The fast track

Let me tell you about the fast track.

The fast track begins before you're born. It's already decided for you by where your parents decide to put down their roots. It's decided for you by which one of the 40,000 high schools in America you're eventually going to attend.

Most of these 40,000 send 0 children to a fast track university. A large handful send 1. A few send multiple.

And some very scant few send dozens.

These are called feeder schools. My high school was a feeder to Harvard. We send over 20 seniors there when I graduated.

I wasn't one of them.

One thing you'll notice: For most people, the fast track is never easy. But once you're on it, it's considerably easier to stay on it. It's much, much harder to get on it.

To get into my high school, you needed to have top grades and beat x% of kids on a standardized test, where x > 80, if memory serves. But you did not get tested every day and replaced once your average from the last week went down.

That better-than-x% thing is called a percentile. Percentiles are cool because they give a quick-and-dirty way of comparing effort levels among similar things. Beating 80% of the other kids on a test you've never heard of is a lot like beating 80% of the other kids on the SATs when you did take them — so many years ago — a score of about 1250 / 1600, or 1870 / 2400 if you took it during its wild-and-crazy years. Some of you are saying “Really? That's it?” Some of you are saying “Really? That high?” Yes, that's it, yes, that high.

I fell off the fast track. I dropped out of high school. I performed a minor miracle: I got back on it.

I'm not sure if that was the right move, in the end.