I happened across a very troubling article this morning in the New York Times. I live in Boston. I’m white. According to the most recent census data 54% of the population of the city is also white. At the time when our city was ablaze with busing controversy forty years ago well over 60% of the students in our public schools were also white. Today that number is less than 15%.
I’m the son of civil rights workers who risked their lives in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. That doesn’t mean much in terms of my racial sophistication other than the topic has been on my mind since the time I could walk. But the data in the article made me want to puke.
To me the epicenter of our future as a country is how we invest in education. Social mobility, rates of poverty, incarceration, and in fact our economic growth as a nation all depend on having an educated populace. And that is without regard to race.
The point of the Civil Rights Movement was that separate is not equal. So too was the supposed point of busing here in Boston. Yet we seem to be right back to where we started. The article points out that Boston spends $80 million, or over 9% of the total school system budget, moving 57,000 students who are almost all minority from one neighborhood to another randomly selected school which is often on the other side of town. And for what?
The real question is what happened to all the white kids? They still live in the city. They just no longer go to public schools. Antidotally, I have a partial answer. My son goes to Boston College High, a Jesuit school, in South Boston along with 1,600 other boys. Where the public schools are 87% minority, BC High is 87% white.
I realize the hypocrisy of what I am saying here. But I am not about to send my son to public school when he has the option of going to a school where he can learn how to be a good man (“a man for others,” as they say there) and receive a first rate education. But then if I, a guy who at least thinks about the implication of that fact, is unwilling to support the public system who else is going to?
I don’t pretend to have the answer here other than to say that busing didn’t work. The data here in Boston, and I would expect in every major city in the country, shows that we have a two-tiered educational system between that haves and the have-nots which all too often breaks down on racial lines. And as long as that is the case we are all in a heap of trouble.