Bringing the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Boston Together

Posted: March 13, 2012 by meghandoran in Uncategorized

In a March 3rd op-ed in the Boston Globe, Lawrence Harmon made the case for changing school assignment in Boston.  In this piece he argues that Boston’s history, ‘the old guard,’ and race relations in the city all need to be left behind in order to ‘get kids off the bus.’ This is an argument we’ve heard plenty here at the Boston Busing/Desegregation Project, and one we continue to disagree with. We feel that any changes to school assignment need to be rooted in history and the complexity of relationships in the city, both old and new.

Harmon argues that the selection of Theodore Landsmark to head a 2004 process aimed at reconsidering school assignment caused “the specter of busing” to float “over the hearing rooms.” We submit that it was not Landsmark’s presence insomuch as the real experiences and concerns of parents and residents in the city which brought memories of the busing/desegregation to the fore of these discussions. Selecting a committee head who was not in Boston during that time period will not erase these experiences, though it might allow the committee to be less attuned to the historical reality. Likewise, excluding the ‘old guard’ of parent and teacher advocacy organizations (such as BPON and BEAM), only means these interests will have less access to the process, not that the wounds experienced by parents and teachers with a long-term investment in the system will disappear altogether.

Unfortunately, Harmon pits “delivering on the promise of neighborhood schools” against “getting bogged down instead in the city’s racial politics.” We believe that to actually deliver on the promise of high quality neighborhood schools, it is essential to understand and illuminate the city’s racial and class politics so that the people of Boston have a chance to free themselves from being manipulated by those politics, and, instead work across differences to define and create the high quality schools we all want.

What we found promising in his article is the following quote: “In a city where nine out of 10 students are minorities, the sensible goal now should be to ensure high quality schools that children can reach on foot. Tens of millions of dollars spent annually on transportation could be redirected to classrooms. And youngsters could draw closer to their neighborhood community centers, libraries, and sports leagues at the end of the school day.” This quote acknowledges that ensuring high quality schools should be the goal, not just neighborhood schools. This feels like important common ground with what the Boston Busing/ Desegregation Project has been learning.

Like Harmon, we are glad to see a racially diverse committee tasked with advising the BPS in the school assignment process. Rather than pit ‘old’ Boston against ‘new’ Boston, we believe it is critical to get to have a meaningful and historically rooted conversation about school assignment and, even more important, to build shared understanding with parents and other stakeholders across the city about what a world-class public education system for Boston looks like that takes into account excellence and equity for all kids and schools across the city. Central to this conversation should be the needs and voices of families who don’t have a choice about whether to send their children to the Boston Public Schools: some of these families are new to the city, while others are long-term residents with years of experience in the BPS. What they have in common is lack of resources and voice to secure a better education for their children.

In what so many are trying to claim as “the new Boston,” a Boston beyond busing and desegregation efforts of the past and present, families without resources and voice to secure a better education for their children look to and depend not only on the leadership of public schools and the city, but on all the rest of us to ensure that this time around, in 2012 and going forward, the needs, vision and priorities of these families, and parents themselves, are at all the tables that decide the fate of their children – i.e., whether their kids will be supported to have a chance at opportunity for all or consigned to fuel the pipeline of growing inequality and poverty in this city and country. We, at the Boston Busing/Desegregation Project, believe that building a first-rate school system that works for all is essential for moving families and communities out of poverty and building a better Boston; and that to get there, we need to ensure that a critical mass of parents who reflect the diversity of “the new Boston” are included and help lead a new conversation and citywide visioning and planning effort to provide their kids and all kids the best education possible.

– Written by Meghan Doran and Jacqui Lindsay

  1. Carmen Pola says:

    Great job.After reading the article and thinking about what we endured as parents of children in the BPS, I’m hoping that the same mistake is not made again let’s not forget the organizations of bi-lingi=ual parents on your formula of involvement .The make of the schools must be represented on any efforts by any organized groups in this city,let us not become so political and blind that we do not actively involve the non-english speaking community our problems have gotten so out of hands since the abolishment of bi-lingual education. I most share with you that our children are being forgotten at many levels. I challenge the organizatios of english speaking parents to have a conversation with non-english speaking parents and recognizing their children needs and parents want in the areas of education for their children. I must add that I will be willing to help brainstorm with your leadership on how to create and develop such a committee. Thanks.

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