For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5

Monday, July 9, 2012

Boston, with eyes wide shut?

Two weeks ago, I was at Tufts University just outside Boston, for a two-day workshop. The workshop ran from 9 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon. We were due to leave the next day on an evening flight. Of course I had to spend every spare minute of the time after 4pm those two days, and the next day before the flight exploring Boston. 

Boston. According to my friends, this was a lovely city I just had to visit. There was all that history, architecture, art, and the New-Englandy feel of the place. The lady I sat beside in the workshop, a Massachusetts schoolteacher was glad to supply me a string of must-see places in Boston. We grabbed our Boston city maps from the airport arrival hall, too. 

Boston Public Gardens. Check. Harvard Yard. Check. Stroll along the Charles River. Check. Beacon Hill. Check. Freedom Trail. Check. Newbury Street. Check. Quincy St Markets. Check. Museum of Fine Arts. Check. The harbor. Check. Add to that Giacomo's at Little Italy for dinner, plus taking the T and the bus around. I thought we'd done a fine job of seeing Boston in two evenings and a day. 

I was having my foolish tourist blinders on. But thanks to my professor, the blinders have since been lifted. When we met for class again after the summer break, I happened to mention to her that I had been to Boston over the break. Coincidentally, that was the day that we were just starting Jonathan Kozol's 'The Shame of the Nation' in class. Kozol, a teacher and writer, has spent years working amongst those in the nation's public schools in cities such as Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. In his books, he describes what he calls "a national horror hidden in plain view": the segregation in America's schools, and the way this has ruthlessly ignored the needs of millions of low income and minority children. 

Part of Turner's 'Slave Ship', at the Museum of Fine Arts. This portrays a true story of a captain throwing aboard sick and dying slaves so he could collect money for slaves "lost at sea".

My professor was excited that I had gone to Boston. "As Florence would have seen in Boston..." was how she began her sentences on several instances during that first class. These were all statements related to the problem of segregation in Boston's problem-ridden public schools.  I'm not sure she intended irony, but it was ironic. "Did I?" I kept asking myself. Of course I didn't!

I had seen the city and enjoyed it: architecture, history, store windows, food, the river. Walking along the wharfs, I saw wharf-front condominiums with balconies overlooking the harbor. Wandering down the streets of Beacon Hill, I knew these were the homes of the wealthy. Then there was Newbury Street, with its high end boutiques with thousand-dollar dresses.

A cupcake boutique, at Newbury Street

One of the fancies of twenty-first century Bostonians: dining at the many fine Italian restaurants in Little Italy

But that's not all that Boston is. The homes I saw were not the homes of the low income earners. And, to be blunt, not the homes of the many low income African American and Hispanic people to whom Boston is just as much home. There are also Boston's public schools, with the following statistics :
77% Black and Hispanic
13% White
9% Asian
2% Other
74% eligible for free/reduced lunch
(April 2011) from here 
Compare this with racial composition statistics of Boston generally:
41.9% Black and Hispanic
53.9% White
8.9 Asian
4.3% Others
21.2% Persons below poverty level
(2010 figures) from here 
Harvard Yard - But how many children has the system kept out of the yard?

Also, older (2002-3) statistics on public spending on education per child in the Boston area from Kozol's book:
Lincoln district (19% Black & Hispanic, 11% low income) $12,775
Boston district (77% Black & Hispanic, 74% low income) $10,057
 We (mainly Tim) were feeding (primarily) ducks in the Boston public gardens, but look who came right up to our feet and begged for crumbs? I was eating a blueberry muffin, and made sure I did so as messily as possible. The sparrows were pleased. 

The education spending gap in other American cities is much worse, such as about a $10,000 gap in the New York area in the same school year.

The question is: where do all the White children go to school? The answer: private and charter schools. Why? We ask. Why is there a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic students in public schools, and why are White children sent to private or charter schools instead? Also, where do low income earners live? What are their homes like?

Children's art at the Davis Sq T station. May their homes be blessed. 

Homes or offices at Beacon Hill? May they be blessed too. 

These are questions which do not sit comfortably with my tourist sensibilities, nor my soul. Yet, perhaps, tourist sensibilities are not what I need; but rather, eyes which watch for injustice, and a soul which searches for answers to difficult questions, and solutions to neglected problems. 

"We owe a definite homage to the reality around us, and we are obliged, at certain times, to say what things are and to give them their right names."- Thomas Merton

No comments:

Post a Comment