If one walks into any Advanced Placement (AP) or Advanced Standing (AS) class at M-A, spotting any student that is not white requires no effort at all—most of these classes are majority Caucasian. While M-A’s current population is divided between whites and Hispanic, African-American, and Asian minorities—even though these minorities numerically outnumber whites— classes are not of equal diversity. If whites are ultimately outnumbered in population, why are they the majority in advanced classes and what is restricting the ‘minorities’ from changing these numbers?
AS classes include AS English I,II,and III, AS Physics, AS Chemistry, and AS Algebra II.
From personal experience, the reason why many minorities do not apply for advanced classes can be tracked back to middle school. The majority of Hispanic, African American, and Pacific Island students come from either the Ravenswood District or the Redwood City School District, where the majority of students at these schools are non white.
When most of these students are introduced to the white population at M-A their freshman year, many are not comfortable breaching the pre-existing social divide. This essentially creates a phobia that prevents these students from expressing their true potential in academics. When I was a freshman, I remember some of my friends rejecting the idea of taking advanced classes, as they insisted, “too many white people are there and I do not know anybody.”
The sad truth that many are afraid to admit, is that many ‘minorities’ are intimidated not necessarily by the academics, but by the social tensions that they will encounter while taking these classes. Coming from an environment where one is used to sharing a common culture with one’s classmates, makes it difficult to have the courage to step out and do what’s best for their future.
A big misconception many of these ‘minorities’ have is that advanced classes are for ‘smarter’ people exclusively, when in reality, learning in a rigorous course sometimes simply requires a strong work ethic. Also, taking these classes and thereby associating with students of other backgrounds does not mean one has to leave their old culture behind.
Furthermore, many of the ‘minorities’ who take advanced classes are known by their old friends as people that think they are better and are ashamed of their original culture. Terms such as “being white-washed” or “acting white” spring from these ideas. The people that hold this belief are one of the biggest factors in why advanced classes are not diverse at all.
Students that do take advanced classes also deal with problems within the class itself that affect their performance.
Being put into a class where no one looks the same automatically ignites the phobia brought on after having had little to no interaction with white people. Based on personal experience, being one of the few non-white students incurs a pressure from oneself and one’s peers to not say anything incorrect or look bad in public.
Mr. Nelson, an English teacher at M-A who has also taught English language learners, shared, “What frustrates me is that when I ask a question, I read the answer on their paper, I hear them say the answer to their partners, but when it comes time to sharing they never speak out. It comes to my mind, ‘Do latino students believe their voice does not count?’ There are times when I say things that are completely wrong and I wait to see who speaks out. In a lot of cases, most of the white kids in my classes agree with these statements, and I can see some of the Hispanic kids do not agree based on their paper, but they do not say anything. It seems like they do not want to offer their voice.”
Aside from getting rid of this phobia, minorities need to be encouraged to take challenging courses. In order to accomplish this, teachers need to start this process in middle school or earlier. Kids need to learn to be proud of their roots and not be ashamed of how they look. A huge factor is the encouragement of teachers and counselors to have minorities take advanced classes and telling them that they can do it. This will force these students to overcome the phobia and show that they really are smart.
If kids learn to be proud of their culture and know that their voice really does count, then classes will slowly start to attain a level of diversity that accurately represents our student body.