WHEN U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. ordered Boston's public schools to desegregate in 1974 and then placed the school system under the direction of the court in 1975 to ensure that the orders were carried out, there was widespread violence and resistance. Although the turmoil over desegregation subsided, problems remained.

Robert P. Largess, a Boston schoolteacher, wrote to Judge Garrity about such a problem. The letter was turned over to Robert A. Dentler, dean of the Boston University School of Education, a consultant to the court in the desegregation matter.

Largess attended a Catholic elementary school in Washington in the 1950s where, he says, "Black, Hispanic and Oriental children interacted happily." At that school, "We were not taught merely that it was nice to get along with different kinds of people . . . we were taught that a person's identity (in the only way that was significant) was wholly formed by his thoughts, beliefs and actions."

Largess' graduate education as an anthropologist reinforced this, he says: "I know the human mind and human culture is infinitely variable, and race and racial discrimination are merely one of a multitude of ways human cultures have chosen to see themselves."

Other experiences - the civil rights struggle and fieldwork in the West Indies - reinforced and bore out his beliefs, he says.

Largess later worked in the political campaign of Boston's first black city councillor and "dropped an academic career to teach in Boston's slums."