IDEAS: Isn’t there an irony in teaching at an elite institution like Harvard, which rewards kids who excel in the cookie-cutter model?
ROSE: When I got to Harvard, I sort of expected it to be a place that was very elitist. But what I’ve been consistently surprised at—I mean really surprised at—is when you actually look at the people who are doing the admissions decisions, how hard they work to actually look past test scores and get a holistic view of the kid.
IDEAS: But Harvard does kind of epitomize this problem in higher education, which was once the great equalizer in American society and now seems more and more out of reach.
ROSE: Absolutely.... If anything, I want to expand our talent pool and make these decisions even harder for Harvard. But also, it comes down to that American dream. We’re supposed to be the country of [virologist] Jonas Salk, right? Jonas Salk’s parents immigrated, and he went to the City College of New York, which doesn’t charge tuition. We made that bet as a public: If you went to school on the taxpayers’ dime, you could succeed. And then Jonas Salk cured polio, and he gave that cure away. The impact of that one innovation changed the world. So for me it’s about, if our cure for cancer is probably a Latina sitting in a classroom in Oakland, how do we take advantage of this opportunity right now to reimagine the medium of public education, so that it doesn’t come down to everyone fighting for smaller and smaller numbers of spots at Ivy League schools?
Francie Latour, a Boston-based writer, has written about the education achievement gap for Essence magazine.