I’ve been away from the desegregation battles of the Boston School System since the 1970s. I was one of the attorneys representing the Boston School Committee before federal judge J. Arthur Garrity who I believe most fair-minded people agree caused immense damage to the Boston Public School system with his sledgehammer approach to the problem of equal educational opportunity for all, yes that was the basis of the suit that minority students were not receiving the same educational opportunities as whites, by numbly thinking shifting around the black and white children on buses to achieve some number balance would improve their education.
Garrity refused to consider the real world consequences of his draconian imposed orders which was the prospect of chasing whites out of the public schools in Boston into private, parochial and school districts of other cities and towns. How obtuse does one have to be to understand that white parents did not want their children bused to schools in other neighborhoods where the education was just plainly awful? How lacking in understanding were those who did not understand that black parents did not want their children transported into hostile areas fearing for their safety? Did it take more than a minimum understanding of education that little could be accomplished when heavily armed police patrolled the corridors of the school trying to keep order?
The Boston Public Schools lost its majority white student population. To compensate, each year school assignments were changed for some. White people of good faith wanting to stay in the Boston school system year after year were driven out realizing their children were just pawns to be moved around to achieve numerical pleasing ratios. Where was the education happening?
Rejected early on were the School Committee’s proposals to set up magnetic schools with the latest in educational materials which were hoped to draw students from all the schools districts thus integrating them on a voluntary basis. That would take time and Garrity had no time to waste. He was cheered on by the Boston Globe, the Bar Associations, and his suburban liberal friends who had no stake in the experiment. These unaffected whites lamented the attitude of those whites in the city. When told that the experiment might be extended to the suburbs they changed the subject.
I was there. It was 45 years ago. I lived through it going to court and listening to Garrity and the more than half-dozen counsel on the other side chastising my client the School Committee and putting together orders to achieve the impossible. I often wanted to shout out: “what has any of this to do with giving blacks equal educational opportunity?”
A lousy school is a lousy school. Making a lousy school majority white without more won’t change it from being a lousy school. Why can’t people grasp that simple fact?
On Sunday a Boston Globe headline told us the Boston Public Schools were becoming resegregated. In truth outside the examination schools, which by the way are magnetic schools, they have been segregated since the Fifties. The Globe in the article uses a strange definition of segregation, calling it intensive segregation which means “students of color occupy at least 90 percent of the seats” in a school. I guess if they occupy over 50% that’s no longer a worry. At one time it was but the ongoing departure of whites from the system requires the definition of segregation to change. We are informed in the article that nearly 60% of the schools are intensely segregated whereas twenty years ago it was 42%. It also tells us that white students make up 14% of the enrollment in the school system so even if they were spread out equally in all the schools students of color would occupy at least 86% of the seats which is not a far cry from “intensive segregation.”
The article goes on to compare a couple of schools: the majority white Eliot K – 8 in the North End and the intensely segregated King K – 8 school where almost all attending are students of color. The differences are stark in student achievement. We are told to look at Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York City who proposes setting aside a certain proportion of the seats in the examination schools for students that cannot get into them on their merits. It quotes people lamenting the situation as if something can be done about it. Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell says: “This is devastating.” Her solution is to “try new things.” Yes, what are they?
Gary Orfield from Los Angeles says: “I think Boston is a sad case. . . you have to think about diversity. . . . While the Boston school system doesn’t have enough white students to integrate every school, the system still has enough of them to create more racially diverse schools than what currently exist” He, like the others just talk and talk.
When I read that they say I think, “that’s nice but look at the numbers. How do you achieve it? Bring in another Garrity? Do away with examination schools? Change the standards for entry?” No one has an answer.
But there are ways.