From the mouths of babes

Students taking a test, Florida Department of Education

It was interesting to learn about Justin Hudson, 18, who said in his graduation speech that he was grateful for his education at Hunter College High School – a highly selective public school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City – yet he voiced concern about the inequities inherent in education as we know it.

“More than anything else, I feel guilty. I don’t deserve any of this. And neither do you,” Hudson said, as reported in a front-page story by Sharon Otterman of The New York Times.

But wait a second – our children do deserve to be educated well. The trouble is, children in this country lack access to quality schools and aren’t educated equally.

This isn’t news. Jonathan Kozol, author of the 1991 bestseller Savage Inequalities, contends that decades after Brown v. Board of Education, many U.S. schools remain separate and unequal.

Little has changed since the publication of Savage Inequalities. A case in point is Jennifer Medina’s story in The New York Times last February about the lack of diversity in top city schools. And now, we’ve got Justin Hudson’s point of view.

Students admitted to Hunter are labeled gifted because of a test they passed “due to luck and circumstance,” in Hudson’s words. But what about the children who may be just as smart – but who, for whatever reason, didn’t take the test?

We’re back to Kozol, who writes that “equity in education represents a formidable threat to other values held by many affluent Americans. It will be resisted just as bitterly as school desegregation.” He speaks of children who are “favored by the accident of birth” and quotes Christopher Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government: “Despite a lot of pious rhetoric about equality of opportunity … most parents want their children to have a more than equal chance of success.”

Maybe so. But like Hudson the Graduate said, he’s one of the lucky ones – but guilty? Perhaps one young man’s insight into education is his redemption. Time will tell.