Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools

Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools

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by Jonathan Kozol

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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

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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.

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

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
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1st ed

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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Meet the Author

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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