From Forced Tolerance to Forced Busing: Wartime Intercultural Education and the Rise of Black Educational Activism in Boston

Fall, 2010

Source: Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 80, Iss. 3; pg. 293-327. (Fall 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

A historical analysis of racialized politics in Boston's public schools in the decades preceding school desegregation illustrates a complex interplay among race, class, and ethnicity that centered on access to power. In this paper, the author investigates the historical interplay of the emergence of tolerance education in the United States and the rise of black educational activism in Boston.

Drawing on local and national teaching journals, the black and white press, and archival sources from the Boston School Committee and local government commissions, the author contends that Boston teachers in the 1940s chose not to teach racial tolerance despite strong political support for tolerance programming in Massachusetts.

The author argues that Boston teachers never accepted the postwar racial liberalism that made special lessons on tolerance popular in other parts of the country. Boston schools did not teach racial tolerance because a majority of the Irish Catholics who dominated the school system did not support the political mandates of anti-prejudice programming.


Integration and the struggle to overcome structural inequality are not only issues of the past. Boston is now a majority minority school district, with Latinos edging out African Americans as the largest segment of the public school population. Forced budget cuts due to the economic recession prompted policy makers to look for new ways to save money. Although the city stopped busing students in order to achieve racial balance in 1999, various busing programs remain to support school choice and educational equity.

Recently, a well-known civil rights veteran agreed that the time had come to end busing programs in Boston. The author claims that perhaps it is time to end the last vestiges of busing in Boston, but a more rigorous analysis reveals that busing provides key services to certain minority student. There should be a full consideration of what that would mean for the mostly poor black and Latino students in this struggling urban school system.

Updated: Apr. 10, 2011