ARC Seminar: Christopher Bonastia: Illusory Mosaic: Fumbling to Desegregate Liberal New York City
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, New York and other cities envisioned an expansive solution to the persistent problems of racial and economic segregation in education. Rather than fighting against the difficulties presented by the city’s enormous school population and huge bureaucracy, New York could leverage its vastness by creating educational parks that would bring together children from neighborhoods throughout the city. There, they would benefit not just from racial and economic integration, but from state-of-the art facilities, unparalleled resources and a greatly expanded array of course offerings made possible by the concentrations of students and faculty. The city opened an educational park in Co-Op City (the Bronx) in the early 1970s, but the bold vision for this project was undermined by increasing racial and economic segregation among the student body, building flaws and rising levels of school violence. Were New York City educational parks simply too big to succeed, or did they flounder as a result of correctable problems such as poor planning, flawed student recruitment methods and inadequate funding? In this presentation I seek answers to these questions.
Christopher Bonastia is Professor of Sociology at Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center, and serves as the Associate Director of Honors Programs at Lehman. Bonastia’s research focuses on the politics of racial inequality. He has published two books: Knocking on the Door: The Federal Government’s Attempt to Desegregate the Suburbs (Princeton University Press, 2006) and Southern Stalemate: Five Years without Public Education in Prince Edward County, Virginia (University of Chicago Press, 2012). The latter was a 2013 nominee for the Library of Virginia Literary Award in Non-Fiction. PBS Newshour used Southern Stalemate as its sole source for a widely distributed handout, targeting students in Grades 7-12, on the school closings in Prince Edward County, Virginia. In addition, Bonastia was a consultant to This American Life for an episode in its “House Rules” report (November 2013) on federal housing desegregation efforts under former HUD Secretary George Romney. Since 2013, Bonastia’s work has been published in Sociological Forum, Kalfou, Contexts and History of Education Quarterly (forthcoming, November 2016). His current book project examines tensions between New York City’s liberal self-image and its persistent unwillingness to address racial and economic segregation in schools and housing.