Boston Schools: Past Insights into Present Problems

Written in 1991

by Jeanne Belovitch

As we claw our way toward the 21st century, the million dollar question is why don't schools work in America and especially ours, here, in Boston? There are numerous theories and just as much blame being handed out. The litany of reasons as for the state of Boston schools and its offenders go something like this: It's the fault of the teachers; parents don't get involved; the union is too powerful; kid's don't want to learn; educators are underpaid; students carry weapons; school buildings are unhealthful; it's an MTV culture; no one reads anymore; the school department is top heavy with administrators; there's a continuous power struggle among ethnic and racial groups; the family is disintegrating; and of course let's not forget drugs.

In 1968, seven years before the schools were integrated for a third time in Boston history and when we didn't have so many social ills on which to lose our focus, I was a substitute teacher for two months throughout the City. As a young woman, a recent college graduate from a white, suburban, middle class family, I was stunned at the discrepancies in educating Boston children from neighborhood to neighborhood. In a Roxbury school, I passed out a pile of cloth reading books to eighth graders which had squares of pictures on each page for the reader to identify. The pictures were of simple things such as a house, a tree, a canoe, a horse, etc. This book has been a lasting image with me and now looking back was a foreshadowing of an underclass which was eventually to emerge.

But as financial analysts like to use “hindsight” to predict the

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