Jonathan Kozol has been around for quite some time writing hard-hitting journalism about flaws in this country. His book Savage Inequities is more of the same with the focus on education. Kozol's strength as a writer is being able to put a face on his topic, anywhere from education to homelessness, etc. He makes the issue real and attaches human faces and real people that the reader can relate to. In order to write this book, Kozol spent a lot of time traveling around visiting schools. To name a few, he visited schools in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington D.C. and many others.
During his visits, he spent time observing in the classroom as well as interviewing teachers, students, parents, and administrators. What Kozol found out was that schools today are as separate and unequal as they were before the landmark decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954. he determines that the reason for these inequities lies in the way that American schools are funded. America funds its schools with property taxes. The problem with this is that rich suburban areas pay much more property taxes, which makes their schools unrivaled. While in inner city schools, the property tax base is much lower. Therefore, mostly minority kids attend schools without much money.
Kozol takes the reader into these schools to make his point. In Chicago, there is a school with no library. They are overcrowded, understaffed, and lack even the basics of resources and equipments. He takes us to a high school in the Bronx where the rain pours in. For example, Kozol states, "The science labs at East St. Louis High are 30 to 50 years outdated...The six lab stations in the room have empty holes where pipes were once attached. 'It would be great if we had water,' says a physics teacher (Kozol 27). He later hits the reader hard questioning why our country allows this to happen. "Almost anyone who visits in the schools of East St. Louis...comes away profoundly shaken.
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These are innocent children, after all...One searches fro some way to understand why a society as rich and, frequently, as generous as ours would leave these children in their penury and squalor for so long-and with so little public indignation. Is this just a strange mistake of history?...why is it that we can't at least pour vast amounts of money, ingenuity, and talent into public education for these children? (140). He literally bombards the reader with real horror stories of his visits and travels in order to put a face on the poor state of education. It isn’t just about education and schools and teachers; there are real kids involved here who are not getting what they need.
Of Patterson, New Jersey, he states,
"The city is so short of space that four elementary schools now occupy abandoned factories. Children at one wood-frame elementary school, which has no cafeteria or indoor space for recreation, eat lunch in a section of the boiler room. A bathroom houses reading classes (Kozol 106). He compares these schools to suburban ones where conditions are much better. Teachers are paid much more, libraries are stocked, and technology abounds. He does a fantastic job at showing the contrasts between the wealthy schools and the poor schools. With the pictures he paints for the reader, the reader cannot argue with him. He also makes a plea for America to value equality and fix its schools.
“And yet we stop to tell ourselves: These are Americans. Why do we reduce them to this beggary - and why, particularly, in public education? Why not spend on children here at least what we would be investing in their education if they lived within a wealthy district like Winnetka, Illinois, or Cherry Hill, New Jersey, or Manhasset, Rye, or Great Neck in New York? Wouldn't this be natural behavior in an affluent society that seems to value fairness in so many other areas of life? Is fairness less important to Americans today than in some earlier times? Is it viewed as slightly tiresome and incompatible with hardnosed values? What do Americans believe about equality? (Kozol 41)
Kozol ends the book with a vivid picture of an elementary school in a neighborhood of Cincinnati. He tells the reader that atmosphere was polluted with factories, prostitutes were near, and "Bleakness was the order of the day." Kozol said he "rarely saw a child with a good big smile (Kozol 230-31). He leaves the reader with a bad taste in his/her mouth at the state of schools. This he does in hopes of spurring his readers to action.
His research methods would be described as informal because his analysis comes from observations and interviews. There is no standard form that he uses, but he gets the material nonetheless. He devotes a chapter to teach area he discusses and gives the reader a description of the city as to understand why the schools are the way they are. His findings are extremely significant to America as he clearly delineates the problems of American schools. With the images he creates, no one can argue with him. The pictures of these inner city schools are bleak.
A criticism for Kozol is that he does not concentrate on any other problems in education besides inequality. Not that the inequality of schools is not a huge problem, but there are other problems that lead to poor achievement as well. No Child Left Behind plays a role. If those kids don't do well on the tests, more funding can be cut. Inner city schools do not tend to keep their teachers, With high teacher turnover, it is even harder for students to learn, and there may be large gaps in curriculum. There are also many forces at play outside the school, such as the home lives and parental involvement of these students. Probably the biggest criticism of Kozol is that he offers no solutions; he only identifies problems. He would probably say that solutions aren't his job, and he would leave that to the educational theorists. But after reading his condemnations, it would be nice to hear some of his ideas for solutions.
Kozol doesn't tell the reader this, but The relationship between funding and academic achievement is unclear. However, it does not take a genius to figure this out. Will more money alone solve the problems in schools? Of course, it won't. However, more money will help. Money will help schools fix dilapidated buildings, buy equipment and resources, hire more teachers and aides to promote lower class sizes, attract better teachers who are more qualified, and a myriad of other things. But throwing money at the problem is only a start. These schools need help. They need more community and parental involvement.
They need after school programs and tutoring programs and teachers with the knowledge and compassion to continue in the profession. Kozol doesn't mention other solutions except to give the schools more money, but there are many other things needed. Even money will not solve the problems of segregation. Inner city schools are made up mostly of minority students. How is that problem solved? Yes, more whites who fled to the suburbs are finding their way back to the inner city, but this is not always a good thing either. They are uprooting established communities in the process of gentrification and displacing people who may have nowhere else to go. This is why Kozol focuses on the money, because as difficult as it will be to change the way we fund schools, it will be harder to desegregate communities.
Kozol makes good sense when he speaks of getting rid of the property tax funding for schools and finding a new way to fund them. If education is supposed to be democratic, and it is, America cannot continue to fund schools this way. The system America has virtually guarantees that parents who can afford to buy big houses in the suburbs will send their children to better schools.
For school administrators and all personnel in schools, there are many things to be learned from this book. the most important one is that as educators, we should be fighting for democratic schools. Administrators should be out there fighting the property tax system and leading the charge to find other, more equitable ways to fund schools. Administrators also ought to be required to take a look around at the world. They should be required to visit inner city schools to truly understand what other educators go through on a daily basis. Administrators should value quality teachers all the more after reading this book, and go out of their way to keep their quality teachers.
Truly, everyone even thinking about becoming an educator should read a book like this, and visit these schools. Most of us do not even know what a crisis we are in, right now in America. And hopefully, future educators will be the ones to fix this crisis.
Kozol, Jonathan, Savage Inequities, Harper Perennial, 1992.
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