Beyond the Black / White Paradigm : Let’s Talk Busing/Desegregation Order’s (1974-1988) Effect on a Boston Chinatown School where Children were neither Black nor White

This film, conceived and produced by Yvonne Ng, co-directed and filmed by Alan Kwan, Director of Production for the Boston Asian American Film Festival (BAAFF) started as a casual idea among the 3 of us. Yet it has had 1K views in 9 years and is still relevant today as we revisit questions about race relations and equity in 2023 Boston. It brings to mind the importance of disaggregating data in creating public policies serving people, especially children from low income families , and children of color.

I am an alumnus (K-3) and a former teacher (K-4) at the Josiah Quincy School on Tyler Street in Chinatown during the chaotic and controversial implementation of the Desegregation Order in 1974 Boston. This Order did not apply to neighboring suburbs or private schools, the escape havens of the more economically privileged. White flight became a popular option for those who had the means to move. That left the poor, lower income families to integrate the city’s schools . The job of educating children bused from lower-income families in low- resource schools across the city to other low-resource schools in order to racially integrate the schools, landed on the shoulder of teachers. Teachers were required to submit a racial count every morning to show compliance.

Politicians used testing and the success / failure of schools as political footballs, often blaming teachers for low test scores and proposed financial consequences on teachers for low test scores, drawing public attention away from the policies they themselves initiated and implemented that created socio-economic inequalities in the city .

Chinatown children, victims of the Model Minority Myth, were bused to “uplift” schools in the North End and Charlestown with little regard for the needs of Chinatown children themselves. They were used as “wild cards ” to suit different political agendas in a deeply ghettoized city.

Integration enriched the lives of children and teachers in many ways but busing was never the full solution for quality education for all Boston’s children. Better working conditions that reflected a high regard for teachers, a concerted sincere effort to hire qualified teachers of color and bilingual/bicultural staff, updated teaching materials that taught the truth and reflected the diversity of American students , and a more functional, non-politicized School Department would have helped.

We landed a man on the moon in 1969, but in 1972, my 4th grade science books still read, “Someday man will go to the moon.” I had to push the principal to get new updated science and reading books . Embarrassed by my confrontative new teacher warrior style of the 60’s , he kept backing out my classroom door as I asked “why?” The new books arrived in a month. I wondered: if the Quincy School was on Beacon Hill instead of Tyler Street in Chinatown and if the new teacher was not a Chinese American teacher, me, but the infamous white teacher I replaced, would Chinatown 4th graders be given outdated textbooks for another ten years? With the Desegregation Order, will children of all color who are bused then receive the same substandard learning equally? It seemed the ones who profited most from busing were the bus companies.

Below is the link to “So …Are You Chinese? ” I had the privilege of teaching a 4th grade in Boston’s Chinatown in 1974, the first year busing came. In adapting to the desegregation orders and without much support from the city, my colleagues and friends chose to rise to the occasion and we created innovative programs . We learned much about successful integration, the joys of the new challenges, and the rich resources within low-income children of all colors . We were all on a learning curve and the children led the way.


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