I could have been an astrophysicist, except I’m a Latina

by Elise Valderrama on December 11, 2012 in Cultura

Back in October, Florida created a new set of educational policies which permits/expects blacks and Latinos to test lower on standardized tests than whites or Asian students.  Since they’re expected to test lower,  Florida thereby eliminates the  embarassing “achievement gap” and the white education bureaucrats can “stand their ground.”

While we’re at it, why don’t we segregate each classroom per race? We can even have separate bathrooms and drinking fountains per race. Seems legit!

I am actually the product of the Florida school system. This ethnic divide rule reminds me of my first year at the University of Central Florida. Though I had a great high school record and was making straight As, I had to take mandatory seminars teaching me how to do well in school.

Did everyone have to take these courses? Nope. Well, why would a straight-A student have to attend such seminars?

Because I am Latina.

I met with my counselor and explained my situation. Though she was pleased with my perfect grades she explained Latino students are statistically at a higher rate for dropping out and therefore, it was mandatory that I take these courses.

Are you fucking kidding me? Wouldn’t my time be better spent doing my real homework? And while I’m at it, fuck statistics.

Oh… but Latinos and blacks are more likely to drop-out. Let’s get together and role play turning down party invitations because that will really help at-risk students…


Though well-meaning, statistics are a slippery slope. Why couldn’t they make exceptions for A students? (I know I’m not the only Latin@ nerd, ahem.)

Of course, my adventures as an introverted college nerd were more an annoyance than anything else.  Now, telling young black and Latino children that they are statistically a dumber ethnic group – that’s just downright hurtful and damaging.

But if you’re bright and smart you should just know you’re bright and smart and shine like diamond, right?

Not so much.

I am notoriously bad at standardized tests. The University of Florida rejected me for having a low SAT score (yeah, OK, state school…)

Though my reading scores were above average, my math scores were lacking. At the time, I chalked it up to the notion that women just aren’t good at math and left it at that.

Women aren’t good at math. This was taught to me, by an actual teacher.

Although initially I had a rough time in math, by junior year I was making As in calculus yet it never occurred to me that low scores might have more to do with anxiety and mild dyslexia than a stereotype proclaiming women don’t excel in math.

So, how could I be making As in math and yet be stupid enough to think women aren’t good at math?

The things is, ALL young people are kind of stupid. Not stupid in the intellectual sense but stupid in the impressionable sense. If you tell them they are not good at something, chances are, they will believe you.

In undergrad, I was making A’s in algebra. However, when I took the GMAT I did horrible in the math section. I would take an un-timed practice test and score nearly perfect, come the real test and BLAMMO – way below average.

It finally hit me…

Standardized tests are a bunch of horseshit ass fodder better used as toilet paper than a nationwide system of judging intelligence. However, it takes time to develop into a confident person who says “NO! Fuck you! You’re stupid test is stupid! I am awesome and I’m going to build space rockets!”

But alas, by then you’ve already settled on the crass life of a stand-up comedian.

Photo of Lockheed scientist Wanda Bradshaw by Euclid vanderKroew.


J. December 11, 2012 at 12:39 PM

Unfortunately your experience speaks to a larger issue in education in this country that goes beyond race. The U.S. is very stuck in the liberal arts style (for lack of a better term) of learning in high schools. Students’ value (to the school and teachers) is determined by grades they earn in liberal arts style classes (English, math, social studies, science). So instantly when a kid isn’t good at these subjects and makes bad grades the teachers view him/her as “dumb”. This only makes sense when going to college is the only goal that any teacher or administrator might have in mind. Besides what teacher wouldn’t think that way? Isn’t that what they did to be successful, go to school, make good grades, go to college, and get a job? That’s what success is after all right?

What our education system fails to appreciate right now is that kids can be smart/gifted in other areas that are not academic in nature. I used to work at a school and remember being in a classroom where a guy was teaching his subject (graphic arts), and a totally disinterested African-American student spent the entire class on the computer looking at message boards for hip hop music. The kid obviously wasn’t a good student in the class and the teacher put up with him. Let’s assume that the kid wasn’t a good student in other classes either. My guess is he is viewed poorly by teachers and administrators because he wasn’t excelling at the academics he was presented with in his school. However when I looked at the kid I saw someone bored with graphic design, but who was very interested in music. If I was a counselor I would bring the kid in and asked one simple question, “What are you interested in?” Assuming the answer was music I would have told him about schools (community college) that have commercial music programs. Maybe I could have steered him toward computer classes that could help him set up his own message board about music. The kid could have had several possibilities for success, but because teachers are so stuck on academic achievement in a liberal arts curriculum, the kid gets labeled as “not smart”.

Considering teachers and school administrators are people who went through all their schooling, then went to college and decided to become teachers (keeping them in a school environment perpetually) is a huge problem. They can’t see any other path to success, and this country has been beating college degree=success into peoples’ heads for so long why would they? Standardized testing is just another tool that solidifies their belief in this type of education. It will take a monumental shift in thinking to change this.

Educators should focus increasing attention to technical and trade school for students who are not interested in the traditional HS liberal arts style learning. No, not everyone can go or should go to college. That does not mean a student won’t be able to excel at something else that doesn’t not require traditional university style college.

Delia December 11, 2012 at 7:20 PM

Have you ever heard of stereotype threat? It is a well documented phenomena. If you even insinuate to anybody (minorities, or white males or Asians) that their group tends to underperform on a certain task or exam before you test them on a certain task or exam then the subject will underperform during the exam comapared to a prior perfomance. Given that this is true, is it surprising that minority kids who get told about how they are chronically a lost educational cause give in to the stereotype? Shame on Florida for telling kids they are doomed to fail. By the way, stereotype threat works on everybody even White guys and Asians, but in the real world it is doubtful that they ever get such a message.

One thing to emphasize is that intelligence (even I.Qs) are malleable. We used to think that people who do poorly on tests always would. Not true. People who commit to improve performance generally will. But all this stuff is new research within the last 15 to 20 years and Florida sadly is not hip to it.

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