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In Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol documents the devastating inequalities in American schools, focusing on public education’s “savage inequalities” between affluent districts and poor districts. From 1988 till 1990, Kozol visited schools in over thirty neighborhoods, including East St. Louis, the Bronx, Chicago, Harlem, Jersey City, and San Antonio. Kozol describes horrifying conditions in these schools. He spends a chapter on each area, and provides a description of the city and a historical basis for the impoverished state of its school. These schools, usually in high crime areas, lack the most basic needs. Kozol creates a scene of rooms without heat, few supplies or text, labs with no equipment, sewer backups, and toxic fumes. Schools from New York to California where not only are books rationed, but also toilet paper and crayons. Many school buildings turn into swamps when it rains and must be closed because sewage often backs up into kitchens and cafeterias.
Kozol’s descriptions of the schools help to instill the feeling of hopelessness and destitution that the children in these areas not only feel in their education but in their everyday lives as well. By describing the deteriorating conditions of the schools in the selected areas against those in the more affluent districts, he implies that money is the short-term fix to the problem. Money may fix the roof or the walls but more then just money needs to be put into these schools. Kozol writes with the intention to shock his readers with graphic details, and push them towards change.
Kozol describes the enormous differences between poor schools, and affluent schools, usually located just minutes apart. When speaking of a North Lawndale kindergarten class of twenty three, he states that in twelve years fourteen will have dropped out of school, only four will go to college, and three of the twelve boys will have spent time in prison. A school in the South Bronx is set in a windowless skating rink next to a mortuary with class size up to thirty-five. The school contains a library of only seven hundred books and no playground. This school is ninety- percent black and Hispanic. Only a few minutes north of that school Kozol visits another school in a more affluent part of the Bronx with an overwhelmingly white and Asian population. Flowering trees, two playing fields, and a playground surround this public school. The school has a planetarium and a library with over eight thousand books. Kozol comments that, “nearly forty years after Brown vs. the Board of Education many of are schools are still separate but no longer even remotely equal.”
Kozol’s main argument is that public education should be free and equal to people of all economic classes. Kozol believes that children from poor families are cheated out of a future by unequipped, understaffed and under funded schools in the United State’s inner cities and less affluent suburbs. The majority of these children are non-white, and living amongst poverty and crime. Kozol argues about the unfair standards we expect these underprivileged children to rise to. Children in these poor areas are being compared to children in affluent areas where the quality of their education is much higher. Kozol asks how these children will succeed in today’s world if they are not given the same opportunities as affluent schools give their children. Kozol believes that by depriving our poorer children of their basic needs we are forcing them into lives of crime, poverty and a never-ending cycle of inequalities in education. Kozol stresses that these students must be taught that “savage inequalities” do not have to exist between them and students in more affluent schools, and that all children are entitled to an equal education.
I had many different reactions to this book. At first, I was horrified and shocked to learn about the conditions of these poor schools. Growing up in an affluent suburb and attending private schools, I took my education for granted. While reading the book my reaction changed to anger. I cannot believe that in this day and age, children have to attend schools in these conditions. It disgusts me to imagine schools with toxic fumes, and holes in the ceilings, when we complain about unimportant things like a bookstore not being large enough. It
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Education reform, Jonathan Kozol, School segregation in the United States, Savage Inequalities, The Shame of the Nation, East St. Louis, Illinois, Education in the United States, South Bronx
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