Author’s Take on Schools Echoes U.S. Past

By Jessica Browne

The Civil Rights’ Movement of the 1950s and 1960s brought about the end of legal racial segregation in the South. Yet some advocates argue that the American education system is doing no favors to poor African American children today, especially those in inner city areas like the South Bronx.

“It’s perfected apartheid,” author Jonathan Kozol said to an audience Tuesday in Giffels Auditorium.

Author Jonathan Kozol, speaking in Giffels Auditorium Tuesday, criticized U.S. public schools. (Photo by Jessica Browne/LEMKE NEWSROOM)

Jonathan Kozol, an education advocate and best-selling author, has spent the last 35 years documenting the state of education in inner city areas, fighting for children’s rights and for change in public schools.

“Jonathan Kozol reminds us that the civil rights movement is not over and that our nation is more segregated today than it was before the civil rights movement of the 1960’s,” said Paul Hewitt, an assistant professor in the UA College of Education and Health Professions.

With the publicity that surrounded the integration of the Little Rock Central High School, Hewitt said the lecture was important of students to remember the past.

“Given the role of Arkansas in struggle for racial equality it is important that University of Arkansas students never forget where we were, where we are today, and how far we still need to go,” Hewitt said. “The movement for true equality of opportunity, fairness, and justice must be a constant concern for everyone.”

Kozol spent time teaching in the South Bronx, which he identified as the “poorest congressional district in the United States.” Even outside of the education system, the Bronx presents many difficulties to children. “It has one the highest rates of stress-related pediatric asthma,” Kozol said.

One of Kozol’s books, Savage Inequalities, details the problems that children in poor school districts have to deal with, as opposed to school children in richer neighborhoods. Kozol suggested that if educators truly believe that the education system is equal the solution to this problem would be to allow volunteers in Teach for America to go to wealthy suburbs and send the best teachers from well-off schools to teach poor children in inner city areas.

Kozol, however, does not blame poor education on teachers or principals but only on the education system.

“Even though I consistently criticize public schools, I never bash teachers,” Kozol said. “I don’t blame the sins of humanity on teachers.”

Kozol told the Giffels audience the story of a girl nicknamed Pineapple. He met when she was in kindergarten. Pineapple was a student who struggled with writing and would write letters backward. Kozol spent time with her through her elementary school years. Pineapple’s picture was featured on the cover of Kozol’s book Ordinary Resurrections.

Through his book, Pineapple’s family was moved to a better area and Pineapple was able to get a better schooling.

“She’s an exception,” Kozol said, not everyone gets the same opportunities.

Kozol talked about the documentary Waiting for “Superman” and charter school lottery systems. “Boutique” charter schools add to the instability of the system, Kozol said, and are just “acts of charity.”

“Charity is not a substitute for justice,” Kozol said.

Kozol’s solution to the problem of resegregated and unequal education is to attack it head on.

“The way to deal with an evil is not to do circles around it but to cut it out,” Kozol said.

Kozol spoke Tuesday as part of the Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecture Series.

“Jonathon Kozol is an icon in the movement for social justice and it was a real honor to have him speak at the University of Arkansas,” Hewitt said. “His life-long struggle for fairness and equity for black children should be an inspiration for all of us.”