A Critical Analysis Of Jonathan Kozol’s Book Savage Inequalities: Children In America’s Schools
The new millennium brings many advances in our childrens learning. The introduction of technology and breakthrough teaching methods display a positive outlook for the educational system our children count on. Yet, this optimistic view is believed by many to be looked at through rose-colored glasses.
Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools looks at the ways the government, the society, and the educational system fail poor children, especially poor African-American children, in the United States. Kozol’s work, which examines six cities where he finds common problems, illustrates the key shortcomings that work against the education of the less fortunate.
Kozols major argument focuses on the notion that the United States government does not provide enough funding for the schooling of poor children; yet is generous with spending in districts where wealthier families reside. Therefore, the primary problem lies not with the childrens capabilities, but within the structure of the system, which has let them down.
This spending pattern is a fundamental part of public policy at all levels of government. Additionally, this financial inequality limits the rights of low-income children to obtain a solid education and limits their opportunities to become successful adults.
Three major points need to be illustrated in the analysis of Kozols work. First, it is important to express societies view of low income equals low performance, which translates into less obligation of the government to put forth a true effort to support education. Second, this analysis will show the low-income cities are not capable of surviving in the community with the support of the funds needed for a good education. This is further revealed through the political area that further perpetuates the problem. Third, this analysis will expose the separation of children in schools by income compounds the issue of segregation by forcing minority children to be surrounded by other low-income minority children, which creates a resentful, negative cycle.
The nation is caught in a brutal cycle of educational, racial and socioeconomic inequity. Kozol argues that the only solution to this problem is the increased role of the government in the financial support of the less fortunate children and the under funded schools they attend. The prosperous families will not voluntarily help the poor, who cannot assist themselves in this case. This solution will be a difficult one to achieve, since the trend in the country is to cut back on government spending in all areas. Another trend is to have private resources fill in the gaps left by government cutbacks. However, as Kozol points out, “Cutting back the role of government and then suggesting that the poor can turn to businessmen who lobbied for such cuts is cynical indeed” (Kozol 82).
Kozol’s outlook is gripping because it takes aim at both the mind and the heart of the reader. He appeals to intellect by using statistics, which show that the nation has a segregated, and imbalanced school system, in which the rich receive better educations and the poor, especially minorities, receive less of an education. For example, he compares poor and wealthy school districts in San Antonio. The poor district spends $2800 yearly on each child’s education, and “72 percent of children [in that district] read below grade level.” In the wealthy district, $4600 is spent yearly on each child. In that district, “virtually all students graduate and 88 percent of graduates go on to college” (Kozol 224).
He appeals to the heart by showing how this unjust school system is also an ethical and spiritual failure that will eat away at the soul of the nation. He also appeals to the heart of the reader by, as has been previously expressed, letting the children speak for themselves for the reason that the children are the victims of this system. One 14-year-old girl says, “We have a school in East St. Louis named for Dr. King. The school is full of sewer water and the doors are locked with chains. Every student in that school is black. It’s like terrible joke on history.” (Kozol 35).
Kozol is most effective because he shows his own fear and despair: “East St. Louis will likely be left just as it is for a good many years to come: a scar of sorts, an ugly metaphor of filth and overspill and chemical effusions, a place for blacks to live and die (Kozol 39)
Many skillful journalists are proficient at finding the heartfelt story inside all the rhetoric and confusion a large issue brings forth. This book exposes the foundations of the “savage inequalities” of the educational system. It is a clear and straightforward solution that the nation must spend more money on the poor and minorities in the schools if the nation is to remain great and to live up to its promises. Though this apparent solution is idealistic, Kozol wants to show how racial segregation and socioeconomic deprivation of the underprivileged are causes of the schools’ failures, a fact which he says most leaders fail to recognize. The effort to reform the schools has failed, he says, because they focus not on inequalities of money and race but on low reading scores, high dropout rates, poor motivation.” (Kozol 3), If the problem is in the students and not in the entire system, how can we explain the fact that lower test scores and higher drop-out rates are more prevalently found in poorer counties.
Kozol’s argument, then, is twofold. First, he argues simply that the nation does not spend enough money on the poor and minorities, especially African Americans in urban centers. The continuing segregation of whites and blacks is a major part of this political and economic failure. There is no connection from community to community within a state. Kozol speaks of a bridge that separated East St. Louis from a more affluent county. Kozol points out the police were shutting down a bridge in East St. Louis for a Fourth of July celebration due to muggings in the past. He also said, black leaders saw this as a suspiciously racist action. These actions showed the noticeable separation between social and economic classes living in a similar region.
Second, Kozol argues the notion to spend more money on the education of these students is presently a futile endeavor. Also, any reform, which does not include such added spending, will be a tragic failure. In all six cities, a ringing matter in each school comprises of missing and damaged textbooks, supplemental materials and normal building necessities such as clean classrooms and bathrooms needed to give the students a reasonable chance to be successful.
Kozol gives statistical data, which shows the more money spent on educating children; the more successful will be that education (Kozol 158). The school system, he demonstrates, is a system of separate and unequal education: “Behind the good statistics of the richest districts lies the triumph of a few. Behind the saddening statistics of the poorest cities lies the misery of many.” (Kozol 158).
Kozol points out both political and educational leaders understand that more money must be spent on the poor. However, the most powerful leaders who set policy fail to see the political and legal roots of the breakdown of the public schools for the underprivileged:
Government . . . forces us to go to [public schools]. Unless we have the wealth to pay for private education, we are compelled by law to go to . . . the public school in our district. Thus the state, by requiring attendance but refusing to require equity, effectively requires inequality. Compulsory inequity, perpetuated by state law, too frequently condemns our children to unequal lives (Kozol 56).
In other words, unfortunate children have no choice but to go to the under funded school in their district. As a consequence of continuing social segregation, schools are still separated, both by race and by income. Many of the deprived are minorities who live in the same area and go to the same schools. The affluent families go to public schools, but their schools are more heavily funded because their districts have greater income from the wealthy people who live in those districts. The result is a school system, which is not only segregated by race but also by expenditure. The differences in spending result create differences in success in public school education, in college education, and in socioeconomic success in the world following education.
We have focused on the three major strengths of the book. Those include the author’s in-depth research, his passionate, personal involvement in the lives of the people he studies, his clear focus on the problems in the school system, and the conclusions he draws with respect to what is needed to right the wrongs of the system. Furthermore, Kozol does not merely show how the schools themselves fail these children, but also shows how the political system fails them, and how the terrible social and economic conditions of their lives also prevents them from receiving the education which they need and deserve. Kozol is successful showing that a school is an expression of the spirit of the nation. If the nation’s social and political leaders fall short of providing the means to educate these children, the nation suffers not only socially and economically, but also morally and spiritually. The nation, which lets down its poorest children, is an unjust nation.
Although Kozols work is thoroughly researched and documented, the strongest part of the book is his decision to let the children articulate their point of view. Kozol does not present his views in a confrontation manner that express a desire to win an argument on theory. More accurately, Kozol keeps in mind the fact that these are very real children who suffer because the nation has unjustly regarded them as second-class citizens because of their race and their socioeconomic status, or lack thereof. As its written, “I decided . . . to listen very carefully to children and . . . to let their voices and their judgments and their longings find a place within this book (Kozol 6).
Kozol’s premise is that the failure to properly educate underprivileged minorities in this country is both political and financial. In addition though, it is also a spiritual and moral failure of our nations citizens. The heart and soul of the nation is its youth. If you fail to give these children everything they need to succeed in life, you plainly undermine that national heart and soul.
The failure of the schools is a sign of the failure of the government, society, and the nation as a whole. When the United States denies these children a good education, it shows it is a nation that has lost its morality.
Surely there is enough for everyone within this country. It is a tragedy that these good things are not more widely shared. All our children ought to be allowed a stake in the enormous richness of America. 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. We soil them needlessly (Kozol 233).
Therefore, Kozol articulates the failure of the educational system is a form of political, racial and socioeconomic abuse of these children.
The breakdown of the public school system is a moral and spiritual failure. It fails to meet the requirements of the disadvantaged children. However, he concludes that all the spiritual and ethical pleas in the world will not make one bit of difference unless they are accompanied by more spending on the education of these children. Whether one likes it or not, this means that the government must increase spending for that education, or it will not be improved.
Kozol makes an emotional appeal for the government to act in the cases of these six cities as well as other cities in destitution or despair. However, one of the greatest arguments against the legitimate demand for more financial assistance to these cities is the review of your weekly paycheck. When more than a fourth of the income the citizens earn is going to the government, the feelings of the public are sympathetic but not monetarily reactionary. Kozols writings are fascinating, effectual and most of all, uplifting. The ideology of Kozols approach purely becomes interesting reading but ineffective policy.
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