7.01.2005

Newton and the Metco program

Eighty percent of the time, Tom Mountain of the Newton Tab is way off base with his characterizations of Newton residents, Newton teachers, and history in general. He also never admits he's wrong, even when people (that is, letter writers to the Tab) bring up valid points or facts that he missed or failed to address in his original column. Judging by the focus of many of his columns, he is a resident of Auburndale, but I don't believe he grew up in Newton.

In any case, the other 20 percent of the time, he'll write columns that make observations that are valid, thought-provoking, and interesting. His recent Memorial Day piece on Newton residents who died in Vietnam was reflective and also indicated a fair amount of research, even if most of the research seemed to be in Auburndale.

This week, he talks about the Metco program. As usual, he doesn't dig too deeply into the history of the program, but he does ask a very important question: Why is skin color the main criteria of which Boston kids are allowed to attend Newton Public Schools through the Metco program? He says middle-class black kids and recent sub-Saharan African immigrants get a chance to escape Boston Public Schools for better opportunities in Newton, but poor kids from other backgrounds -- immigrants from Europe, or the children of working-class residents of Brighton -- are denied the same opportunity?

When I was attending Newton Public Schools in the 1970s and 1980s, the Metco program was alive and well. But I don't recall any debate about why black kids from Roxbury could come to school with us while white kids from Southie or Brighton couldn't. Then again, I was too young (at least in the 1970s) to be aware of the media debate, and I didn't live in Boston and see the effects of the Boston bussing crisis on friends, families, and neighborhoods. I am not even sure what the connection is between Metco, which I believe started in the 60s, and the bussing crisis, which unfolded in the mid 1970s. I did read "A Common Ground", by Anthony Lukas (a must-read account of the bussing crisis) but it only mentioned Metco in passing.

I think Mountain asks some pertinent questions about a program that was founded in a different era, and needs to be changed. I think if Newton schools are to take kids from Boston, the criteria should be income and individual family situations, not skin color.

Mountain's column is far from perfect, however. A few criticisms: He doesn't explore the history of Metco, doesn't identify what the admissions criteria are, doesn't talk with Metco organizers or cite Metco literature, and doesn't note that the demographic makeup of both Boston and Newton are far different now than they were in the 60s and 70s. He flames the "liberal" local supporters of Metco, without even asking who in Newton supports Metco, why they support it, and what their political affiliation is. He also seems to suggest that families with roots in Newton be given some preference, but I don't agree with that.

Mountain's column can be read at the following link:

http://www.townonline.com/newton/opinion/view.bg?articleid=275923

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