The Boston Public Schools: Will History Repeat Itself with the Same Forces at Work?

() wisecatMayor Martin Walsh perhaps blind to the destruction wrought upon the Boston Public Schools (BPS) the last time it was investigated by the federal government, or through reasons of fear, welcomed an investigation of the BPS school system by the Boston’s United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz. He was joined by the BPS superintendent a 40-year-old man Tommy Chang who was born in Taiwan  and arrived in the United States after the former federal interference left the BPS a shadow of its former self.

Chang’s youthfulness and limited experience in school department leadership may excuse this profound error of agreeing to be investigated and second guessed by outsiders. Or, perhaps Superintendent Chang was forced into this by the mayor. But the mayor, a product of Boston who should be aware of the prior federal intrusion, should have moved heaven and earth not to welcome it with open arms. In effect these men are standing back and relinquishing control of the BPS. Nothing good came from the prior federal interference; nothing good will come now.

The former interference came about with a federal suit that was assigned to Judge W. Arthur Garrity of Wellesley. It was backed by the same people who are behind the present investigation: the NAACP, the ACLU. They seek to destroy and not build up. Judge Garrity became a man possessed. He examined the racial makeup of the Boston schools at that moment. He gave little consideration to the basic reason for their imbalance which was the black explosion of population through the 1960s and the neighborhood school system.

He correctly found some acts of the school department aggravated the situation. Rather than using a scalpel to correct them he took a sledge-hammer and pounded away at the schools insistently and with the relentlessness of a pile driver.

Each blow was accompanied by the cheers of the media. The bar associations and other prominent whites joined in. All those who had no dog in the fight, or rather child in the schools, joined in a chorus of glee and praise. Those who objected were scorned, and ridiculed, and deemed racists.

Garrity blindness to reality refused to consider the massive population changes that were occurring in the City of Boston. In 1960 the Boston’s population was 697,000 people: the white population was 90.2% and the black 9.1; by 1970 its population was down over fifty thousand to 641,000 people: the whites at 81.8,  blacks at 16.3, Hispanics at 2.8. The 1970s were the busing years. In 1980 the population was down almost another eighty thousand to 563,000: the whites at 70% whites, 22.4% blacks, 10.4% Hispanic and 2.7% Asian.

Boston schools operated on the neighborhood school concept. Children walked to their local schools. When blacks began to move into Boston whole neighborhoods changed. The Blue Hill Avenue area from Mattapan past Franklin Park which was predominately Jewish seemed to change overnight as did the neighborhoods off of Colombia Road and Washington Streets in Dorchester. The influx of black children into their neighborhood schools in this rather limited area turned some neighborhoods into over 90% black. Those more stable neighborhoods where people did not flee the coming of the blacks remained as they had always been almost all white.

The BPS was charged with dealing with this changing scene. It reacted poorly. It changed some district lines to keep blacks out of white majority schools or enable whites to avoid black majority schools. It also did its best to deprive black students who had overcome the many years of educational discrimination to become top students the opportunity to go to Boston Latin School.

The BPS shenanigans and trickery against the blacks would come back to haunt it as Garrity took to the pulpit. Righteously like an old-time circuit preacher he condemned the actions of the school department and to sate his anger he set out to punish the malefactors with a draconian plan oblivious to the fact he was punishing the school children by throwing them into a boiling cauldron in which education fell apart. Things became so bizarre that hearings were held where he was deciding the brand of basketballs to be used at South Boston High School. Busing continued, education stopped.

To paraphrase an old adage: “when the federals come in the door education goes out the window.” A school department under investigation no longer does what it is supposed to do which is to educate the students to the best of its ability. The scalawags in it will seek to gain revenge on others; the back stabbers and obsequious will try to squirm their way into federal favor by abetting its beliefs; and the untold misery brought upon the teachers of trying to face one’s students while watching one’s back will deprive another generation of children the education they deserve.


  1. Seems the NAACP wants to get rid of the BLS principal. She seems to be an accomplished woman that graduated from BLS and Harvard. Got post grad degrees from Harvard and BC in education. She taught school in Belmont and then was vice principal at the notorious Pollard school in Needham. That school had more hooligans per student than any other nationwide. She survived that and then took over at Latin. BLS has been very well run under her guidance. Her one failing is she comes from a Globe despised ethnic group.

  2. Hello Matt,

    As you remember , back then, everyone who could fled the city. Families from South Boston and Dorchester headed for the South Shore. Families from East Boston and Charlestown fled to the North Shore. I remember one Magazine Busing Article referring to those unaffected cheerleaders as having Liberalism ending at their Suburban Driveways.