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Ambition for academic excellence begins with the young

Melvin B. Miller
Ambition for academic excellence begins with the young
“Don’t sign me up if we have to do five or six hours of homework every night” (Photo: Dan Drew)

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang should be excused for mistakenly excluding Boston Latin School alumni from efforts to resolve the school’s problems. After all, he is from Los Angeles and has not yet absorbed the Boston ethos.

Boston Latin School is one of the city’s great institutions. It was established in 1635 as America’s first public school, and its objective has always been to provide a quality education for the academically talented. Over the years Latin School alumni have played major roles in government, business, the humanities and the arts. Those who survived the onerous academic workload to become alumni have organized to provide academic opportunities for subsequent generations. This is a practice that is common for private schools like Andover, Milton Academy and Roxbury Latin, but is rare in public schools.

A conflict has erupted because an impolite and abusive white student has insulted and threatened a black student. The ensuing conflict has now morphed into a protest over the number of black students who are admitted to Boston’s exam schools. The protest seems to be that since an adequate number of black students do not score high enough on the admission exam, then there ought to be another method that gets more blacks enrolled.

Such a proposal could only be offered by someone who never endured the burden of Boston Latin School’s academic challenge. Many students who enter in the 7th grade drop out when they are unable to keep pace with the workload. The number of blacks admitted to Latin School should no more raise an affirmative action protest than the paltry number of white male and female sprinters on the track team that will represent the U.S. at the Olympics, or the number of whites on the basketball team.

More black students should be encouraged to enter Latin School, but success will require the development of a massive cultural interest in academic progress that must begin no later than elementary school. That would be a worthwhile project for Boston’s black community.