Back to school with America’s most inspiring education advocate.
National Book Award–winner Kozol (The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, 2005, etc.) assumes the role of avuncular mentor in this winsome yet passionate collection of letters to Francesca, a brand-new teacher in inner-city Boston. The epistolary format, though somewhat disjointed, allows Kozol to range widely as he recalls his own first days of teaching and offers vignettes about the children he’s known over the years. He knocks education degrees and vouchers, assesses the fad of breaking up large high schools into “mini-schools” and gives advice about how to work patiently with those kids who are determined to hate and disrespect their teachers. Each letter to Francesca is studded with insights. Today’s obsession with tests and “proficiency” comes in for some of Kozol’s saltiest castigations, as do the teachers who bow before them. “Teachers have to find the will to counteract this madness,” he writes, because “abject capitulation to unconscionable dictates from incompetent or insecure superiors” will only teach children to likewise capitulate. Kozol also addresses the tricky relationships among teachers, principals and parents. Schools often blame parents for kids’ problems, but the schools themselves—from the demeanor of administrators to the imposing buildings themselves—subtly suggest parents are not welcome participants in their children’s education. Many themes from Kozol’s earlier books are reprised here, including his diehard defense of public education and his insistence that those public schools have become re-segregated. Indeed, he repeats approvingly Francesca’s comment that the word “diversity,” a favorite of education pundits, “has come to be a cover-up for situations to which it can’t possibly apply”—i.e., public schools with 3,000 students of whom six or seven are white. Solutions? More money and a large supply of clear-thinking, dedicated teachers like Francesca who can turn the system around.
Lacks the muckraking that characterizes much of Kozol’s oeuvre, but solid nonetheless.