The Ed School and Roxbury: Hostile Partnership

(This is the first of a two-part article on the School of Education's relationship with Roxbury.)

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.

Turmoil Fascinates

Other considerations also pressed the Ed School toward urban involvement. "There was a growing sense," says Thomas, "that we simply cannot evade our local responsibility." Increasing numbers of faculty and students also found the city's turmoil fascinating. The ghetto brought the deficiencies to light, forcing the school systems to spill the long-guarded achievement tests. But as the list of problems lengthened, Cambridge academics found, in Thomas's words, "a growing resonance with city problems--a fascination with the ungainly monster."

Harvard's contacts with Boston prospered. In 1966, the Ed School subcontracted with the Boston Public Facilities Department to design 14 new ghetto schools. The project, forced on Boston by the Racial Imbalance Law, was directed at Harvard's end by Robert H. Anderson, professor of Education, who dubbed the effort Operation Schoolhouse. Other programs took Harvard faculty as far as Wilmington and St. Paul's.

But by and large, the Ed School commitment to urban problems remained small. The School was a long way from the torn textbooks, classroom spitballs, and ghetto ferment. Graduating students still fought for jobs in Newton, which (with neighboring surburban towns) had long commanded most of the Ed School's time and talent.

More important, when Ed School workers took the urban plunge, most entered the ghetto as research tourists, handling out questionnaires, looking at school sights, then dissolving into the city's green hub. "People are always asking," says Edna Pezzolesi, head of the Hawthorne House, a Roxbury educational center, "'I wonder how many books Harvard's going to write about this.'"

THERE WERE exceptions. Some Ed School groups formed on-going alliances with community organizations--both Exodus and the New School had Ed School help. But successes like these only whetted Roxbury's appetite, taunting it with missed opportunities. As the Boston ghetto turned to the Ed School it found Harvard visible but aloof.

The Ed School was not conspiring to stifle the ghetto. Few dispute the value of detached research, and for all its present prominence, large-scale ghetto activity is a very recent phenomenon. If the Ed School had jumped into the cities to take Roxbury's hand,it would have joined the vanguard of reforming institutions in the U.S.

No revolutionary community commitment appeared. Instead, predictably but disastrously, the Ed School tried working in Roxbury the same way it had functioned so successfully in Newton. The School marched into Boston, and from there, onto Blue Hill Avenue, carrying a suburban banner.

Three principles underlie this traditional approach to school problems. Abstracted, the attitudes come close to defining Harvard's traditional idea of itself.

The first principle, a definition of competence, postulates that the academic, by virtue of long study, has superior insight into the problems falling within his field, and consequently, deserves a large say in their solution. Well accepted in suburbia, the precept has protected urban school professionals from mayors and and communities for generations.

The second Ed School guideline outlines a proper style of intervention in education. This principle is a mesh of assumptions, more than any specific attitude, and involves ideas about research, neutrality and effectiveness.

To begin with, the argument goes, the academic's unique contribution to reform lies in his knowledge--accumulated through research. As Sizer puts it, "There has got to be recognition of the peculiar contribution a university can make in a time of social relocation. And one of our peculiar purposes is research." The Ed School has no service responsibility, and correspondingly, concrete activity in the ghetto or elsewhere is only a means to the end of securing generalized knowledge.

Since research requires objectivity, the academic has no place in politics (at least while on the job) and conversely, should not be judged by political standards. A campus should be a neutral haven where political gladiators can meet with their guards down, and one gladiator should not take alarm when he sees the university conferring with the other.

Finally, academics should use their expertise effectively--so as to generate the best, most sweeping kinds of reform. Thus school systems are natural allies, since their cooperation promises comprehensive change.

The last Ed School postulate deals with overall commitment. It warns, briefly, that over-commitment inhibits perspective. There are lots of educational problems which will reach crisis proportions if not tackled now. The academic should keep his options open and take the long view.

These guidelines are not posted on Ed School bulletin boards. They are working principles shaped during successful interventions in suburban educational crises, like the one following the first Sputnik in 1957. They might have worked in the cities, except for one thing: as the Ed School poked tentatively at urban problems over the last few years, the ghetto challenged everything it stood for in the past