A Georgetown University freshman has a compelling essay in the Washington Post on how poorly his schools, among Washington’s finest, did not prepare him for the demands of a highly selective college.
Darryl Robinson attended the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, a well regarded prep school in the District where getting accepted to a college or university is a prerequisite for graduation. But Darryl says he still found a gap between what he could do and what his better-prepared classmates could do. He explains that his high school teachers did not push him “to think past a basic level, to apply concepts, to move beyond memorizing facts and figures.”
But Darryl understands the struggle that his teachers and now his Georgetown professors faced — playing catch-up with students who arrive in their classes ill prepared to handle the workload.
Darryl did not give up, crediting twice-weekly tutoring and regular sessions with his professors with helping him conquer his deficits. He devotes most of this time to studying, noting, “My social life isn’t as exciting as I hoped it would be because I’m spending so much time studying. But all my extra effort has paid off: I’ve gone from floundering to finally making it at Georgetown.”
Some of my regular readers will cite this essay as evidence that poor kids from inner city high schools cannot make it when admitted to elite colleges, admissions that they will deride as affirmative action. But I see it as evidence of how such disadvantaged students can succeed if they are determined and their universities are willing to work with them.
Since the third grade, my teachers told me I was exceptional, but they never pushed me to think for myself. And when I did excel, they didn’t trust that I’d done the hard work. They assumed I was cheating. Now, only 10 miles from those teachers and schools where I was considered a standout, I’ve had to work double-time just to keep up.
I first noticed the gap between me and my classmates after my first writing assignment at Georgetown. In an English class to help prepare incoming freshmen, we were asked to analyze the main character’s development in “Persepolis,” a graphic memoir about growing up in Tehran during the Iranian revolution. I thought it was an easy assignment. Everyone’s papers were distributed to the class, and it was immediately obvious how mine fell short: I merely summarized the plot of the book without making any real argument. I got a D-minus.
I did what I’d been taught growing up in school: memorize and regurgitate information. Other Georgetown freshmen from better schools had been trained to form original, concise thoughts within a breath, to focus less on remembering every piece of information, word for word, and more on forming independent ideas. I was not. I could memorize and recite facts and figures, but I didn’t know how to think for myself. Now, in an attempt to think deeper, I sometimes overthink myself into silence.
One of the biggest challenges I faced in my first semester in college was in my chemistry lecture and lab. Since I hope to go to medical school, this is a required course. I took chemistry in high school, but I didn’t learn enough to make it in this class. I was lost from the first lecture on. Despite going to a tutor three days a week, I ended up dropping the class so that I could study more on my own and be ready for it next year. The experience of dropping a class was devastating, but it was the right choice.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog