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Wednesday, March 22, 2023
FairfaxOpinionLetter: There are ways to achieve diversity, at TJ and elsewhere

Letter: There are ways to achieve diversity, at TJ and elsewhere

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Editor: Anyone who thinks an entry examination to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology is fair – diversity be damned – isn’t thinking very deeply about the subject.

The myth that “cream rises to the top” is one we believe to comfort ourselves, or to justify inequality. It’s untrue, and frequently the only thing it leads to is our refusal or inability to see the truth.

The first step is realizing that diversity helps all of society. The second is helping all children to realize their potential.

Parents who are sole caretakers of children, or who work two or three low-paying jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, never saw a level playing field. Their jobs may be low-paying not because they’re not capable of more, but because in many cases they didn’t have life-changing advantages, and therefore don’t have the time, energy or money to offer their kids the extra schooling or tutoring that it would take to make entry into TJ a true level playing field. And also because they, like their children, never had those advantages, either. And so it goes.


I agree with letter-writer Dave Schutz, who wrote in favor of creating another school similar to TJ to expand the number of seats. But the real solution starts way before then.

Let’s break the loop. Let children play and be creative in early childhood, but those who show interest and talent as they mature, beginning in elementary school, should be offered, and encouraged to take, free math and science instruction – not in addition to school hours, not as homework, but as part of school hours, online if necessary. I can think of no better investment in our future than this.

But just as important, if not more, such courses need the encouragement and involvement of people who look like them: male, female and all colors; who struggled or came from a similar background as they do. And these people can be recruited as volunteers from the many resources around us: NASA, the National Science Foundation, you name it. (Big names are great but they can also be intimidating.) It’s also good to open students up to the idea that there are jobs all around them, and that it’s within their grasp to make a living in a subject they love.

Including diversity, in some percentage, may still be necessary to provide a truly level playing field. And even the students who can test into TJ benefit from the realization that talent comes in many colors. All students, and all of society, gain in a truly diverse world.

And those students who don’t get in TJ? Their work won’t be wasted. They’ll still shine in colleges and universities.

Don’t cut children off because their parents are poor or overextended. Start developing our students early with the encouragement of those who look like them. It will help them whether they continue with the program or go in another direction.

And give them a break. They’ve frequently grown up hard.

Though it will take a while, the result will be, if not a level, then at least a more level playing field, for entry to TJ or to their futures. Ultimately, such help should lead to a more just society.

We need to try.

Cindy La Covey, Arlington

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