When the BBDP listened to stories from and read about the era of Boston’s school desegregation crisis, transportation —“busing” –became the flashpoint but the struggle and any resulting gains or trauma was about so much more. As we learned early in our process:
- Quality public education for all U.S. people was the larger historical vision and goal it was part of which included people of color and impoverished white people (not to mention women and other marginalized groups) demanding inclusion and access.
- Brown v Board of Education & Morgan vs Hennigan were part of a specific legal/judicial strategy for tackling legal racial segregation as a barrier to the vision, and
- “Busing” was one of many tactics for carrying out that strategy
Today, Boston is in conflict around an issue deeply symbolic in this year’s anniversary of court ordered desegregation: ending yellow school bus service for 7th and 8th graders and putting them instead on public transportation. How ironic in many ways to have a heated meeting about the transportation of students during this anniversary year. But at the June 2nd meeting at Madison Park High School, parents, students, bus drivers and monitors, education activists, and community members came out to challenge the decision. Though the focus was busing, the feelings vented and points raised were also about so much more. And they were totally aligned with the three areas BBDP’s work pointed to as issues lifted up but unresolved then and now: race and class equity, democratic access and demanding excellence.
Race and Class Equity: Members of the Black community, other communities of color and people from less wealthy neighborhoods raised concerns those more privileged do not have to worry about –or a least have more resources to address–for their children. Participants asked about physical safety beyond cross walks, the implicit racism marginalized children face on public transportation and moving through life, having even less contact and interaction throughout the school day with adults from their own community and culture like those who serve as drivers and monitors.
Democratic Access: What marginalized communities face is so often invisible to those with privilege. Those present at the meeting pointed out multiple issues impacting equitable access to schools, including the fact that BPS has closed many schools in communities of color, that the exam schools, which serve the most privileged students in the system, are among the easiest schools to access by MBTA, and that less privileged parents struggling with this change do not have the luxury of flexible work schedules. Increasingly in our restructuring economy and culture, access is a function of privilege instead of a function of justice as imagined by those who pushed for Brown and Morgan.
Demanding Excellence: Those with tremendous financial resources have an increasingly disproportionate voice in the future of public education and everything else. Too often they do not seek out a wider range of racial and class perspectives, believing, consciously of not, they do not add value, i.e. that they have nothing to learn from those most negatively and directly affected by their decisions. People were infuriated that effective outreach to their communities was not done earlier and with more intention and cultural proficiency. They were frustrated by the limited places for their input in finance-driven decisions being made by bodies with no direct accountability to them, their communities, their People.
This is not an indictment of anyone. It is an indictment of a system that is still failing too many. It is clear that those committed to race and class equity, democratic access and demanding excellence are everywhere— in all communities across race and class barriers, in community organizations, and in public and private institutions. It is also clear that these issues are more pressing for some than for others. In many ways having such conflicts arise during this anniversary year provides a tremendous opportunity for all committed to race equity, democratic access and demanding excellence to be more transparent about facing the increasingly complex barriers to the goal and vision of quality public education for all. It is a chance to deepen dialogue and action.