how smart I was, or how much I tried to fit in. I was still just an anomaly in an otherwise inferior race. I didn’t really stop running from black people and trying to please white people until I got to college, and it’s taken a long time unravel all the institutionalized self-hatred. I’m still learning.
All this is not to say that GT programs themselves are bad. There is a lot of evidence to support the idea that some students learn differently and at accelerated rates compared to other students, and catering to those students is not a problem. The issue however, is unequal representation of black children in these programs, and unequal resources for students not in gifted and talented programs. Classification as gifted or not-gifted, should not predicate whether a child receives a quality education. Perhaps the rate at which information is taught, and the method, but not the quality itself. And there is no reason that in 2016 black children are not adequately represented in GT programs (To me adequate representation corresponds to population percentages. 13% of Americans are black, so at least 13% of students in GT programs should be black). Black kids are no less intelligent than any other kids, but the education system is just that – a system, and the rules that ensure other students get immediate screening and placement into GT programs do not apply to us. The school system is not designed to see black students excel, and without a strong advocate or someone in a black student’s corner who understands how the system works, black students get left behind. Unfortunately parents and students do not even realize they are being played until the differences in education are insurmountable. Black parents send their children to school with the expectation that they are receiving an equal education and access to the same programs and resources, and that often is not true.
I have cousins who entering 6th grade could not divide and could barely read. I have a cousin, a rising senior in high school, who told me that she wanted to be Basketball Wife when she grows up. This is the problem. Every child starts with a sense of wonder and curiosity. Every child wants to learn. But if you clip a child’s wings, they forget they once knew how to fly.