Walk through a History of Boston’s Education – Lily O’Doherty


Reflective Essay

Jamaica Pond is an aspect of Boston’s historical landscape with an interesting history. As a recognized key piece of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, this site has had many prior uses before its initiation to The Emerald Necklace in 1891. Jamaica Pond was used as a reservoir during  the winter months and became a site to Boston’s active ice industry and was able to supply ice to Boston’s nearly 60,000 residents. Today, Jamaica Pond serves as a beautiful escape from the city and provides local residents with scenic views all year long.

As Jamaica Pond has had an interesting history, so has Boston’s public school system. Segregation has been a tumultuous subject that is pertinent to the people of Boston seemingly since the dawn of time. Specifically, schools in lower-income areas have had an interesting past when it comes to dealing with segregation and diversity efforts within their various school districts. Public schools in the Jamaica Plain, Brookline, Roxbury, and Dorchester areas have seemed to have learned from past mistakes and have seemingly improved over time by implementing various ways in which they are more inclusive to the minorities that might attend these schools. However, how is a school supposed to do this without the proper resources? A lack of funding has been a threat to public schools in this district in the past, but in more recent years, many schools seem to overcome this barrier and continue to provide a proper education to their students. Schools in these particular areas of Boston, have evolved throughout time and for the most part have been successful in adopting diversity efforts with a motive to make their school a more harmonious and unified place. Naturally, given the area of these Boston Public Schools, these communities will not likely have the same resources and outcomes that schools in “better” areas have. However, I have found that this is not usually the case. After doing some research, I have found out that for a while, in 1977, many people (white people to be specific) denied that there even was a segregation amongst schools in this area. However, it is no surprise that they were wrong and there was in fact a history of division in the schools. On a more positive note, I have also analyzed schools that have aim to overcome division and they continue to give minority students the education they deserve.

I will start by tour in Frederick Law Olmsted’s Jamaica Pond part of the Emerald Necklace because it is in the perfect springboard to the public schools in the surrounding community that is pertinent to my topic. The schools that I chose are within a small radius of Jamaica Pond and if someone were to be enjoying the beauty of the pond, they would not begin to think about the history that the schools around them hold. The schools I examine in my project are all public schools (just as Jamaica Pond is a public park). However, through my analysis of the educational system, the term “public” as it is refers to the Emerald Necklace does not translate when referring to public schools. When I think of public, I tend to think of something that is open to all and gives everyone an equal opportunity. The history of Boston Public Schools have demonstrated that this is not the case. One example is how in 1970, Brookline High School was nearly 100% caucasian. This is not demonstrative of an inclusive environment that is open to all. However, they have since gained national attention for being an exemplary instance of diversity in their student body by opening its doors to minorities and immigrants who were trying to escape war and the political unrest that was happening in their native countries. Since then, their student body has become more diverse and inclusive. An additional example of progress in desegregation in education is in 1986, when George Douglas proposed a plan that was meant to initiate a desegregation plan in Boston Public Schools. After adopting some of the rituals expressed in Douglas George’s plan for integration within schools, 20 years later, the Boston Public School district won the Broad Prize for Urban Education which recognizes urban school districts when they have improved the academic performance of low-income and minority students. These are just two examples of how public schools in Boston have positively changed when making an effort to reduce the amount of segregation within their walls. My research has elicited me to discover many more instances which has given me hope for the future of Boston’s public education programs.

The urban segregation that is outlined in Richard Rothstein’s book, The Color of Law, is what prompted me to do my final project on the segregation that has occured in schools. Redlining is a notion Rothstein describes in his book and I view it as a prime example of explicit racism. Additionally, when a public school is nearly 100% caucasian, I view this as explicit racism as well. Another motive I had for researching more about this topic is the Boston Globe reading, Boston, Racism, Reality. This article encouraged me to face the facts of the divided city we are in. When this article analyzed some of Boston’s college campuses and how students of color still receive forms of racism, I found it hard to come to terms with and wanted to do more research on the history of this, especially in education. Although I know the problem of blatant racism is in no way fixed, more and more people are realizing that the exclusive history of our country is one that needs to change and thankfully, after my research, I believe it is.