Just in time for the new school year, a furious assault on separate-but-unequal education.
If you want to see a segregated school, reports National Book Award–winning author Kozol (Amazing Grace, 1995, etc.), then “start by looking for a school that’s named for Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks.” Whereas affluent parents are given to putting their children into preschools at the age of two or three, most children in poor urban neighborhoods have no such experience; the principal of one of the poor schools on which Kozol focuses estimates that fewer than five percent of its students has had the two years of pre-kindergarten instruction that are the norm among the well-to-do. The inequalities continue: Throughout a poor child’s school career, fewer amenities are available, whether desks or books or heaters or computers. And, Kozol maintains, things are getting worse, yielding a de facto system of educational apartheid across the country, markedly in minority-heavy venues such as Los Angeles and New York, but visibly everywhere, there are poor people. Just as bad, poor schools are increasingly regimented along pseudo-military lines, Kozol notes, with silent lunches and silent recesses to punctuate long periods of “active listening,” meaning silence; bright children who in better circumstances would be college-bound are shunted off into unchallenging vo-tech courses such as sewing and auto shop, whereas the kids at Beverly Hills High get to take electives in computer graphics, broadcast journalism and sculpture. No wonder poor children graduate in such small numbers: Of 1,275 ninth-graders in one school, Kozol reports, only 400 were enrolled in the 12th grade three years later, and of these, “not quite 15 percent . . . met the requirements for graduation in June of their senior year.”
Kozol sounds the alarm—and the news is alarming—but offers fewer solutions than does Chris Whittle in Crash Course (reviewed below).