Why racial disparity at BLS has nothing to do with BLS--and everything to do with the people who run the City of Boston

I recently wrote a letter to the editor of a major area newspaper and, while it is likely too long for publication, I had the opportunity to share it with members of the Boston Latin School community. They, in turn, suggested that I continue to share in as many outlets as possible. The recent issues at BLS being reported by the media are indicators of a larger problem within the City of Boston, and it's time for constituents of Boston's legislators and officials to hold those truly responsible accountable for their inaction.

The following is that letter, edited slightly from the original for relevancy to this particular outlet:

To the Editor:

As a 2006 graduate of Boston Latin School and in regards to the portrayal of the school as a hotbed of pervasive and unchecked racial hostility that has been perpetuated by local and national politicians, public figures, and various factions of the media who have not bothered to take the time to walk the hallways of BLS alongside the students or sit in a classroom during an intelligent dialogue or engaging lesson to see firsthand the environment of the school for themselves before passing judgment, I offer the following comment:

You, dear city leaders, have once again dropped the ball. You have failed and repeatedly continue to fail most children rightfully trying to obtain a legitimate, quality public education in the City of Boston. And now, you’re unfairly placing blame for your own repeated failures on the backs of the administrators and educators at one of the very few decent high schools left in an incredibly diverse but still deeply troubled public school district.

Boston Latin, to the dismay of many city leaders, has based its seventh and ninth grade admissions on nothing more or less than academic merit since the Boston School Committee eliminated racial quotas at the school in 1996. And in that time, enrollment of black students has unfortunately—but sadly, not surprisingly—taken a sharp turn downward. Let’s look at that same statement again from a different angle: Black and Hispanic children coming out of Boston’s elementary and middle schools are not receiving the same quality education as their white and Asian counterparts. They are not receiving the basic learning foundation they need to gain admittance to and subsequently succeed at the exam schools that were established to serve them and help them reach their full academic potential. That, oh leaders, is systemic and institutional racism in its basest, purest form. That is on you and your political predecessors and how you choose to invest in Boston’s most vulnerable population: it’s children. The statistical diversity of Boston Latin is not a Boston Latin problem; it’s a City of Boston problem with roots that run far deeper than schooling. It’s a reflection of a city that has begun to only cater to the so-called “elite” in their million-dollar South End condos and leaves the ethnically diverse middle and lower class families that built this Hub with their bare hands to rot in insanely unaffordable, cramped, sub-par housing and crumbling, mediocre-at-best schools.

By the way, want to know where I learned about institutional racism, how it persists through time and—most importantly, why it’s wrong and unjust and why we need to continue to work harder than ever to bring it to an end? From my teachers at Boston Latin. As an otherwise oblivious white kid coming from a private Catholic elementary school and living in one of the city’s “nicer” neighborhoods, where I had the privilege of never having to worry about being shot while sitting on my front porch or having bigoted morons hurl hateful epithets in my direction, I learned more about this important and ever-relevant social justice topic straight from the mouths of my amazing high school educators and classmates than I have in pursuit of any of the almost three post-secondary degrees I now have to my name.

If you want to see a “culturally dangerous and unsafe environment” in which we expect Boston’s children to learn, walk through the metal detectors alongside the 11-year-old middle school students who must pass through them every single day just to enter their place of learning. Take a stroll past the Jeremiah Burke with the family of Raekwon Brown as they tell you all about about their 17-year-old brother & son who was murdered just outside of his high school. If you want a look at unfit school leaders, have Atty. Carmen Ortiz join you in a nice little sit-down with former Boston English “dean of students” Shaun Harrison as you chat about charges that he shot a student in the back of the head after a drug deal gone wrong. And here’s looking at you, Tito, Tommy, & Marty: If you want a “more inclusive” Boston Latin School, take a gander at your own shortcomings and try, for once, to step up to the task and be the leaders and advocates this crapshoot of a school district so desperately needs and deserves to help all of its students be successful regardless of skin color. Stop using your dedicated educators who work tirelessly to make each generation of Boston’s youth better than the ones before it as scapegoats and take full responsibility for what’s yours. And please, think long and hard about the consequences your support (or, evidently, lack thereof) may have on the integrity and educational value of one of the few shining beacons of light that BPS has left.

Jenn Gallant, BLS ‘06


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Thanks very much for taking the time to share this. Showboating over the (comparatively minor) flaws of BLS is easy. Fixing the systemic problems of the BPS is hard work. Guess which our local politicians prefer (and our news media are more eager to cover)?

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