Jonathan Kozol is a non-fiction writer, educator, and activist best known for his work towards reforming American public schools. Upon graduating from Harvard, he received a Rhodes scholarship. After returning to the United States, Kozol became a teacher in the Boston Public Schools, until he was fired for teaching a Langston Hughes poem.
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East St. Louis-which the local press refers to as "an inner city without an outer city"-has some of the sickest children in America. Of 66 cities in Illinois, East St. Louis ranks first in fetal death, first in premature birth, and third in infant health.
The recklessness with which we sacrifice our sense of decency to maximize profit in the factory farming process sets a pattern for cruelty to our own kind.
I have been criticized throughout the course of my career for placing too much faith in the reliability of children's narratives; but I have almost always found that children are a great deal more reliable in telling us what actually goes on in public school than many of the adult experts who develop policies that shape their destinies.
Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.
Good teachers don't approach a child of this age with overzealousness or with destructive conscientiousness. They're not drill-masters in the military or floor managers in a production system. They are specialists in opening small packages. They give the string a tug but do it carefully. They don't yet know what's in the box. They don't know if it's breakable.
There is something deeply hypocritical in a society that holds an inner-city child only eight years old "accountable" for her performance on a high-stakes standardized exam but does not hold the high officials of our government accountable for robbing her of what they gave their own kids six or seven years before.
I beg people not to accept the seasonal ritual of well-timed charity on Christmas Eve. It's blasphemy.
A dream does not die on its own. A dream is vanquished by the choices ordinary people make about real things in their own lives.
I am opposed to the use of public funds for private education.
In the book, I write about children in first grade who were taught to read by reading want ads. They learned to write by writing job applications. Imagine what would happen if anyone tried to do that to children in a predominantly white suburban school.
Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.
During the decades after Brown v. Board of Education there was terrific progress. Tens of thousands of public schools were integrated racially. During that time the gap between black and white achievement narrowed.
In public schooling, social policy has been turned back almost one hundred years.
The greatest difference between now and 1964, when I began teaching, is that public policy has pretty much eradicated the dream of Martin Luther King.
We continue, however, to write about important people, prize-winning people, blacks of grandeur, women of great fire, fame or wit. We do not write about ordinary people.
Instead of seeing these children for the blessings that they are, we are measuring them only by the standard of whether they will be future deficits or assets for our nation's competitive needs.
But for the children of the poorest people we're stripping the curriculum, removing the arts and music, and drilling the children into useful labor. We're not valuing a child for the time in which she actually is a child.
Nationally, overwhelmingly non-white schools receive $1,000 less per pupil than overwhelmingly white schools.
Young children give us glimpses of some things that are eternal.
Placing the burden on the individual to break down doors in finding better education for a child is attractive to conservatives because it reaffirms their faith in individual ambition and autonomy. But to ask an individual to break down doors that we have chained and bolted in advance of his arrival is unfair.
So long as these kinds of inequalities persist, all of us who are given expensive educations have to live with the knowledge that our victories are contaminated because the game has been rigged to our advantage.
Charity isn't a good substitute for justice.
What I tell these young people is, the world is not as dangerous as the older generation would like you to believe. Anyone I know who has ever taken a risk and lost a job has ended up getting a better one two years later.
On Mondays and Fridays in early May, nearly 18,000 children-the equivalent of all the elementary students in suburban Glencoe, Wilmette, Glenview, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Deerfield, Highland Park and Evanston-are assigned to classes with no teacher.
Like grain in a time of famine, the immense resources which the nation does in fact possess go not to the child in the greatest need but to the children of the highest bidder-the child of parents who, more frequently than not, have also enjoyed the same abundance when they were schoolchildren.
I write books to change the world. Perhaps I can only change one little piece of that world. But if I can empower teachers and good citizens to give these children, who are the poorest of the poor, the same opportunity we give our own kids, then I'll feel my life has been worth it.
You have to remember. . .that for this little boy whom you have met, his life is just as important to him, as your life is to you. No matter how insufficient or how shabby it may seem to some, it is the only one he has.
If you grow up in the South Bronx today or in south-central Los Angeles or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, you quickly come to understand that you have been set apart and that there's no will in this society to bring you back into the mainstream.
Political struggle is the most important thing any of us can do as a citizen in a democracy; and that means the old joining the young to fight for elemental kinds of justice.
The rich...should beg the poor to forgive us for the bread we bring them. Healthy people sometimes feel they need to beg forgiveness too, although there is no reason why. Maybe we simply ask forgiveness for not being born where these poor women have been born, knowing that if we lived here too, our fate might well have been the same.
Children, of course, don't understand at first that they are being cheated.
They come to school with a degree of faith and optimism, and they often seem to thrive during the first few years. It is sometimes not until the third grade that their teachers start to see the warning signs of failure. By the fourth grade many children see it too.
If there are amazing graces on this earth, I believe that they are these good children sent to us by God and not yet soiled by the knowledge that their nation does not love them.
More money is put into prisons than into schools.
That, in itself, is the description of a nation bent on suicide. I mean, what is more precious to us than our own children? We are going to build a lot more prisons if we do not deal with the schools and their inequalities.
The ones I pity are the ones who never stick out their neck for something they believe, never know the taste of moral struggle, and never have the thrill of victory.
Competitive skills are desperately needed by poor children in America, and realistic recognition of the economic roles that they may someday have an opportunity to fill is obviously important, too. But there is more to life, and there ought to be much more to childhood, than readiness for economic functions.
When I was teaching in the 1960s in Boston, there was a great deal of hope in the air. Martin Luther King Jr. was alive, Malcolm X was alive; great, great leaders were emerging from the southern freedom movement.
Childhood is not merely basic training for utilitarian adulthood.
It should have some claims upon our mercy, not for its future value to the economic interests of competitive societies but for its present value as a perishable piece of life itself.
I always want to tell these young idealists that the world is not as dangerous as many in the older generation want them to believe...The [people] for whom I feel the greatest sadness are the ones who choke on their beliefs, who never act on their ideals, who never know the state of struggle in a decent cause, and never know the thrill of even partial victories.
Let's concede that we have decided to let our children grow up in two separate nations, and lead two separate kinds of lives. If, on the other hand, we have the courage to rise to this challenge to name what's happening within our inner-city schools, then we also need the courage to be activist and go out and fight like hell to change it.
Unlike these powerful grown-ups, children have no ideologies to reinforce, no superstructure of political opinion to promote, no civic equanimity or image to defend, no personal reputation to secure.
The first goal and primary function of the U.
S. public school is not to educate good people, but good citizens. It is the function which we call - in enemy nations - 'state indoctrination.'
Children sometimes understand things that most grown-ups do not see.
I'd love to go back and teach primary school.
I used to teach fourth grade and fifth grade. I'd love to spend several years teaching kindergarten or maybe third grade.
An awful lot of people come to college with this strange idea that there's no longer segregation in America's schools, that our schools are basically equal; neither of these things is true.
If we allow public funds to be used to support our relatively benign, morally grounded schools, we will have to allow those public funds to be used for any type of private school.
I do get scared about the physical danger from drug dealers.
But it's not in the same league as the danger I feel eating an $80 lunch with my privileged friends to discuss hunger and poverty. That's when my soul feels imperiled.
The White House, in advancing the agenda for a [school] "choice" plan, rests its faith on market mechanisms. What reason have the black and very poor to lend their credence to a market system that has proved so obdurate and so resistant to their pleas at every turn?