A toy school bus on top of a map of metro Boston

This book is a couple-thousand-word-long blog post that has, through laborious and painful editing, been stuffed into a couple-hundred-page-long book.

Boston has two busing stories, one famously terrible, the other successful and not famous. The first busing story is the one covered epochally well in Lukas’s [book: Common Ground], which is one of the few books that I think every American ought to read (the others are [book: The Making of the Atomic Bomb], Caro’s [book: The Power Broker], and Cronon’s [book: Nature’s Metropolis]). It is the “forced busing” story that everyone’s heard of, which tore apart Boston in the Seventies.

The other story is METCO, a voluntary program by which the parents of poor black students from inner-city Boston can choose to send their kids to white suburban schools. By all accounts that I’ve seen, it’s been a quiet success. There are many questions you could ask about it:

* How are the outcomes? Compared to their peers, how well do METCO students do later in life? How well do white people relate to black people after they’ve shared a class with them?
* Are the parents who send their kids to METCO systematically more involved in their kids’ education than the parents who don’t, so that the kids would be more likely to succeed than their peers even if they attended inner-city schools?
* Why has the program not expanded, if it’s been so successful?
* Has METCO helped or hindered the goal of merging urban and suburban school districts? Was that ever an option?

Eaton’s focus is not on any of these. Instead she repeats the same few points over and over:

* Black students often felt like they had lost their identities to METCO, with their friends back home thinking them too white for the neighborhood and their white schoolmates treating them as gangland curiosities (“Do you own a gun? How often do you see people being shot?”)
* Later in life, METCO students often found themselves able to walk the line between black and white people in the workplace; they were ambassadors, in a way that their colleagues who’d grown up with a segregated education were not.
* For all its difficulties, most METCO adults would go through the experience again, and most would put their kids through METCO. The few who really hated METCO did so because they felt it had destroyed their identity and left them rootless, or because white people just couldn’t get over their classmates’ blackness.

These are fine, interesting points. I would have liked them much more had they been in the hands of a different author. Or indeed, I would have liked them more had the author just stepped out of the way and added no narration to the lengthy interviews she’d conducted with 65 METCO adults. The interviewees were interesting enough on their own. Also, this just didn’t need to be a book; an academic paper would have been plenty.

Most of us, though, are primarily going to want to know other things about METCO, like how it functions as a program *as well as* how it changes the racial identities of its participants. That is indeed why I found this book to begin with: it was cited in Gerald Grant’s book, as though Eaton’s book had something to say about METCO as a whole. Sadly for me, it doesn’t. Perhaps your interest is much more about racial identity than mine was; if so, Eaton’s book may be for you.