Boston Public
September 5, 2003 7:55 AM   Subscribe

You're not from around here, are you? On Tuesday in Wellesley, MA a kindergartener was put on the wrong bus to go home from afterschool care. The boy is black, and the bus is for the Metco program, which buses minority kids from Boston to suburban schools. Random mixup, or racial bias at work? Much hand-wringing ensues.
posted by serafinapekkala (34 comments total)
Did anyone make the student ride in the back of the bus?
posted by ColdChef at 8:05 AM on September 5, 2003

Random mixup, or racial bias at work? The answer completely depends on the observer's agenda.
posted by vito90 at 8:10 AM on September 5, 2003

Aside from any Metco-bias issues, my first reaction to this was, "Why aren't there adults helping the five-year-olds get on the right bus?!" School transportation, especially with afterschool programs, is such a safety minefield these days you'd think that a town as well-funded as Wellesley would be more careful about this. As for the busing issue, this has been a contentious issue in Boston since Metco was established 37 (!) years ago -- Anthony Lukas' excellent Common Ground describes the turbulence from which the program emerged (just read the Amazon comments to see how much it's faded since then).

I guess I agree that this mixup is a "teachable moment" for the Wellesley school community, but what does it say about the efficacy of almost four decades of a "diversity education" program? Notice that just this week a report by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard found that Boston schools are still more segregated than the national average, while the surrounding suburbs are overwhelmingly white, affluent and educationally successful. Boston's mayor and school superintendent argue that the answer is higher quality schools in the city, and who can argue with that -- but will there ever be a diverse student population in inner city schools or suburban schools again?
posted by serafinapekkala at 8:14 AM on September 5, 2003

yesterday, my son (also a kindergartener) was put on the wrong bus. I assume that the reason it happened (I am still waiting to hear back from the teacher), was because trying to load a couple of hundred 5-10 year olds onto busses is like herding cats, not because of some nefarious racial agenda on the part of the teachers.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 8:16 AM on September 5, 2003

i'll use ColdChef's trolling to point out that duh, the whole point is that ALL the kids on that bus were black or Hispanic, that's why they're being bused out from Boston to Wellesley, and perhaps why the boy was assumed to be on the correct bus.

i'll also point out that nobody (including me) is saying there's a "nefarious racial agenda" at work here, just a symbolic screwup that provides a reason to stop and consider the system as a whole.
posted by serafinapekkala at 8:17 AM on September 5, 2003

and now for the weather, storm fronts threaten the glorious weather we have recently been enjoying right here within our lovely china tea cup.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:24 AM on September 5, 2003

Random mixup, or racial bias at work? The answer completely depends on the observer's agenda.

No, the answer completely depends on whether it was a random mixup or whether there was racial bias at work.
posted by jpoulos at 8:35 AM on September 5, 2003

Well obviously it must be racism, otherwise it would just be a mistake, and that doesn't get anyone anywhere now does it?

Mary C. Kloppenberg, the executive director, said she has launched an investigation into whether racial bias clouded the judgment of the white teacher

Hmm, what else is Mary up to I wonder?
posted by a3matrix at 8:40 AM on September 5, 2003

It seems to me that screwups like this happen when one is trying to herd a whole bunch of kids onto buses. Would they have caught this particular screw up if the kid was white? Probably, but that's largely because race is, like it or not, one of the ways that our brains identify people. I don't think that that means that anything is wrong here.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 8:50 AM on September 5, 2003

From their Parent Handbook (PDF)

Failure to notify us of our child ’s absence is a serious matter.Each time a child is not at their pick-up spot we are faced with a potential missing child situation.If we do not receive notification of a child ’s absence the bus run comes to a halt.All available phone numbers are called until we speak directly with a parent.Ultimately,all of the other children arrive late at their programs,cutting into their time to enjoy After School. Due to the seriousness of this issue we have instituted a serious policy.You will be charged a fine of $10.00 the first time and an additional $10.00 each time you fail to notify us of your child ’s absence.
So do this kid's parents get $10?
posted by m@ at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2003

posted by xmutex at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2003

I think everyone agrees the first order of business would be to find out how this kid ended up on the bus, and then figure out why. Yes, it might well have been a case of attempting to herd cats. Yes, it might have been "You over there get on this bus now!" Who knows, maybe he decided he'd like to go home with some new friend he met there and didn't mention it to any of the adults involved. Good thing somebody on the other end was clever enough and nice enough to figure out how to reach the little guy's family and keep him safe until somebody came for him. I imagine it was a little scary for a 5 year old to be kicked off a bus in a strange neighborhood.

The article mentions that the boy was supposed to have been picked up by his mom. I would like to think the boy was aware of this, and perhaps said something to the lead cat herder. I know if I were mom -- and maybe she figured the same way -- I would have been in the office of the highest up person I could find saying "You will find my son. I am not leaving without him. If you cannot figure out where he is in what I consider a reasonable period of time, you can explain to the police what happened."
posted by ilsa at 9:03 AM on September 5, 2003

Busing in Boston has been a very, very touchy subject for the last 40 years. Almost 30 years ago for example, on June 21, 1974,
Judge W. Arthur Garrity "found that the School Committee had used covert techniques to segregate the system, and had done so with 'segregative intent.'" Garrity's decision was upheld on appeal, and the judge set about working on a remedy for the segregation he had found. With only three months left before the 1974-1975 school year opened, he was forced to adopt an existing plan as his first-stage remedy (Phase I) for that school year while he worked on his own more permanent plan (Phase II).
The Phase I plan, authored primarily by Charles Glenn, called for busing students from Roxbury to South Boston. South Boston was a primarily white neighborhood regarded as "the stronghold of opposition to desegregation," while Roxbury was "the heart of Boston's black ghetto."

The polite reaction? Crowds of whites hurling rocks and bottles to express their democratic dissent

more on Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr., District Court Judge for the District of Massachusetts

Busing through the Eyes of a Southie Schoolboy

Overview of the Lincoln METCO Program
posted by matteo at 9:21 AM on September 5, 2003

Kids get put on the wrong bus from time to time. It's scary for parents because they don't know where their kids are, but it's probably going to happen because kids do get herded from place to place.

The point that bothers me is how much it was emphasized that this was a Metco bus. Sure, he might have been more conspicuous if he was a white kid, but would this incident have even been in the paper if he was accidentally put on a bus headed to somewhere in his suburb? It might be partly the distance, but I'm almost seeing an undercurrent of classism here. Sure, he's a minority, but he's not one of those minorities.

I'm probably just hallucinating, though.
posted by mikeh at 9:35 AM on September 5, 2003

there's also a famous Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, by the great Stanley J Forman: Demonstrators Scuffle with By-stander, Anti-busing Demonstration, Boston, 1976

Interesting use of an American flag.
In the background you can also see the Old State House -- patriotic indeed
posted by matteo at 9:44 AM on September 5, 2003

I can't tell 5 year olds apart, they all look the same to me.

Seriously, isn't this a complete non-story?
posted by RylandDotNet at 9:51 AM on September 5, 2003

The article in the Globe mentioned that the mix-up involved similar names of this kid and one who was supposed to be on the bus. A five-year-old on his first day of school is pretty overwhelmed, and it's very plausible that he thought he heard his name called and unquestioningly got on the bus. He also could have followed a new friend onto the bus because he didn't understand the system yet.

Matteo-- Yes, he could have also been sloppily directed onto the bus because of his dark skin. In fact, let's assume that because there was a very ugly string of racially-motivated incidents here 30 years ago and it's infallible evidence that modern Boston is practically Johannesburg. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to hit the whites-only waterfountain.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:57 AM on September 5, 2003

ryland -- one reason why it might've made the news in Boston is that Wellesley has a reputation as an elitist white enclave, and garnered some infamy four years ago when local police mistook a black Boston Celtics player for a bank robber and held him at gunpoint.

From a local angle, it's grounds for snarky commentary on those tony suburbanites and their cloistered views on diversity. Beyond local though, it is indeed a non-story.
posted by bl1nk at 10:43 AM on September 5, 2003

THIS HAPPENED TO ME! a GROWN UP, a TEACHER no less, directed me onto the wrong bus. after a while, i was paralyzed with fear. i wailed. i knew i'd never see my mother again. i was traumatized for, like, HOURS afterward. i don't know WHY we didn't sue the fuck out of that age-discriminating bigot of a teacher.
posted by quonsar at 10:49 AM on September 5, 2003

posted by dorian at 10:52 AM on September 5, 2003

Y'know what's funny about non-stories, you can contribute non-posts about them...huh, who knew?

Let's forget about Boston and Wellesley specifically, and even about this kid getting on the wrong bus. what about the bus itself -- should a program like Metco be declared officially useless if after 35+ years schools are equally segregated, if perhaps for different reasons? Massachusetts is also in the middle of a curriculum standards war, with standardized testing (MCAS) supposedly pulling all schools up to high achieving levels. Unless the state is willing to shell out a lot of money to get the low quality schools up to speed, I can't foresee a future where kids won't have to be exported on long bus rides to the burbs to go to a decent public school. I expected at least a few NannyStaters to get riled up about this...
posted by serafinapekkala at 11:17 AM on September 5, 2003

oops, i meant to link this to MCAS above...
posted by serafinapekkala at 11:20 AM on September 5, 2003

I expected at least a few NannyStaters to get riled up about this...

Would you people leave my state alone! That nanny was English! As in from England, not New England!

Seriously, Metco really is useless. Addressing disparities in education under our present system of wealth distribution is useless. Poor people have always had shitty schools in the US and they will continue to have them. Of course, we also have a long history of attacking the symptoms instead of the actual problems, which is what Metco now exists to do.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:42 AM on September 5, 2003

Honest mistake amidst hundreds of little kids. Period.

Non story, non post. Let's move on.
posted by fenriq at 11:59 AM on September 5, 2003


check out serafina's link (the Harvard study): Boston schools are still more segregated than the national average

and nobody here compared Boston to Johannesburg -- except you. straw man argument there, mayor

serafina and I et. al. are simply arguing that there still may be problems -- it's not a tragedy, it's nothing that can't be solved. and I love Boston very much, I've lived there, I still visit regularly, and I'm a Celtics/Red Sox fan.
but it's impossible to deny that the anti-busing riots are a shameful stain in the city's great democratic history. check out the photo I linked.

but at least I've never seen the Confederate flag in front of the State House, so I wouldn't worry too much about Boston, Mayor

ps I like your statue, by the way

Poor people have always had shitty schools in the US and they will continue to have them

heh. huge federal deficits certainly don't help
posted by matteo at 12:08 PM on September 5, 2003

If we're going to dredge up irrelevant but ugly racial incidents in Boston, I'd say Marky Mark is a bigger threat to this kid.
posted by yerfatma at 12:58 PM on September 5, 2003

MC, is that Francis Ford Coppola you're hanging with? nice catch, matteo. ;)
posted by serafinapekkala at 1:14 PM on September 5, 2003

Close. It's Burl Ives.

(BTW, I have a silly superstition about the standing version of that statue (which is just off-frame in the photo)-- I have to touch the Rascal King's hand for luck if I pass by him.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:30 PM on September 5, 2003

As opposed to the time you groped the woman in the Irish Famine Memorial?
posted by yerfatma at 1:32 PM on September 5, 2003

just don't mess with Red Auerbach, that's all
posted by matteo at 1:37 PM on September 5, 2003

The woman in the famine memorial isn't for luck. It's because chicks with scurvy are hot.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:50 PM on September 5, 2003

To be pedantic about it, I think they're feverish.
posted by yerfatma at 1:51 PM on September 5, 2003

My experience of Boston is from the early to mid 80's so maybe the place has improved. It's the ONLY city I've been in where there were neighborhoods that I couldn't walk through because I was black. There were other cities where I would get hassled by cops, strange looks, and so on but Boston was the only place where people would come out and tell you they were threatening you because you were black.

I loved some things about the city and I met some great people but the amount of in your face, unapologetic racism that you could stumble across was off the scale.

The story is probably a non-story but you put race, bussing, and a Boston suburb together and you've got a a long, ugly history that frames it.
posted by rdr at 2:06 PM on September 5, 2003

I don't understand why this is such a big story (except that I do, of course).

On the other hand, if I were the supervisor of the teacher involved, it would be damn important to me to find out whether this was, indeed, a random mixup or racial bias at work.

But I do think that the only people on earth who actually need to care about this are the child, his parents, the teacher, and her supervisor(s).

Having said all that, as a lifelong Massachusettsian, I know that one of the legacies of the busing horrors of the 70s is that the educational and media establishments are incredibly self-conscious about school and school-system racism of any kind.

Not that that self-consciousness has actually accomplished much in the way of positive change...

And, RDR, you'll be pleased to know that the city has changed quite a bit since the early 80s. Now there are neighborhoods in Boston where black people tell Hispanics and Asians they aren't welcome. Charlestown and South Boston, on the other hand, have gotten so gentrified that the poor white folks now have to split their hating time between black people and "incomers." Amazingly enough, though, there seems to be plenty of hate for everyone.

And you don't even want to hear about the Dominicans vs. Jamaicans stuff. Or the girl in East Boston who beat up a lesbian at the Fourth of July fireworks.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:38 PM on September 5, 2003

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