Tenth graders at Hunter College High School in Manhattan had a substitute teacher in their American history class on Monday for an unusual reason: Their regular teacher, Irving Kagan, was in Washington, watching his sister, Elena, accept President Obama’s nomination for a seat on the Supreme Court.
Both siblings attended Hunter, and Mr. Kagan returned to be a social studies teacher there. Their mother, Gloria, taught for years at the affiliated elementary school. So it was with a special sense of pride that students and teachers in the schools on East 94th Street welcomed the news that Ms. Kagan, the nation’s solicitor general, had risen even higher on the school’s long list of notable alumni.
Hunter College High School is highly unusual among public schools in New York City. Affiliated with Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, the high school is publicly financed and managed, but not run by the city’s Department of Education.
To attend the elementary school, children must excel on an I.Q. test and in a class observation to win one of its coveted 50 kindergarten seats. The high school starts in the seventh grade, and attracts some of the brightest students from around the city. Cram schools have popped up to help students prepare for the combined math, reading and essay test required for admission.
For those who get in, the competition does not let up. Juniors and seniors fret over a phenomenon common to high-achieving schools: Among so many outstanding students, it is hard to distinguish oneself.
Dozens of seniors this year were National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalists. “It’s like embarrassing if you aren’t a National Merit winner,” said Joseph Pearl, 16. About a third of graduates go to Ivy League schools.
Do you ever get the impression that there is a certain conflict between what elites, such as Harvard Law School deans, say about IQ and what they really believe deep down? Perhaps the witch-burning fervor they display against heretics stems from their desire to cover up their own Doubts?