In Defense of Judge Garrity
Charles V. Willie
would you say to a stranger who came to Boston and said she had
a plan for the public schools that was too good to be true, that
you couldn't resist? Of course, you would ask, "What is the plan?"
Suppose the stranger said her plan would strengthen the n the
reading abilities of minority children, involve parents more in
school decision-making, provide all students with instructional
experiences from a cosmopolitan range of teachers and administrators
recruited from a variety of racial and ethnic groups, increase
college entrance rates of high-school seniors from working class
and poor families, facilitate enrollment of some inner-city children
in suburban schools, and increase interaction between cultural
populations so that more students would learn not to fear people
in groups different from their own?
Suppose the stranger also said that her plan would close unfit
school buildings, provide bilingual instruction for students who
cannot speak English well, provide special services for handicapped
students, develop a curriculum that emphasizes special "magnet"
programs in some schools, and obtain tangible support for the
schools from businesses, colleges, universities, and museums in
Such a plan would appear to be too good to be true. Yet, this
is precisely the plan that Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. ordered
for Boston. Approximately one year after the implementation of
the plan, Boston Globe reporter Muriel Cohen found that
show improvement in a number of district high
schools, gains for minority children but no loss for whites."
She said "such improvement was considered a favorable outcome."
Her overall conclusion: "The Boston schools are on their way up."
School official James Dougherty (Boston Globe, June 4,
1976) said that after desegregation, more South Boston High School
whites were going to college. In the age of segregation, he said
"the white kids" in this Irish working-class community "downgraded
themselves, felt college was too tough or that they didn't have
the ability." He continued, "The 'in' thing with black is going
to college. Now, there is a feeling [among whites] that 'if blacks
are going to college, why can't we?'" He described this as a positive
side to desegregation and said it "was a boon to Southie where
almost no one goes [to college]."
What do Boston's citizens think of this plan? A few years ago,
my colleagues (sociologist Susan Greenblatt, historian Paul Schindler)
and I questioned thirty community leaders regarding their assessment
of the outcome of school desegregation in Boston. These were knowledgeable
people, television and newspaper editors, officers of the League
of Women Voters, Black Education Alliance, Civil Liberties Union,
South Boston Information Center, Columbia Point Health Center,
Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, and Federal Dorchester Neighborhood
Houses. They were local and state government officials connected
with the Police Department, school Committee, City Council, Corporation
Counsel's Office, and Action for Boston Community Development.
They were business executives in such enterprises as John Hancock
Mutual Life Insurance Company and Station WBZ.
About half of these leaders said that public education in Boston
had improved since the court order; only one-fourth said it had
deteriorated; the remainder said that some aspects of education
were better and others worse.
We asked these community representatives to state specifically
what contributed to the improvement. The magnet schools were referred
to more often than any other innovation as contributing to improved
education in Boston. The pairing arrangement between individual
schools, colleges, universities, businesses, and museums were
mentioned with the second greatest frequency. Also mentioned were
greater parent participation in education policy-making and increases
in reading scored. These four itemsmagnet schools, pairing
programs between the schools and other community institutions,
parent participation, and reading achievementwere the indicators
of improvement referred to by a majority of the leaders who said
the schools had improved since desegregation.
But there is and continues to be disruption in a few of the Boston
schools. This is a price the community is paying for its progress
after years of neglecting its schools, especially the educational
needs of racial minorities and poor whites. Most of the leaders
in our survey attributed the disruption to "citizens' negative
attitudes toward desegregation." One out of every three blamed
"inadequate political leadership." It is interesting to note what
factors these leaders did not cite frequently as triggers
of disruption. Only one-sixth focused on the court-ordered desegregation
plan, calling it "inadequate"; and only one out of every ten mentioned
the news media and its method of coverage. At a time when cynicism
toward the news media and the long arm of federal government is
rampant, Boston's community leaders chose not to focus their criticism
on either institution as negatively affecting the schools.
Indeed, court-ordered desegregation has given public education,
which had become stale, moribund, and narrow, a chance to deal
with a broad range of learning issues instead of focusing only
on such intellectual skills as communication and computation.
In the 194 Brown decision, the Court described an equitable
educational process as one in which a student of one racial group
is able to engage in discussion and to exchange views with other
students. Public education now has an opportunity to include cultural
orientation in the learning situation and not limit itself to
the normative experiences of the dominant or majority group. With
school desegregation, the students of one group are exposed to
the value and concerns of those in another, certainly a necessary
process if the nation's pluralistic population is t do business
as a democracy.
What the Court has ordered in school desegregation may be what
many young people wanted all along. Several years ago, H. H. Remmers
conducted a series of surveys among high school students and published
his results in a book titled The American Teenager. He
discovered that although the development of vocational skills
and knowledge about our society were important to some of them,
a higher proportion thought that "knowing how to get along with
other people" was the most important thing to get out of high
school. Not surprisingly, moreover, several studies have revealed
that people who interact with groups different from their own
in elementary school tend to feel more comfortable in the presence
of those who are different in high school. And students who interact
interracially in high school tend to have more cross-racial contacts
in college and in later life.
While there may be turbulence when groups whose members have
not associated with each other in the past first came together,
they eventually work out some form of accommodation. Nationwide,
sociologist Willis D. Hawley has found that desegregation is most
*Classroom assignments result in a racially
balanced student population, with no group overwhelming the others.
*Children who perform at or above grade
level are in each classroom.
*Sustained interaction between the races
is encouraged in academic and extracurricular activities.
*Rigid forms of tracking and ability-grouping
*A racially diversified group of relatively
unprejudiced teachers and principals are recruited.
*Parents are involved in all school affairs.
*Staff development programs pertaining to
desegregation are initiated.
*Student attendance zones are stabilized
so that student-teacher relationships can grow.
*A multi-ethnic curriculum is developed.
A careful review of the Boston school desegregation
plan reveals that it contained many of the features. Why, then,
has school desegregation in Boston been such a messy business?
The community leaders identified the source of the problem as
the attitudes of prejudice in the people, and the absence of responsible
political leadership. Social psychologist Thomas Pettigrew has
found that approximately one-fifth of the whites in the United
States are unprejudiced against minorities and about one-fifth
are highly prejudiced to the extent of being set in their ways.
This leaves three-fifths (a majority) who are prejudiced against
minorities in conformity with custom and current practice. Pettigrew
believes that the conformers could make the adjustment easily
and without any great personality change if they were asked to
conform to a different set of customs and circumstances. This
is where the role of political leadership comes in. When political
leaders assert that school desegregation is the law of the land,
and that disobedience of court orders will not be tolerated, "the
conformers," according to Pettigrew, "go right on conforming.
But what they are conforming to has shifted."
If Boston political leaders had "laid down
the law" and backed Judge Garrity's order, it would have to be
obeyed, by and large, without much resistance. But instead they
fought it. Major Kevin White supported the appeal of Garrity's
order, and the School Committee said it would not implement desegregation
unless the judge forced it to do so. Even then, it would do no
more than what Garrity ordered. Resistance, then, was the example
"conforming" citizens were given to follow.
One reason the School Committee did not
give leadership is that it failed to represent Boston's minority
interests. Bostonians had to fight in the court and in the streets
issues that could have been resolved around the conference table
if representatives of the various interests had been seated on
the School Committee and City Council. Bust such an arrangement
is not likely to be reached in Boston as long as the city retains
its at-large system for electing City Council and School Committee
members. Running a citywide campaign for election to these bodies
obviously favors representatives of the majority. Indeed, the
attainment of equity in Boston's public schools will come only
with a new election system by single-member districtsthat
brings representatives of the city's poor and affluent, black,
brown, and white populations into the School Committee and the
City Council. Movement toward this method of election has already
occurred in several other communities (Houston, Mobile) as a direct
outcome of the struggle over school desegregation. If Boston's
citizens and politicians fail to pursue this obvious and much
needed reform, Judge Garrity and the Federal District Court should
make it a condition for their withdrawal from the case.