This chapter preview illustrates the integration of historical narrative and digital sources that will appear in the longer version of the On the Line web-book, to be released in 2011-12. The text below is a draft essay that I submitted for a forthcoming print volume, Urban Legacy and Global Imprint: The Transformation of Hartford and other Small New England Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen, Dean and Director of the Center for Urban and Global Studies at Trinity. The target audience is future classes of Trinity undergraduates, and this 7,500-word essay seeks to introduce them to research conducted by their peers on cities, suburbs, and schools.
The digital format of On The Line allows me to enhance this essay with archival links — such as interactive maps, data visualizations, electronic documents, oral history interviews, photographs, and video clips — that would not appear in a print-only book. In addition, readers are invited to comment at the bottom of each page to suggest ways to revise this essay, and also to complete work on the longer web-book to come.
Investigating Spatial Inequality with the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project For nearly a decade, Trinity College students, colleagues and I have worked together on the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project to better understand the past and present relationship between public education and private housing in metropolitan Hartford, Connecticut. The CSS Project refers to the collective work done by undergraduates in the interdisciplinary seminar I teach, as well as independent studies, summer research assistantships, and other presentations and papers. Together, we formulate research questions from provocative readings from literature in history and the social sciences, and design studies using historical, qualitative, and/or quantitative methods to test these ideas in the Hartford region. Several leading scholars have kindly provided guidance and critical feedback via conference calls and professional meetings. We also have designed several studies in collaboration with local partner organizations, which help us to frame questions, identify sources, and interpret our findings.
In its broadest sense, our work explores spatial inequalities arising from the increasingly tightening bonds between schooling and housing in the city-suburban Hartford region over the last century. Looking back, our past has been shaped by the lines we have drawn to separate ourselves. Real estate agents maintained the color line. Mortgage lenders engaged in discriminatory redlining. Locally elected official drew exclusionary residential zoning lines. Suburban homebuyers shopped for better opportunities on the other side of public school attendance lines. As these boundaries became more powerful over time, civil rights activists fought to cross over, redraw, or erase these lines.
The story of schooling and racial inequality in Greater Hartford has attracted many scholars and journalists, most notably Christopher Collier’s encyclopedic history, Connecticut’s Public Schools, and Susan Eaton’s close examination of one classroom amid the Sheff v O’Neill segregation case in The Children in Room E4. 1 The work of the CSS Project expands upon this literature by analyzing how the relationship between schooling and housing became more influential from the late nineteenth century to the present, generating the contemporary policy challenges of voluntary desegregation remedies and public school choice. Specifically, this chapter highlights and synthesizes research conducted by Trinity students who have worked with me to answer two questions. First, when and how did the most desirable schools shift from the city to selected suburbs, and what role did the real estate industry play in this transformation? Second, under growing pressure from civil rights activists, state and local government have implemented voluntary desegregation remedies and public school choice. Whose interests have been served by these policies — and whose have not? To answer those questions, we need to understand the historical evolution of the marketplace commonly known today as “shopping for schools,” and recent policy reforms that have attempted to decouple public education and private housing.
- Christopher Collier, Connecticut’s Public Schools: A History, 1650-2000 (Orange, CT: Clearwater Press, 2009); Susan Eaton, The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2007). ↩