Trouble in paradise makes the news. Stuyvesant is less than paradise, but it’s still a model school whose acclaimed reputation put it on the map in the first place.
Over the past year, that reputation experienced its own roller coaster. We welcomed 13 Intel semifinalists, and then protested the dress code on “Slutty” Wednesday. U.S. News & World report placed us fifth on the list of best science, technology, engineering, and math high schools in the nation; and then we became home to the biggest cheating scandal in New York. Yet, despite this mixed bag we are famous for our mistakes, not our accomplishments. Suddenly, as a result of a few isolated, highly publicized incidents, Stuyvesant students are no longer considered model students or citizens. We’ve become the face of a negative Stuyvesant brand.
But it is impossible to condense Stuyvesant culture into a single image that will sell magazines or earn page views. Traditionally, Stuyvesant was painted as an institution that pushes its students to the brink, but it’s a two-way street—students push themselves. As freshmen, we come in aware of the work that’ll be expected of us. We worked hard to get here, and most of us appreciate the competitive atmosphere. It challenges us. We’re a school full of students who want to succeed, want that extra 10th of a point on our report card, and want that fourth AP class.
Often when the media talks about Stuyvesant, it implies that we’re the victims of the administration, or faceless nerds with graphing calculators and dreams of Harvard. We’re not wild animals ready to rip apart each other’s throats for a good grade. We’re actors, writers, comedians, inventors, and scientists. We shape the school as much as the school shapes us. However, in light of recent events, Stuyvesant is no longer seen as the same school that we strived for in middle school.
On Sunday, September 16, New York Magazine released an article by Robert Kolker title “Cheating Upwards,” which looked into the story behind the cheating scandal that rocked the Stuyvesant community over the summer. It outlined the entire operation with the help its leader, then-junior Nayeem Ahsan. It also looked into the pressure and the frequency of cheating overall at the school.
Last spring, The Spectator conducted a survey, on which 80 percent of students stated that they had cheated in some form at least once while at Stuyvesant. This is a statistic that has been misconstrued by many publications to make the claim that 80 percent of Stuyvesant students are regular cheaters. In the New York Magazine article, educational psychology professor at Ohio State University Eric Anderman says “close to 85 percent” of high school students will have cheated by the end of high school, putting Stuyvesant’s statistics in perspective. But by and large, the small number of Stuyvesant students who regularly cheat, hurting class curves and other students’ motivation, aren’t representative of us, as a student body.
The majority of us think more like Rachel Makombo, a freshman quoted in a recent New York Times article about the scandal, when she says, “We all want to prove that Stuy is one of the top schools in the city. [...] We don’t want to be looked at as a cheating school.”
As a result of the cheating incident and the Department of Education (DOE) investigation that followed, some serious changes have been made to our school. As somewhat of a favorite of the city, we’ve long been able to ignore certain board mandates—we were able to have clubs without teacher supervision, for example, and were also allowed to bring laptops and tablets into school. But now, we’re being cracked down upon. The DOE is tightening the rope and reminding us who is boss. Things we were able to skimp on before are now being heavily enforced, as evidenced by the hiring of Brian Moran, the new Assistant Principal of Student Affairs and Family Engagement, here to make sure we’re doing what we’re told.
Stuyvesant isn’t a penitentiary that needs constant supervision. While it is understandable that the administration has become stricter in light of recent events, we do not deserve to be treated like criminals. The problems we are currently dealing with hardly require constant supervision, and won’t be solved with an academic honesty pledge that merely defines cheating, but does not require us to pledge that we won’t do it. (Which, some might argue, defeats the purpose of a pledge.)
The document, signed by the entire student body a few weeks ago, is quick to point out that cheating “hurts honest students’ chances of acceptance into specialized courses and college.” However, it fails to mention the value of academia and knowledge over test scores and Ivy League diplomas. Instead it says, “[Academic Dishonesty] rewards those students who cheat.” The document endorses the notion that Stuyvesant is nothing but a feeder school. The contract is being a portrayed as an answer to all of our problems, but a closer read reveals that there are deep-rooted conceptions about Stuyvesant that aren’t going away with the stroke of a pen.
Ahsan’s actions following the original offense are further fanning the flames and causing the students to suffer. In the interview he granted New York Magazine, it is clear that the consequences don’t seem to have sunk in. “I didn’t know I could have gotten kicked out of Stuy if I pulled this off,” he said to Kolker.
The goal is for the entire school to move past these obstacles with our dignity still intact. For that to happen, students shouldn’t be treated as criminals by the administration, and students cannot treat the administration as their enemy. There’s a tremendous amount of animosity between teachers and students, and it’s neither constructive nor accurately placed. Our job is not to fight anymore; it’s time to start the period of reconstruction.
Obviously, our reputation is important, but the surface doesn’t matter as much as the substance. The media has forced us to become ashamed of ourselves. They conveniently headline our blunders, leaving the public to define us as a scandalous high school, rather than the prestigious one that’s home to many talented and assiduous students. We can’t let that individuality be taken away in order to save face. Headlines, damaging as they may seem, are temporary, but culture is permanent.