The Other Boston Busing Story

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What`s Won and Lost Across the Boundary Line

Susan E. Eaton

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METCO, America’s longest-running voluntary school desegregation program, has for 34 years bused black children from Boston’s city neighborhoods to predominantly white suburban schools. In contrast to the infamous violence and rage of forced school busing within the city in the 1970s, METCO has quietly and calmly promoted school integration. How has this program affected the lives of its graduates? Would they choose to participate if they had it to do over again? Would they place their own children on the bus to suburbia?

Sixty-five METCO graduates vividly recall their own stories in this revealing book. Susan E. Eaton interviewed program participants who are now adults, asking them to assess the benefits and hardships of crossing racial and class lines on their way to school. Their answers poignantly show that this type of racial integration is not easy—they struggled to negotiate both black and white worlds, often feeling fully accepted in neither. Even so, nearly all the participants believe the long-term gains outweighed the costs and would choose a similar program for their own children—though not without conditions and apprehensions.

Even as courts and policymakers today are forcing the abandonment of desegregation, educators warn that students are better prepared in schools that reflect our national diversity. This book offers an accessible and moving account of a rare program that, despite serious challenges, provides a practical remedy for the persistent inequalities in American education.

Susan E. Eaton is consulting researcher, Civil Rights Project at Harvard, Harvard University, and coauthor of Dismantling Desegregation. For her previous work as a journalist specializing in education and children’s issues, she received awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

“What happens at the end of the bus ride? In the end, was it worth the trip? In her compelling and sensitively written book, Susan Eaton raises important questions about the cost and benefits of school desegregation to the African American men and women who experienced it firsthand. Educators, researchers, and policy makers concerned with educational equity and social integration will want to read this book, but so will any parent contemplating the choice of busing across racial lines.”—Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?  

“Too often the evaluation of school desegregation programs, such as the ambitious, enduring one described in these pages, has been reduced to the bloodless question of whether or not test scores go up within a few years. But desegregation has a far greater purpose: to change the lives of those previously excluded and to help transform American society. This compelling, vivid book offers powerful, surprising and eloquent testimony from black adults who experienced an extreme form of racial integration by crossing the boundary line into white suburban schools.This beautifully written, persuasive book will help readers understand what the grand struggle against racial segregation was truly about and the great American dream we put at risk as we resegregate our public schools.”—Gary Orfield, Harvard University 

“A very thoughtful analysis of the value of the METCO program to those who participated in it. The book provides great insight into the strengths and concerns of a voluntary desegregation program involving urban students going to suburban schools.”—Irwin Blumer, Chair, Educational Administration & Higher Education Department, Boston College 

“Eaton has given us an emotionally stirring and, at times, almost unbearably disturbing sense of what a group of inner-city children underwent in crossing racial lines. . . . A candid narrative of courage.”—Jonathan Kozol

“Eaton is committed to presenting both sides on every issue and to having her respondents speak for themselves, and she succeeds brilliantly. This book is both important and original.”—Robert Crain, Teachers College, Columbia University

“This unique and careful study about inner-city blacks in white suburban schools should be read by all those involved in the public debate over the value of racially integrated schools. Susan E. Eaton provides compelling new insights on both the short- and long-term effects of a desegregated school experience.”—William Julius Wilson, Harvard University  

“Those interested in the intersection of educational and racial issues will enjoy Eaton’s compelling look at successful school desegregation.”—Booklist

“[Eaton’s] prose is eloquent and devoid of the stuffiness of much academic writing. But it is a work of research. And the most fascinating parts come when she lets the Metco students talk; the frustration and triumphs sound as if they occurred yesterday. In the end, the impression they leave is one of a program that, like medicine, hurts as it goes down but makes you better later.”—Anand Vaishnav, Boston Globe

“In Eaton’s book, sixty-five METCO graduates recount experiences that stand in stark contrast to the violent and contentious story of earlier busing in Louisiana or Mississippi. But the students’ affecting personal narratives also tell of the survival of a subtler form of segregation up north—a snubbed nose; sitting alone on a swing set; having to wait out a long moment before acceptance or rejection—which perhaps no amount of busing could overcome.”—Doubletake

"[A] revealing perspective on experiences of those Americans who venture beyond the traditional local school . . . [and] raises searching questions about community, personal identity, and the role of powerful institutions in the coming years."—Howard Gardner, New York Review of Books

The Other Boston Busing Story deserves to be read by anyone concerned with the condition of race relations and public education today.”—Joe Auciello, Milford Daily News

“General readers who are seriously interested in race relations or education reform will want to read this book."—Publishers Weekly

“Expand[s] our understanding of the long-term outcomes of school desegregation as well as African-American racial identity development in predominantly white settings.”—Dana Baanks and Jack Dougherty, Teachers Colllege Record

Named by the American School Board Journal as a Notable Book in Education of 2001
ISBN: 9780300087659
Publication Date: March 11, 2001
306 pages, x