Katie Guzdial is a recent graduate of Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, where I work as the director of a center for equity in computing. She is white, her parents are university professors, and she is a product of a public school in Atlanta.
Segregation is meaningful only when the population is diverse. And Guzdial’s school was unusually diverse by race and ethnicity for an Atlanta high school: According to the Georgia State Department of Education, its population was roughly 35 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 25 percent black. Guzdial told me that student diversity was a real benefit to her, for all the reasons you would expect. It introduced her to people with different backgrounds, experiences, and worldviews. It offered the rich social experience that we all hope our children might encounter.
But her experience with diversity did not extend to the classroom. According to Guzdial, “There were only two or three black kids in any of my AP [Advanced Placement] classes. I don’t know what they had to do to get into the AP courses, but there weren’t many of them there.”
That’s typical: Nearly everything related to educational performance is tied to race, and academic segregation is common in American education, even if no official policy creates that division. There is a filtration system at work, including in schools that enroll students of different races and ethnicities. It keeps the most elite classes—honors and gifted, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, the ones that pave the way to top universities like Georgia Tech and top companies like Amazon—from being as diverse as the general population.
Guzdial’s keen insight about the reality of education at her school—“I don’t know what they had to do to get in”—demonstrates her sensitivity to the inequitable structure that technology companies propagate, whether they mean to or not. She also realizes that she had to do very little to get into those classes. It just happened.
“I was chosen to be in the gifted program in kindergarten,” she explained. “From there your path is basically paved for you.” Guzdial suggested to me that she did not understand why the “gifted” designation lasts through high school. But it does. “They just told me which classes to take and I took them. I ended up taking seven Advanced Placement courses and a dual-enrollment college course.”
There is no question that Guzdial is academically gifted. But even giftedness is correlated with race in Atlanta. According to the “Atlanta Public Schools Equity Audit Report,” nearly twice as many white students are identified as gifted as black students.
And for every Katie Guzdial, there are a thousand stories of a student of color trapped in a broken system—even those who didn’t grow up in poverty.
Mari Chiles is black and highly talented. Her parents are both best-selling authors. She’s a Yale undergraduate studying public health; before that, like Guzdial, she attended public high school in Atlanta. “When I started high school, they assumed that every negative stereotype of black kids was true of me,” Chiles told me. “They just looked at me and saw a black girl at an inner-city school and assumed I wasn’t smart.” According to Chiles, she never stopped having to battle those initial assumptions: “It was a struggle to navigate the school the whole four years. It felt as if my intelligence and ability were decided for me, and they automatically put me in remedial classes.”
Credit: Source link