KING: We had this proposal, and it went back to the teachers, and the teachers told the Boston reps: no good. . . . There was a chance then to change the situation and the dynamic in the city, but they allowed the teachers union to tell them no. Because they thought they were going to lose their jobs. And they paid more attention to that than what was going to happen to the children.
FLYNN: I testified at that meeting too. And I said, "Listening to this debate here, I'm reminded of when I was a student at South Boston High School. I can still see the room — my biology course, Biology 401. The assistant headmaster came around and said, you can keep your coats on, because it's so freezing in the room in the winter. The windows were broken and had been broken for months, maybe years. There were 28 kids in our class, and 14 of the microscopes were broken. Only 15 kids actually had books. And I remember taking the college entrance examinations, and the questions about biology, and my guidance counselor saying, 'If you're going to college, you're not going to become a doctor.' "
That was the condition of the schools all over the city. The schools lacked that neighborhood accountability. And that's why the system could let these politicians get away with not being answerable, and not delivering.
"Soiling Old Glory" by Stanley J. Forman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph in 1977
Are things better today?
KING: I think the new superintendent [Dr. Carol R. Johnson] has the right sense for trying to get a system where people believe that the children can learn, and they treat them like that, and that they have high expectations. Now, how you get from here to there becomes an issue. And what I think is lacking is the framework around which you can make those things happen.
When that proposal was made in October to [shutter five elementary schools], you can see the reaction. That speaks to the fact that there hasn't been a kind of dialogue around these decisions at a community level. There's a real vacuum in there. The mayor puts the superintendent in, and I can't imagine the school committee voting for a person that the mayor wouldn't approve. People don't have an advocate who's in the community and who, because they're elected, has reason to be accountable.
FLYNN: I agree with Mel. I get a lot of this from friends of mine who are teachers, and my son Eddie, who taught last year and the year before when he came back from Iraq. He says some of these kids are highly motivated, and the teachers very committed; it's the system that doesn't work, and it's failing the schoolchildren. There is no difference between a kid from West Roxbury and a kid from Roxbury and a kid from South Boston and a kid from Chinatown — they're all capable of excellence. . . . I never had the opportunity, in the 10 years I was mayor, to appoint the superintendent of the schools.