Interview with Alan Lupo

What was the Boston School Committee all about before deseg and who had reason to have a beef with them?


You know there's a great piece of mythology in the city of Boston and it goes like this: the schools were wonderful before desegregation. Bussing hurt the schools. Tore them apart. Well the truth is of course that busing helped and busing hurt. But the mythology, again, is that the schools were good. The schools were not good before busing. The schools had been in trouble practically from the day Horace Mann pushed public schools. We're talking 1830 something. From day one, you had a class problem. You had wealthy Yankee folk saying, "We don't want our kids going to school with those swamp Yankees." You had all kinds of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants saying, "There are too many Irish in the schools." You had loads of Jewish and Italian people coming into the public schools in the late 1800's, scaring the heck out of teachers and administrators alike. But mainly what you had in the Boston schools was a political patronage system. Now, patronage is not a dirty word. Good patronage is fine. You also had bad patronage. It was a real tight family affair. They went to the same schools. They grow up in the same neighborhoods. They got appointed to certain jobs whether they were competent or not competent and the people who served on the School Committee with some exception were mainly a bunch of pals who were trying to either advance on their profession that is politics or at least do favors for their pals. The School Committee was a bucket shop, stuff was for sale. You ran for School Committee or you ran for reelection and what you ended up doing was holding, what they call, a time. And a time is a political affair. And teachers would get in the mail little invitations. They were real cute. "Help John Kerrigan (or somebody) celebrate his, ah, 45th birthday. He's always been our good friend and for a fifty dollar donation you can make him feel even better." And a lot of teachers and principals and head masters and administrators and custodians and secretaries, etcetera, felt pressure to contribute to those things. The message being that maybe your job wouldn't be so pleasant or maybe your job wouldn't be, period, if you didn't. That's what the Boston schools were.