PRISONERS OF SILENCE: Breaking the Bonds of Adult Illiteracy in the United States by Jonathan Kozol

PRISONERS OF SILENCE: Breaking the Bonds of Adult Illiteracy in the United States

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A brief, sketchy, shaky proposal for a ""national literacy struggle"" inspired by--if not precisely modeled after--the 1961 Cuban campaign against adult illiteracy, which Kozol celebrated in Children of the Revolution (1978). What indeed does distinguish Kozol's plan from other domestic schemes is its dual, explicitly political aim--not only to teach adults to read, but to ""awaken [their] consciousness. . . to the unjust social order."" Hence no arbitrary definition of literacy, no ""mechanistic competence""--like the ability to read instructions--will do as a goal; but in this regard, as in others, Kozol is deliberately vague: ""I am convinced that there is a great deal more variety than uniformity of needs among the hundreds of thousands of illiterate communities in the United States."" He would, as in Cuba, enlist the young (15-25) as teachers; he would not, however, abjure aid (in raising funds, in organizing) from the business and professional elite--nor would he ""romanticize community initiative"" and thus hamstring the teaching force. And in this most harmonious, least manipulative of worlds, he even foresees a place for a National Literacy Commission--to sponsor small pilot programs, create a favorable climate of opinion, etc. But beyond Kozol's initial projection of the need, and his evocation of the agonies and deceptions of the illiterate, all of this devolves upon radical sloganeening--and with a questionable bias toward directed instruction.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1980
Publisher: Seabury