On September 29, Jonathan Kozol will be giving a talk regarding his newest book, “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.” His presentation in the Performing Arts Center will focus on new forms of segregation in America’s classrooms.
Jonathan Kozol graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1958 with an undergraduate degree in English literature. In addition to his degree from Harvard, Kozol was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Magdalen College in Oxford, which he did not complete, deciding instead to go to Paris to spend four years writing his only published work of fiction, “The Fume Poppies."
Nevertheless, despite his privileged, espensive schooling, Jonathan Kozol is no stranger to America’s public educational system; he has been writing about, or working in, the public school system since the mid-1960s, when he moved from Harvard Square into the poor, black Roxbury neighborhood of Boston and became a fourth grade teacher in the Boston Public School system.
In 1967 he published the book “Death At An Early Age,” a narrative of his first year as a teacher in Boston schools. It went on to receive the 1968 National Book Award in Science, Philosophy, and Religion and has sold more than 2 million copies in the United States and Europe.
After being fired from Boston Public Schools for reading the poetry of Langston Hughes to his class, Kozol went on to teach for several years at Newton Public Schools, the system he was raised in. During this time, he also became more active in his other passion, social justice work.
During the next few decades Kozol published many works, most notably “Rachel And Her Children: Homeless Families In America,” published in 1988, which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book award and the Conscience in Media Award of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and “Savage Inequalities,” published in 1991, which won the New England Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
In 1995, Kozol had a major critical success with the book “Amazing Grace: The Lives Of Children And The Conscience Of A Nation,” a title which Toni Morrison called “good in the old-fashioned sense: beautiful and morally worthy.” “Amazing Grace” also garnered praise from another Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel, who said, “Jonathan’s struggle is noble. What he says must be heard. His outcry must shake our nation out of its guilty indifference.” In 1996, “Amazing Grace” won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, an award previously granted to the works of Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2000, Kozol took a break from writing about the problems and difficulties within the public school system in order to write “Ordinary Resurrections: Children In The Years Of Hope,” a book that favors looking at the children in the system and finding hope in their innocence, which has yet to be tarnished by the outside world.
In “The Shame Of The Nation: The Restoration Of Apartheid Schooling In America,” which hit shelves on September 13, Kozol goes back to what he’s made a name for himself with— observing the way in which American public school systems educate our children. This book focuses specifically on nonformalized segregation in the classroom, or what Kozol calls “apartheid schooling.”
Most people are familiar with Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 landmark case in which the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation of public education facilities was illegal. They did so on the grounds that segregated school facilities could never provide the same quality of education to black Americans that the facilities could provide to white Americans.
Despite the promise of Brown v. the Board of Education, Kozol writes that school segregation is a “national horror hidden in plain view.” His book, which chronicles his trip through 11 states and 60 schools, points out that many schools serving black and Hispanic children are headed down a path towards an environment very similar to the pre-1954 America of segregated school systems.
Kozol points out many instances of sub-standard conditions, including the lack of clean classrooms and up-to-date supplies. In addition to this, the teaching methods used at these schools are necessarily devoid of creativity and entertaining lessons, which must be thrown to the wayside in favor of one-dimensional teaching methods in order to catch students up to the new voucher system’s testing and accountability mandates.
These mandates cause a shift in the mindset of teachers and other staff, who must embrace what Kozol calls a “pedagogy of direct command and absolute control.” This shift in turn causes a change in the atmosphere of affected schools, which Kozol says resemble “penal institutions and drug rehabilitation programs.”
Throughout his book, Kozol illustrates his indictment of Public School systems with interviews of those most affected by it, the grade-school and high-school-aged students themselves. Perhaps a quote from an eight-year-old living in the Bronx makes Kozol’s point stronger than Kozol himself is able to do by saying, simply, “You have all the things and we do not have all the things.”
Jonathan Kozol will be speaking September 29 at the Performing Arts Center. Tickets are sold out, but those wanting to attend still have a chance – tickets will be given on a first come, first serve basis on the night of the reading for unfilled seats.
In addition to this, event planners are attempting to put together a separate viewing area via closed-circuit television. Check the Center for Educational Pluralism’s website for more information regarding the available viewing areas.
Afterwards, a reception with desserts and an opportunity to purchase Kozol’s book will be held in the PAC lobby and is open to everyone.
For additional information, please visit the event website at www.wwu.edu/depts/adp/kozol/ or the Center for Educational Pluralism’s website at http://www.wce.wwu.edu/Resources/CEP/.