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The Education Views of Jonathan Kozol

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Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools

In today’s world education is one of the most valued aspects of life which most parents hope to provide for their children; however not every child in America receives the same quality of education and opportunity. The book written by Jonathan Kozol evaluates the sociological and economic aspect of American school education and makes a profound claim by accentuating the severe segregation that exist between the years of 1988 and 1990. He emphasises the amount of racial segregation that occurs in public schools despite what most Americans would describe as “a past injustice”. Although inequality of education is an immense issue, it is not considered in the national reports along with poor motivations, low reading and writing scores as well as high drop-out rates. He argues that equality and equity of education can not be achieved with the current status of the American education system.

Kozol states his argument based on his two years time spent with students, teachers and parents for purposes of observations and interviews. His aim in this book is to convince the people in power that the issue of inequality of education is an important matter that needs to be considered for the sake of children. This book amplifies the voices of these children to those who should be listening. The reason for his argument is to reflect the amount of work that still needs to be done in the areas of public education focusing mostly on urban schools. He presents his argument by providing several examples such as his experience in Boston in 1964 when he began working at a segregated public school in a fourth grade class that had no learning space with over 35 students as well as 13 different teachers. In addition, he noticed that the students had “reading level of a second grade” as well as maths of a first grade. This example is one of many that exhibits the lack of resources, quality of education, and staff that is not up to its peak excellence.

His argument is of great importance to him, as public schools are expected to provide less economically fortunate children with opportunities of equality with pupils of a richer background which, however is far from being met. This book is crucial to the writer and the children as it creates a profound awareness to the American community and the intensity of inequality and segregation that still lives in public schools. His journey in 1988 involves thirty areas within the United States such as Illinois, New York, San Antonio, Washington D.C etc. These schools mostly involved non-white students who did not mix with the white children. Some of the remedies that are suggested by few schools such as the ones in East St. Louis were to separate black males from other races and provide them with a different education. The likelihood of this being successful is improbable as the society they live in “has no obstetric services”, “Nearly a third of its families live on less than $7,500 a year; 75 percent of its population lives on welfare of some form.” It is difficult to place blame on students who are not successful when the areas they live in is described as “the most distressed small city in America.” As a result, the equality of education is an important matter to teachers such as Kozol as well parents of those children who face daily consequences of inequality, segregation and other disregarded issues.

Similar environments where they are described as “black hole” highly affect both the students’ and teachers’ motivation to achieve their best performance particularly where the curriculum is test driven. “On an average morning in Chicago, 5,700 children in 190 classrooms come to find that they have no teacher.” For any student this is a demotivating situation where students lose faith, enthusiasm and hope in their future as well as their likelihood of success. In some schools “salaries are far too low” that some of the teachers have to work two jobs to pay rent and a teacher who just came from doing another job is unlikely to perform as well as a teacher who only focuses on teaching. This exemplifies a situation where the education system desperately requires some reviewing so that every student in America can receive the best of their teachers’ ability and skill.

Camedian, New Jersey is the fourth poorest city in America and the children have one of the highest rates of poverty where half the family lives on less than $5000 per year. Pyne Point Junior High, located in Camedian, has many unhealthy and sick children who cannot afford the cost of private health care. Polluted air, soil filled with chemicals, unspeakable dumping system, poverty as well as lack of education are some of the health and wellness matters that exist in the district. Half the children who attend this school do not have books and “parents make no demands” for increased budgets because they’re not informed about the disparity of allocation of funding from school to school. It is depicted as a place where no mother would want to raise a child.

In contrast, five minutes drive away from Camdan is Cherry Hill where the majority of the inhabitants are white and each students has the “book they’re supposed to have for their grade level.” Similarly, we also have Riverdale which is provided with a lot more allowance than other schools due to the property values. Kozol asks why this difference exists in schools when what we strive for is equal opportunity for all. Unequal budget allocation is one of Kozol’s main purposes of his work. According to his observation the division of money seems to be determined by the region. The difference between schools that are surrounded with rich buildings and schools that are surrounded with less expensive houses is wide. Since the tax revenue from a rich district is higher than an economically poor district, the spending on public education in richer districts is relatively much higher. Thus, public schools in New York such as Public School 261(P.S.261) may only get $6,000 or less per student where as schools like Cherry Hill in New Jersey may receive up to $11,000 per student or even more. This budget allocation disparity leads to a state where education is provided in worn out buildings with insufficient resources and less qualified as well as skilled teachers. This in turn affects the quality of education provided for the children and with this condition equality and equity of education cannot be fulfilled.

“How can we achieve both equity and excellence in education in America?” is one of the most crucial questions Kozol distinctly asks. Is it perhaps the increase in spending in order to bring a difference in performance of students? People of rich background believe that no matter how much money is spent in public schools, it will not have any positive impact on the performance and standard of education that the children receive. According to the Wall Street Journal, the increase in spending has not made a difference in the “average achievement scores”. However, the journal did not mention the fact that the majority of the money was given to schools with higher performance. The overall average is brought down by public schools with low performance, but these are the schools which receive the lowest amount. In addition, it is also mentioned in the journal that raising teachers’ payment will not contribute to any sort of improvement in the education system and that increasing spending would lead to “diminished returns”. However, if this was the case decreasing the amount of money spent in richer schools should have either been indicated or considered.

The medium in which Kozol presents his arguments are very strategic as he gives detailed, chronological information. He begins each chapter by appealing to the reader’s emotion through the display of a child’s life and perspective. For instance, a girl named Shalika is given a voice as she shares her thoughts: “To some degree I do believe,” she says, “that this is caused by press reports. You see a lot about the crimes committed here in East St. Louis when you turn on the TV. Do they show the crimes committed by the government that puts black people here? Why are all the dirty businesses like chemicals and waste disposal here? This is a big country. Couldn’t they find another place to put their poison?” This helps Kozol to support his thesis and to later describe the area which the children live in followed by the status of the schools. This helps the readers to comprehend his argument and to evaluate the sociological similarities in these schools.

The evidences that he uses are indeed convincing as they are supported with reliable data as well as personal observations. However, as the data was collected 20 years ago it may be outdated and obsolete, hence it makes it valid only for that time frame. Whether the situation has improved or not is another investigation that needs to be done which will also show the impact of Kozol’s work in today’s society.

In conclusion, Kozol has asserted an important matter to depict the situation in public schools within the United States. Considering the United States is one of the most developed countries in the world, high quality of education would be expected. However, Kozol’s work gives insight to the disregarded situations which most well-off people have never been exposed to. His claim that the education system should be reviewed is well portrayed through the experiences of the children as well as his observation supported with statistics.

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The Education Views Of Jonathan Kozol. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from
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