Author blasts school system

“All children are of equal value in the eyes of God but not in the eyes of America.”

This statement sparked cheers and applause for author Jonathan Kozol from the audience at an Oct. 2 lecture in Mitten Hall. Kozol spoke out against injustices in public schools during a speech titled “Savage Inequalities: The Ongoing Challenge in Our Urban Schools.”

Best known for his book “Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s School,” Kozol is a well-known writer, educator and speaker. He spent the greater part of his life documenting and narrating the stories of underprivileged children around the United States and speaks out about race and poverty in America’s public schools.

Born in Boston to middle-class parents, Kozol was educated at Harvard University and the University of Oxford. After being fired from a Boston public school in 1964 for teaching Robert Frost and Langston Hughes to fourth graders, Kozol found his true calling in being the spokesperson for children who couldn’t stand up for themselves. He has since traveled to various schools across the nation to hear their stories.

Last week Kozol spoke of his disapproval of rigorous state examinations that he believes only worsen children’s quality of education.

“It is hypocritical of states to hold an 8-year-old accountable on a state-wide exam but not to hold government officials accountable for not providing proper education,” Kozol said.

States’ answers, he said, to improving children’s education is to simply provide “more severe, more repetitive examinations.” While Kozol agrees all children need to be well armed and prepared to face exams, he said standardized tests are not the simple solutions to complex problems.

“Exams deny promotions and diplomas,” Kozol said. “It’s a warning signal to our society when one class of children cannot pass them.”

Likening inequalities in public schools to a “modern-millennium apartheid,” Kozol spoke of his experiences in cities such as St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, New York City and Philadelphia. All, he said, face the same problems of low or nonexistent budgets, educational disparities, and racial segregation.

“Equal funding for unequal needs is not equality,” Kozol said, referring to states’ practice of allocating the same amount of money for schools with various levels of quality. He said this perpetuates the unevenness of education in public schools.

Kozol said that too often schools could not cater to what students want or need. Instead they offer only what they can provide. In order for things to change, Kozol said, parents, politicians and teachers need to speak out in favor of children.

“Teachers aren’t too political,” Kozol said. “They’re not political enough.”
Until we stop relying on businesses and corporations to run our educational system, nothing will change, he said.

“Perhaps we’d be a better nation if we asked poets, novelists, musicians and artists for their opinion on education issues,” he said. “Instead we just ask CEO’s.”

Barbara J. Isenberg can be reached at

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