SOMETIME during the last three years, Roxbury and the Harvard School of Education found each other. The meeting was quiet and not very friendly. The relationship it sparked has left both participants frustrated and unhappy.
But the encounter has served at least one purpose. In their hesitant efforts to bridge the Charles, the two communities have outlined some of the problems which will face Harvard--and any other cloistered white university--if it tries to aid the city exploding in its backyard.
So far, the main lesson seems to be that genuine cooperation between Harvard and the Boston ghetto will require great patience and flexibility on both sides. For Harvard, urban involvement in 1968 will mean a profound identity crisis--the end of detachment, tranquility and traditional standards of competence. For Roxbury, getting along with Harvard will demand compromise at a time when compromise seems too much to ask. In the end, both have much to gain, which may be the greatest hope for a successful link-up.
THE STORY of the Ed School's involvement with Roxbury turns on a central paradox. The School does more in Boston and the cities generally than all the rest of Harvard put together, but no branch of the University was less prepared to lead the way. "The simple fact," says George Thomas, the Ed School's liaison with the Boston School Department, "is that very few of our faculty have experience in the urban areas. The School is a suburban School of Education."
But the phenomenon isn't really so strange. Though the Ed School and Roxbury seem unlikely allies, they've been linked by an overriding bond: the horrible deficiency of ghetto schools and the central role of education in focussing ghetto discontent.
No community leader can match the Boston School Committee's influence in rousing Roxbury to anger. By most accounts, the community first came alive in the spring and summer of 1965. That spring, Roxbury's Reverend Vernon Carter kept a month-long vigil at the entrance of the School Department at 15 Beacon St., dramatizing the issues of de facto segregation and poor ghetto schooling.
During the summer, as she campaigned for re-election, Louise Day Hicks kept the school issue alive by opposing the bussing of black children from over-crowded ghetto schools to underpopulated white schools. Running against her was Melvin King, now director of the Urban League in Boston.
In August, frustrated by the School Committee's bussing opposition, two Roxbury mothers organized Operation Exodus, a community organization for bussing black children out of ghetto schools. Exodus soon branched from bussing into tutoring, as it realized no one could bus all of Roxbury's 44,000 victimized children out of their rotting schools.
Hicks Victory Stuns
Finally, stunned by Mrs. Hicks' November victory, Roxbury considered seceding from the Boston school system, but decided on another plan: a community school. It appeared in the fall of 1966 as the New School for Children.
Tens of other self-help groups followed, but the community movement required more than drive and managerial skill: it needed educational expertise. "Before 1965, the ghetto didn't know where to look for guidance," says James R. Reed, Executive Secretary of the New School for Children, and a student at the Ed School. "They naturally began to look at the sources of education. Harvard gained its prominence by the fact of its size."
Meanwhile, the Ed School was also shaking itself awake. In the quiet corridors of Longfellow Hall, interest in urban problems was growing.
One reason was money. Pressed by ghetto anger, Congress responded with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Federal funds from the Act and other sources began pouring into the School, sending the Ed School's grant total soaring from one million in 1964 to four million in 1967. Not all the funds were earmarked for urban work, but the urban allotment increased steadily. In 1965, Theodore R. Sizer, Dean of the Ed School, noted in his annual report: "Education's mecca is now Federal Office Building #6 in Washington."
Equally important, federal money found its way to the Boston School Department, particularly to the Department's Office of Program Development which supervised Boston's infant program of educational innovation. In the past, the new wealth would have meant little for Harvard, but in 1965, the OPD got a new head--the progressive Evans Clinchy. Clinchy turned to Harvard for advice in using the new funds, and for the first time in memory, hesitant contacts sprang up between Harvard and Boston, carefully nurtured by Sizer, Clinchy and George Thomas, who was hired in the fall of 1966.