Mendel Letters 37 — Bronx High School of Science
July 9, 2021
When I was in 9th-grade I took the Science test. In those days there was no such thing as test-prep, at least not in our neighborhood of the Bronx. I don’t remember if we took the test at JHS 82 or if we went to the school along the IRT #4 line, across from Harris field. I know my younger and brother and I were expected to “make” Science because we were “college material,” but I don’t remember any special pressure, it was more matter-of-fact.
Anyway, I passed the test and my brother did two years later. Because Mommy died from breast cancer, I thought, maybe, I would go to Bronx Science and while there discover a cure for cancer, so I signed up for a special bio research class.
Going to Bronx Science meant being punished for three years with excess homework assignments that interfered with my ability to play ball with my friends after school. Eventually I just stopped doing homework. Instead, we set up a homework share during lunch, passing assignments around to copy.
The teachers at Bronx Science were nothing special. Some were mean to us. They thought we were arrogant and we believed we were smarter than them. Actually the smarter than them part was often true. Some stand out for horribleness. The biology teacher who faced the board and never focused on people, the French teacher who never got out of his desk chair and had students ask each other questions in French, while teaching nothing, and the English teacher who quizzed us about obscure facts drawn from books we never read. How many chairs in Silas Mariner’s house? Amazingly, I just found the answer with a search on Gutenberg.org. Silas had three chairs in his house. But, so what?
There were about 900 kids in my class, about 3,000 in the school. Two-thirds of us were boys; we figured that’s because we were smarter than girls. Only later did I learn that Bronx Science had a quota system and fewer girls were admitted. Turns out because there were fewer seats reserved for them, they were smarter than us.
Thank heavens for the girls. As teachers droned on and on, the girls gave me something to stare out, but I was too socially awkward to every have a girlfriend in high school.
The most important things I learned at Bronx Science were that I wasn’t going to cure cancer while in high school and that I didn’t especially like science research. I’ll write more about this is future letters.
Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.
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