Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools

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National Book Award-winning author Jonathan Kozol presents his shocking account of the American educational system in this stunning New York Times bestseller, which has sold more than 250,000 hardcover copies.

Author Biography: Jonathan Kozol has been awarded the National Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Award. His book Savage Inequalities was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and became a national bestseller.

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Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools

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National Book Award-winning author Jonathan Kozol presents his shocking account of the American educational system in this stunning New York Times bestseller, which has sold more than 250,000 hardcover copies.

Author Biography: Jonathan Kozol has been awarded the National Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Award. His book Savage Inequalities was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and became a national bestseller.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
An impassioned book, laced with anger and indignation, about how our public education system scorns so many of our children.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Kozol believes that children from poor families are cheated out of a future by grossly underequipped, understaffed and underfunded schools in U.S. inner cities and less affluent suburbs. The schools he visited between 1988 and 1990--in burnt-out Camden, N.J., Washington, D.C., New York's South Bronx, Chicago's South Side, San Antonio, Tex., and East St. Louis, Mo., awash in toxic fumes--were ``95 to 99 percent nonwhite.'' Kozol Death at an Early Age found that racial segregation has intensified since 1954. Even in the suburbs, he charges, the slotting of minority children into lower ``tracks'' sets up a differential, two-tier system that diminishes poor children's horizons and aspirations. He lets the pupils and teachers speak for themselves, uncovering ``little islands of . . . energy and hope.'' This important, eye-opening report is a ringing indictment of the shameful neglect that has fostered a ghetto school system in America. 50,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB selections; author tour. Oct.
Library Journal
In 1988, Kozol, author of Death at an Early Age LJ 7/67 and the more recent Rachel and Her Children LJ 3/15/88, visited schools in over 30 neighborhoods, including East St. Louis, Harlem, the Bronx, Chicago, Jersey City, and San Antonio. In this account, he concludes that real integration has seriously declined and education for minorities and the poor has moved backwards by at least several decades. Shocked by the persistent segregation and bias in poorer neighborhoods, Kozol describes the garrison-like campuses located in high-crime areas, which often lack the most basic needs. Rooms with no heat, few supplies or texts, labs with no equipment or running water, sewer backups, fumes, and overwhelming fiscal shortages combine to create an appalling scene. This is raw stuff. Recommended for all libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/91 under the title These Young Lives: Still Separate, Still Unequal; Children in America's Schools .-- Annette V. Janes, Hamilton P.L., Mass.
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) todegradation and ignorance. A powerful appeal to save children by redistributing the wealth. It will cause angry, but perhaps fruitful, debate.
From the Publisher
“An impassioned book, laced with anger and indignation, about how our public education system scorns so many of our children.” –New York Times Book Review

“I was unprepared for the horror and shame I felt… Savage Inequalities is a savage indictment…Everyone should read this important book.” –Robert Wilson, USA Today

“Kozol has written a book that must be read by anyone interested in education.” –Elizabeth Duff, Philadelphia Inquirer

“The forces of equity have now been joined by a powerful voice…Kozol has written a searing exposé of the extremes of wealth and poverty in America’s school system and the blighting effect on poor children, especially those in cities.” –Emily Mitchell, Time

“Easily the most passionate, and certain to be the most passionately debated, book about American education in several years…A classic American muckraker with an eloquent prose style, Kozol offers…an old-fashioned brand of moral outrage that will affect every reader whose heart has not yet turned to stone.” –Entertainment Weekly

“Moving…Shocking…Heartbreaking.” –Ruth Sidel, The Nation

“It is neither ironic nor paradoxical to call Savage Inequalities a wonderful book—for Kozol makes it clear that there are wonderful teachers and wonderful students in every American school, no matter what ugliness, violence, and horror surround the building.”—Chicago Tribune

“The great virtue of Jonathan Kozol’s new book about inner-city school sis that it overcomes that ‘everybody knows’ problem by bringing an undulled capacity for shock and outrage to a tour of bad schools across the country. As soon as Kozol begins leading the way through a procession of overcrowded, underheated, textbookless, barely taught classrooms, the thought he surely intended to engender begins to take form: How can this be?” –Washington Post Book World

“Poor children of all colors are increasingly looked upon as surplus baggage, mistakes that should never have happened. Indeed, an older view is returning that any attempts to educate the lower orders are doomed to fail. There can be more than one way to read the title of Jonathan Kozol’s depressing—and essential—book.” – Andrew Hacker, New York Times Book Review

“Mr. Kozol exposes lemons in American educational facilities I the same way Ralph Nader attacked Detroit automobile makers.” –Herbert Mitgang, New York Times

“This book digs so deeply into the tragedy o the American system of public education that it wrenches the reader’s psyche…A must-read for every parent, every educator, and every relevant policymaker.” —Alex Haley, author of Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X
“A powerful appeal to save children by redistributing the wealth. It will cause angry, but perhaps fruitful, debate.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Startling and compelling…Crucial to any serious debate on the current state of American education.”
–Publishers Weekly 
“A superb, heart-wrenching portrait of the resolute injustice which decimates so many of America’s urban schools.” –David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bearing the Cross

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060974992
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/1992
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 208
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 7.94 (w) x 5.24 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Kozol
Jonathon Kozol has been awarded the National Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. His previous books include Amazing Grace and Savage Inequalities. He lives in Byfield, Massachusetts.
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Read an Excerpt

Looking Backward:

It was a long time since I'd been with children in the pubiic schools.

I had begun to teach in 1964 in Boston in a segregated school so crowded and so poor that it could not provide my fourth grade children with a classroom. We shared an auditorium with another fourth grade and the choir and a group that was rehearsing, starting in October, for a Christmas play that, somehow, never was produced. In the spring I was shifted to another fourth grade that had had a string of substitutes all year. The 35 children in the class hadn't had a permanent teacher since they entered kindergarten. That year, I was their thirteenth teacher.

The results were seen in the first tests I gave. In April most were reading at the second grade level. Their math ability was at the first grade level.

In an effort to resuscitate their interest, I began to read them poetry I liked. They were drawn especially to poems of Robert Frost and Langston Hughes. One of the most embittered children in the class began to cry when she first heard the words of Langston Hughes.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?

She went home and memorized the lines.

The next day, I was fired. There was, it turned out, a list of "fourth grade poems" that teachers were obliged to follow but which, like most first-year teachers, I had never seen. According to school officials, Robert Frost and Langston Hughes were "too advanced" for children of this age. Hughes, moreover, was regarded as "inflammatory."

I was soon recruited to teach in a suburban system west of Boston. The shock of going from one of the poorest schools toone of the wealthiest cannot be overstated. I now had 21 children in a cheerful building with a principal who welcomed innovation.

After teaching for several years, I became involved with other interests--the health and education of farmworkers in New Mexico and Arizona, the problems of adult illiterates in several states, the lives of homeless families in New York. It wasn't until 1988, when I returned to Massachusetts after a long stay in New York City, that I realized how far I'd been drawn away from my original concerns. I found that I missed being with schoolchildren, and I felt a longing to spend time in public schools again. So, in the fall of 1988, 1 set off on another journey.

During the next two years I visited schools and spoke with children in approximately 30 neighborhoods from Illinois to Washington, D.C., and from New York to San Antonio. Wherever possible, I also met with children in their homes. There was no special logic in the choice of cities that I visited. I went where I was welcomed or knew teachers or school principals or ministers of churches.

What startled me most--although it puzzles me that I was not prepared for this--was the remarkable degree of racial segregation that persisted almost everywhere. Like most Americans, I knew that segregation was still commonin the public schools, but I did not know how much it had intensified. The Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education 37 years ago, in which the court had found that segregated education was unconstitutional because it was "inherently unequal," did not seem to have changed very muchfor children in the schools I saw, not, at least, outside of the Deep South. Most of the urban schools I visited were 95 to 99 percent nonwhite. In no school that I saw anywhere in the United States were nonwhite children in large numbers truly intermingled with white children.

Moreover, in most cities, influential people that I met showed little inclination to address this matter and were sometimes even puzzled when I brought it up. Many people seemed to view the segregation issue as "a past injustice" that had been sufficiently addressed. Others took it as an unresolved injustice that no longer held sufficient national attention to be worth contesting. In all cases, I was given the distinct impression that my inquiries about this matter were not welcome.

None of the national reports I saw made even passing references to inequality or segregation. Low reading scores, high dropout rates, poor motivation--symptomatic matters--seemed to dominate discussion. In three cities--Baltimore, Milwaukee and Detroit--separate schools or separate classes for black males had been proposed. Other cities Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia among them--were considering the same approach. Black parents or black school officials sometimes seemed to favor this idea. Booker T. Washington was cited with increasing frequency, Du Bois never, and Martin Luther King only with cautious selectivity. He was treated as an icon, but his vision of a nation in which black and white kids went to school together seemed to be effaced almost entirely. Dutiful references to "The Dream" were often seen in school brochures and on wall posters during February, when "Black History" was celebrated in the public schools, but the content of the dream was treated as a closed box that could not be opened without ruining the celebration.

For anyone who came of age during the years from 1954 to 1968, these revelations could not fail to be disheartening. What seems unmistakable, but, oddly enough, is rarely said in public settings nowadays, is that the nation, for all practice and intent, has turned its back upon the moral implications, if not yet the legal ramifications, of the Brown decision. The struggle being waged today, where there is any struggle being waged at all, is closer to the one that was addressed in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the court accepted segregated institutions for black people, stipulating only that they must be equal to those open to white people. The dual society, at least in public education, seems in general to be unquestioned.

Savage Inequalities. Copyright © by Jonathan Kozol. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 30 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2007

    So Very Wrong

    Well written, but so very wrong. Not only have I worked as a teacher and an administrator in Camden, I am a minority who lives in Camden. Increased funding will never help as things are now. The monies reach the children.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2006

    Condescending to Minorities, Extremely Biased and Outdated

    This book does not deserve a full star but unfortunately that is the lowest rating one can give. The author does not compare like schools and he glosses over issues that prove his assertions false. He is condescending in his belief that minority parents lack the skills and abilities to advocate and fight for their children in the issue of choice. Kozol only focuses on the funding that the schools receive. He does not look at how the individual school districts disperse those funds to the individual schools. Unfortunately, the time spent reading this biased book was wasted.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2004

    Very outdated, very biased

    Very illogiacally written, big mes of statistic numbers, very biased. Very one-sided, written from personal wiew only. Don't recommend at all.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2011

    A very good book, and still a must read.

    This is a very well written book, some truths are are very hard for some people to accept. In not one place did I read where any group of people were being blamed. The way public schools are funded is not fair and never has been fair. The one thing I notice about some comments that are made is that if the children learned how to behave if the parents were more involved in school. But I have to ask what does a child's behavior have to do with being placed in a class with 40 other students or not having textbooks. Inner city schools are older and the districts larger then their counter parts in the suburbs. So it's just common sense that most of the money is going to go to the old buildings that are falling apart. With student enrollment falling off due to magnet schools and birth rates falling off yes funding and the cost of running the schools has gone up.
    One day people are going to wake up, the light is going to go off - People are going to understand we have to make the investment in our children. We allowed other countries to catch up and pass us, we had a great head start when more then half of the world's countries were rebuilding after WWII. If we don't wake up as a country we will never make that ground up to be able to compete on the global market or to keep making advances in science and medicine. No one should have to work three jobs to make ends meet and things are getting bad when college graduates can't get jobs. Things for the average American worker are getting worst not better, we are working harder and longer for less. It's not because people are lazy people the price for everything is going up. No one is silly enough to think their job is safe anymore and it's really bad when fast food places are not hiring and a lot of their staff is over the age of 25! Just because a group of people aren't doing well doesn't mean they blame you or you should get defensive. It doesn't change the fact that life isn't fair at times, or bad things happen to good people. I read this book over ten years ago and it's still a very good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2007

    A glance at the brutal reality younger generations endure to receive what is called an 'Education'

    Savage Inequalities is a mere glimpse of the terror that forced upon the children of the most poverty-struck cities in America. Kozol acknowledges the factors of racial and social inequality that plays against the yongest members of our society when they look for an education. Why is it that white children are utilizing the most high-tech gadgets in an air-conditioned in comparison to black children who are sweating in a crowded room, fighting over the only textbook in the class. This book is one of the most eye-opening written works that I have ever read. It is absolutely mesmorizing and captivating. And my friend Katy Redmond (The Class Diabetic) liked it too.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2006

    Minority Students are Cheated in American Schools

    John Kozol¿s book Savage Inequalities describes the educational problems of the of minorities in the United States, including those in New York City and East St. Louis. This book portrays how children in schools are discriminated against and not believed in by their teachers. The author emphasized the fact that schools are still segregated and education is not taken seriously in some of the large cities of the United States. Kozol passionately states his opinions and theses on each subject, keeping the reader interested, even though he is slightly repetitive. Kozol¿s main point is that Americans are still living in a ¿separate but unequal¿ society, which could make the reader doubt and get angry at U.S. education systems. Kozol explains his theses very early in the book, and relates back to them several times in order to get through to the reader. There are also parts of the book that make the reader very angry or sad by saying that the United States is worse off than it was several years ago. Overall, this book is well organized and can make the reader ashamed of this part of American society. It opens up the readers¿ eyes to what is really going on in schools in these deprived cities, with the growing political problems. This book is mainly geared for teachers or parents, but is a good read for anyone who wants to learn or fight against about the injustices of unequal education.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2006

    Real Lives. Real Problems. Real Solutions.

    Just imagine your school. Now picture the cafeteria occasionally flooded with sewage, the ceiling falling down in places, almost 50% of the children getting held back each year, having either destroyed textbooks or none at all, and your teachers caring less whether you do well in school. These are only a few of the harsh realities that Jonathan Kozol portrays in his Savage Inequalities, a novel that describes selective urban schools in need of help. Children that live in these districts often face discrimination or poverty and unfortunately these children do not have a similar school experience as a child from a suburban school. Throughout his novel, Kozol vividly describes the problems with inner-city schools in East St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., New Jersey, and San Antonio, which compel the reader to feel the need to help. Kozol, as a child who faced many of the problems he describes throughout his novel, sends a cry for help from those in need. Jonathan Kozol was a teacher who taught in poor schools who was suddenly transferred to suburban schools. He was shocked by the differences between the wealthy and poor schools. This led him to want to help change these differences as much as he could so he traveled to thirty different cities, conducted research, and wrote this book to help. Reading this non-fiction novel by Kozol was extremely interesting because although he mostly discusses his opinions, he throws in facts and statistics in almost every paragraph to prove his point. Also, occasionally Kozol¿s writing style may seem repetitive, but he is only trying to prove his point by showing that similar problems can occur in different areas throughout the United States. Throughout his novel, Kozol is trying to convey the theme to his readers to treat everyone equally despite racial and financial differences. In every chapter, Kozol vividly depicts the problems with urban schools in a particular setting such as East St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., New Jersey, or San Antonio. He continues to discuss children that are either poor, or of African American or Hispanic descent to show the reader what a typical day of school looks like for these children. Kozol gets the readers attention with his fascinating statistics such as ¿in Jersey City, 45% of 3rd grade children fail their basic-skills exam, compared to only 10% in Princeton¿ (Kozol, 158). Facts like these keep the reader interested in what Kozol has to say. For me personally, these facts were often very descriptive and hard to imagine such as ¿a quarter of the ceiling has been patched and covered with a plastic garbage bag¿ (Kozol, 89). After giving the reader such amazing descriptions of the underprivileged schools, he goes on to compare these schools to sub-urban schools. These suburban schools, such as Rye, NY, have many more privileges and rights than the inner-city schools. In chapter 3, Kozol describes in depth public schools of New York City and how there¿s a high percentage of Black and Hispanic children in the ¿special education¿ classes, while those few Caucasians and Asians in the school are in the honors classes. According to Kozol, this is clearly prejudiced and although segregation is illegal today, he believes there¿s no way that there¿s this much of a difference between the honors and regular classes and the races of the children in these classes. Kozol only wants ¿all children to be allowed a stake in the enormous richness of America¿ (Kozol, 233). He doesn¿t want any child to be unable to grow up as an adult who makes a lot of money. In other words, children that grow up in poor families do not have to be poor forever, and the way to stop this is to give poor children an adequate education. Kozol argues, ¿Whether they were born to poor white Appalachians or to wealthy Texans, to poor black people in the Bronx or to rich people in Manhasset or Winnetka, they are all quite wonderful and innocent when they are small¿ (Kozol, 233

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2005

    tragic truths

    this is a very good book, recommended for everyone who is involving in education system. It'll be also great for parents of every race to see how unfortunate and unfair lives can be. The author's observation may be decades ago and seems outdated, but the fact is that those unbelievably poor conditions non-white children have been facing do not really change. It is a very ugly truth that people should accept and try to make some changes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2004

    Highly recommend!! Amazing and Revealing!!

    This is an excellent multicultural source that I read as part of a teacher educational program. It is not biased as others have stated, but rather it is revealing and poignant. It should be read by everyone, not just educators, to understand the reality of America.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2004

    Eye-opening book

    I read this book for an education class and it was excellent. In many of his books including this one, Kozol explains why the old 'this is America so pick yourself up by the bootstraps and work your way out of poverty' is our way of blaming the victim or rationalizing the failures of both the individual and society.Yes, there are some extreme examples, but they are nonetheless real.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2003

    Eye opening but biased...

    Kozol is definately given props for the shock factor in this book... His research and publication of this book show some extreme cases of educational inequality. I'm sure we all agree that inequality is bad, but Kozol goes one step too far by placing blame on the evil white middle class society. A student from Morris High [page 104] shows the reader exactly where most of the blame should lie, and its not with the white middle class who have struggled for generations to get where they are. Upward social mobility does not happen overnight - it takes HARD work - and if some people are not up to that challenge, then their situation is their problem, not the problem of the white middle class...

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2003

    Should spark national debate

    I was assigned this book in a class 2 years ago and have used it for 3 other classes since. NH has similar problems as inner city/suburban areas that he talks about, and this prompted me to write to our state government and try and get some changes enacted. Such a moving book - you laugh, you cry, you gett utterly p***ed off, and your life is changed forever.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2002

    Educacion Publica en "Avanzada" Nacion

    Es sumamente increible percibir el hecho que la educacion publica en Estados Unidos sea tan desigual y perversa a pesar que la garantia al derecho de la educacion no sea un privilegio sino un derecho especialmente a los mas pobres de nuestra "avanzada" nacion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2002


    I am a product of a system that has treated students unfairly. I have reached a point in my life where now it is time to give to those students that are still living this type of life. I have read this book 2 or 3 times and have still found more and more information that has pushed me to succeed in making my goals real. I want to help those that are still apart of a system that's unfairly managed. If you haven't read this book READ IT. SAVAGE TRUTH. PEACE

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2002

    Should Savage Inequalites = Reality for Our Youth?

    The reality of Kozol's book, Savage Inequalities, may be scary for some to contemplate. This book is wonderful in that it makes people, from all socio-economic backgrounds, recognize that we compromise our children's education each day. Then we ask why 'those people' are like that. Well, I think this book makes everyone stop and realize the answer to that question. This book should be a requirement for graduating high school, ANYWHERE!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2001

    Savage...or completely barbaric??

    Educated in a prosperous suburb in the 1980s and early 1990s and currently student teaching in an inner-city school district, I have seen the reality of Jonathan Kozol's research, although not to the degree that Kozol reports. Should the wealthiest nation in the world have schools with inadequate numbers of out-of-date textbooks, crumbling chalkboards, and lavatories without toilet paper? Are these savage inequalities or utterly barbaric ones? Congratulations to Jonathan Kozol, a modern-day muckraker in the great traditions of those such as Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair, for opening the eyes of the American public to the inequalities inherent in education. This text is a must-read for ANYONE connected with education-parents, teachers, and administrators of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2001


    This book reveals the inequalities which exist in the inner-city school system in America. Some of you might think this is not a novel issue, but the truth is, I doubt most people comprehend the extent of the problem. i.e. places such as East St. Louis which does not have regular garbage collection I recommend that all you have to do is read the 1st chapter -- on East Saint Louis. The story is compelling. Some people go so far as to say it has changed their lives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2000


    I am an Education major at Macon State College in Georgia. I read this book for a class. This is a very compelling and thought provoking book. This book shows you all the problems that our children in America encounter just to get an education, an education that some take for granted. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to be a teacher. You never know where you will be teaching!!!--Maybe in one of the schools in this book?!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2000

    A book for everyone

    This is the second Kozol book I have read, along with Death at an Early Age, and both of them have been extemely eye-opening. He is an excellent writer who writes honestly and fluidly. He is the John Hersey of our age. This is an excellent book, especially for those who would not at first want to hear about how priviledge robs the underclass of vital needs. I really think you should read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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