Dear Professor Jonathan Kozol,
I have read your work and it moved me. Your blatant and harsh criticisms of the American education system were both eye-opening and heart wrenching. When you published “Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope” you brought the reader into the classroom, into Mott Haven- you allowed us to feel the emotions of both you and the children through your passionate and persistence for changing the education system.
Five years after writing “Ordinary Resurrections,” you published “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.” These two books both strongly highlight the injustices and problems in todays education system. Although “Ordinary Resurrections” is a slightly more optimistic account of the children from the impoverished area of Mott Haven in the Bronx, whereas the two books you wrote prior also were set in Mott Haven but had a much heavier tone, what made you write “The Shame of the Nation” only five years after “Ordinary Resurrections”? The tone of “Shame of the Nation” is much different from “Ordinary Resurrections and I was curious if you witnessed something happen during that time to change your point of view so harshly?
In “Shame of the Nation,” you write that you “… realized how sweeping this change has been throughout the nation, and how reluctant the media is to speak of it.” Newspapers you say “… refuse to see what is in their own front yard … in a description of a 98 percent black and Latino school, the newspaper won’t say what would seem to be the most obvious starting point: This is a deeply segregated school. They won’t use the word ‘segregated.'” You continue in this book to challenge the funding allocation by the government toward public schooling, and you compare schools only miles apart that are located in different towns, so they receive different amounts of government funding for their public education system. This book is without a doubt a harsh outlook on the American school system as well as a well-deserved attack on the inequality present in today’s education system.
While “Shame of the Nation” was a broader look at today’s education system, “Ordinary Resurrections” was an in-depth look at the children who went to school in Mott Haven in the South Bronx. What made you focus on these students in particular? It was heartbreaking to hear of the AIDS issue that plagued the area, as well as the stories of children who could only see their parents when they visited them in prison. I could not imagine the life these children had to live, but I was able to through your writing.
It is apparent that you are passionate about what you do, the people you teach, and the country you teach in- what fueled that passion? As a Harvard student who graduated summa cum laude, I doubt you experienced severe inequalities during your own education. Was there something that you saw when you were a child or a even a young adult that lead you to the South Bronx?
Before reading your book “Ordinary Resurrections,” I wasn’t blind to the inequalities apparent in our society. I consider myself to be a bit of a social activist, but never in my wildest dreams could I imagine the racial inequality in this day and age.
At the same time, your ability to really go in-depth when talking about the students was a really moving part of the book. This aspect gave it an almost eerie whimsical effect because it seemed that despite the disparaging conditions around them, you seem to have found that children are just children at heart- regardless of how much money they have, where they live or where they go to school.
Although at some point, a poor education will undoubtedly catch up with them, it was touching to see that most of the children did not see the same thing you saw when they looked at their school. Where you saw separation, poor funding allocation and racial inequality, these children saw friends, classmates, and teachers who cared about them. This is what made your book so engaging- the gut-wrenching look at the poor education system in the country, but also the naivety children that allows them to just see the good.
Have you ever taught at a school on the other end of the spectrum so as to draw a basis of comparison? After reading your book I was intrigued by the entire subject, and as an activist myself, it made me want to then go to a school in one of the richer parts of the country and do a comparison between what you saw in the South Bronx and what I saw in let’s say, Beverly Hills, California.
I also wondered if you received slack for writing these books? As an educator yourself, did people from the education system come out in defence of America’s schooling system after you published your books or did they keep silent? I know you are an award-winning author, so I know your books have reached and I’m sure touched, millions, but I was curious what kind of harsh criticism you may have received for writing such passionate and eye-opening books.
Regardless of whether most people hated or loved it, you wrote the truth, and I want to thank you for that. Your writing is courageous and moving and I enjoy reading your books. Although it is sad that some of the things you write about are the realities of today’s society, we can not fix a problem nobody knows about.