Beyond FORTITUDE: Jonathan Kozol
Jonathan Kozol's latest on racial inequalities
I met Jonathan Kozol in Harper’s Magazine this weekend. The September 2005 issue features a 14-page excerpt from his new book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. Jonathan Kozol is not a newcomer to issues of race. As a Harvard grad, he took a job in 1964 as a fourth-grade teacher in a Boston city school. Since then, he has worked as a teacher, writer, and an incredibly patient activist determined to raise awareness of the pathetic conditions of our country’s urban schools and the impact of these conditions on the children expected to learn and excel despite them.
Is it a surprise that most of the students in our poorest schools and most of the inhabitants of our poorest neighborhoods – including those in New Orleans – are people of color? Jonathan Kozol minces no words in this regard and lists 2003 demographics like these: In Chicago, 87% of public-school enrollment was black or Hispanic; in Washington, D.C., 94%; St. Louis: 82%; Los Angeles: 84%; Detroit: 96%. In the Bronx, that percentage “in most cases” was more than 95%. “Even these statistics…cannot begin to convey how deeply isolated children in the poorest and most segregated sections of these cities have become,” Kozol writes.
Many assume that such schools, while not segregated as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Thurgood Marshall may have envisioned them, are at least “separate but equal.” Kozol again is blunt: “The present per-pupil spending level in the New York City schools is $11,700…compared with a per-pupil spending level in excess of $22,000 in the well-to-do suburban district of Manhasset, Long Island.” Crumbling schools with bathrooms that don’t work and no playgrounds, where children are taught in large rooms that house more than one class at a time and lunch in windowless basements or rat-infested cafeterias demand our attention. Jonathan Kozol has cared enough to visit and write about these schools and the children who attend them. It’s time for us to care enough to listen.