Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools – Jonathan Kozol
published: 1991, 233 pages
From Kirkus Reviews -
Kozol again turns a floodlight on a dark corner of the nation’s soul, the classrooms of the minority poor. Here, Kozol returns to the public schools where he began a career as spokesman for the powerless and conscience of the privileged 25 years ago (Death at an Early Age). Reports of schools in black and Hispanic communities from New York to California– where not only books, crayons, and lab equipment but also toilet paper are rationed–are painful to read. School buildings turn into swamps when it rains or must be closed (or, worse yet, are kept open) when sewage backs up into kitchens and cafeterias. A school in the South Bronx is set up in a windowless skating rink next to a mortuary, with class sizes up to 35, lunch in three shifts, a library of 700 books, and no playground. The school population is 90-percent black and Hispanic. Yet it is only a few minutes north to a more affluent part of the Bronx and a public school surrounded by flowering trees, two playing fields, and a playground, with a planetarium and an 8,000-book library. There, the population is overwhelmingly white and Asian. More horrifying stories follow–but it’s Kozol’s intention to horrify, in order to make the point that these vast disparities in quality of education are caused by racism. Nearly 40 years after Brown v. Board of Education, many US schools are still separate but no longer even remotely equal. Critics will argue that these sad case histories are isolated or rare and are situated in communities whose economies have collapsed. Partly true, but Kozol’s point is that justice and decency call for sharing resources in times of trouble, not abandoning children (and their teachers) to degradation and ignorance. A powerful appeal to save children by redistributing the wealth. It will cause angry, but perhaps fruitful, debate.
My thoughts -
First of all, I realize this book is slightly dated, in that it was published 17 years ago. The unfortunate thing is that I don’t believe much has changed since Kozol wrote it… if there have been major changes, he wouldn’t have found it necessary to write his second book, Shame of the Nation, or continue to push for equal-opportunity education like he is still doing today. So, although this book was researched and written awhile ago, I do believe it is still relevant for discussion today.
This book is sad. Plain and simple, it made me very sad to read about the way these kids have to “learn” every single day. Children who live in poverty every single day of their lives, who struggle just to get a decent meal and a good night’s sleep, who cannot count on safety, a clean environment, or even love from their families, should absolutely, 100% have one place they can call their sanctuary – their school. Unfortunately, this book showed that is simply not the case. Children who live in these horrifying conditions of dire poverty are going to “schools” (and I say that loosely because some of the schools Kozol describes simply are not places to learn) that are decrepit, dirty, disgusting, with not enough space, not enough teachers, not enough books, no computers, and sometimes not even enough working toilets. There isn’t another way to describe this book other than horrifying. Pure and simple, we should not be allowing any child to spend a minute in these conditions, let alone every day for eight hours a day. This book is heartbreaking to read, but it needs to be read, because I truly do not think that conditions have changed since the book was published in 1991. This is something that, as a country, we need to improve, big time. Our future literally depends on it.