The school, which boasts two-thirds of Virginia’s National Merit scholarship semifinalists and a 100 percent Advance Placement testing participation rate, is also 79 percent minority.
But those teenagers, including my son, are the “wrong” kind of people of color for Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) Education Secretary Atif Qarni. Qarni is leading a taskforce to “diversify” Virginia’s merit-based schools.
Qarni means to impose race-based quotas and eliminate the strict academic requirements to enter TJ.
According to one taskforce meeting’s unofficial minutes, Qarni, surrounded by Democratic state lawmakers and “inclusion experts” — but no teachers or parents — reminded the participants to “keep this work group focused on admissions process.”
In the meeting, state Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) explicitly advocated for “certain metrics of improvement” based on race-based admission outcomes.
Qarni insists the closed working group was “informal” and that normal public meetings rules did not apply. But it only became public when a reporter got wind of it.
Surovell insists there will be no “unconstitutional” racial quota system but proposes a lottery system (thus eliminating the merit system), caps on feeder middle schools (affecting quotas on high-achieving schools) or outright abolishing TJ and other merit-based schools.
Now, the education secretary is conducting more closed “listening sessions” on TJ. During the student session, outspoken students opposing Qarni’s actions were denied the ability to ask questions.
On Sept. 15, Qarni will hold another “listening session” with parents — except Qarni banned the TJ Parent Teacher Student Association (for which I volunteer) from speaking after they said I would be one of their representatives. Qarni alleges (wrongly) that I’m in a “hate group” because of my affiliation with the Muslim Reform Movement, which advocates for peace and women’s rights.
Qarni wrote, “TJ PTSA doesn’t need to be represented on the panel … my office has already confirmed a TJHSST parent for the panel” — thus handpicking who can be “represented.”
When candidates for office stack public forums, it’s untoward; when government officials do it, it’s undemocratic.
Now, the Fairfax County school district changed its meeting agenda for the same day — from discussing coronavirus reopening plans to addressing “anti-racism” and TJ admissions “bias.”
A representative survey of TJ parents by the PTSA found 83 percent want to continue the school’s race-blind, merit-based admissions. Parents also overwhelmingly want to increase diversity through greater outreach and preparation.
Every TJ student, like my son, worked exceptionally hard to gain a spot to TJ and maintained that rigor to achieve.
Each child deserves a high-quality and rigorous education. Achieving that does not have to be a zero-sum game.
My father nearly starved to death during the 1943 Bengal Famine in then-British India. Meanwhile, British soldiers and Europeans refugees were well supplied as food shipments were diverted and destroyed as Indians died. When he arrived in the United States in the 1960s, my father saw it as a land of opportunity and plenty — apart from the Old World’s discrimination and unfair trade-offs.
He was delighted to see his grandson transcend inequities of race, nationality and religion and succeed and thrive on his own merits. A single mother, I have huddled over the dining room table with my son since his earliest days, helping with homework and imbuing in him my parent’s values of education and hard work.
Hundreds of TJ parents and students are immigrants from as far as China and Romania, often fleeing the horrors of tyranny and communism’s “radical equality.” They experienced firsthand the lie, to paraphrase George Orwell, that all are equal but some are more equal than others.
Meritocracy’s great achievement is to put aside “accidents of birth” and raise up talent. It is an imperfect system, to be sure, but tearing down those who seek excellence does not serve the underserved (or underrepresented). It only destroys.
The tragic irony of a quota system for the best high school in the United States is that it punishes children for the “accidents of birth” — race and national origin — precisely the problem it seeks to solve.
Instead, let us lift up underrepresented students, expanding opportunities at their elementary schools, access to gifted programming and parent outreach and education. More and better competition is welcome because it improves outcome; it does not diminish anyone.
Imposing racial quotas, caps or “goals” in TJ admissions or abolishing TJ altogether would not better educate a single child or achieve fairness for anyone. Merit should still matter, and we should increase opportunity for all students in Virginia and reward their hard work.