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Savage Inequalities Essays

Savage Inequalities By Jonathan Kozol Essay

In Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol describes the conditions of several of America's public schools. Kozol visited schools in neighborhoods and found that there was a wide disparity in the conditions between the schools in the poorest inner-city communities and schools in the wealthier suburban communities. How can there be such huge differences within the public school system of a country, which claims to provide equal opportunity for all? It becomes obvious to Kozol that many poor children begin their young lives with an education that is far inferior to that of the children who grow up in wealthier communities. Savage Inequalities provides strong evidence of the national oppression that is endemic in the American system. Focusing on the discrepancy in resources between schools that are predominantly Black or Latino (usually inner city) and schools that are predominantly white (usually suburban), Kozol provides case studies and statistics to show some kids are given every opportunity to succeed while others (oppressed nations) are set up to fail.
Conditions faced by children are a topic that should be an easy wins for Communists looking to explain to people the need for equality for all. It's hard to imagine someone thinking that a kid, born into circumstances out of his or her control, deserves to suffer poor housing, inadequate healthcare, and substandard education. While there are many who would argue adults "bring it on them," kids clearly have no control over where they are born.

But Kozol reports, with great surprise, that he found many white adults making overtly racist arguments about the potential of Black and Latino kids to justify the better funding of the schools in the white neighborhoods. Kozol recalls how these people would have been vilified during the social movements of the 60s, but when he was writing this book, in the early 1990s, these attitudes seemed commonplace. Even the youth in the wealthier schools had lots of excuses to explain why they deserved better schools than kids sometimes living within a few miles.

Kozol describes conditions the clearly violate the landmark court decision in “Brown vs. Board of Education” (No. 1, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, 347 U.S. 483; 74 S. Ct. 686; 98 L. Ed. 873; 1954 U.S. LEXIS 2094; 53 Ohio Op. 326; 38 A.L.R.2d 1180, December 9, 1952, Argued, May 17, 1954, Decided, Reargued December 8, 1953), which supposedly mandated the desegregation of schools in America. Towns close enough to easily integrate face almost total segregation with abysmal conditions in the Black and/or Latino schools and tremendously good resources in the white schools.
Although the statistics are more than 10 years out of date, the reality of America school segregation has not changed. The barely functional buildings,...

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In 1967, in DEATH AT AN EARLY AGE, Kozol accused the Boston public school system of miseducating black schoolchildren. In 1991, in SAVAGE INEQUALITIES, Kozol, having visited inner-city schools in East St. Louis, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey, finds black and Hispanic schoolchildren to be isolated from white schoolchildren and shortchanged educationally. Only by closing the gap between rich and poor school districts in the amount of tax money spent on education, Kozol contends, can we give poor minority children an equal chance. To show just how high are the barriers to learning arising from inadequate school funding, Kozol paints a bleak picture of severe overcrowding; dilapidated school buildings; a shortage of supplies and aids to learning; and teacher salaries too low to let a school either attract good teachers or do without substitute teachers. He repeatedly contrasts inner-city austerity with the bounty of suburban schools.

Kozol blames an unjust and uncaring society for inner-city children’s low levels of academic performance, high rates of dropping out of high school, classroom discipline problems, and low levels of college attendance or completion. Although the emphasis on societal guilt can be overdone, it has value: Learning about overcrowding in ghetto high schools makes the dropout phenomenon easier to understand.

Kozol’s perspective on the woes of inner-city schools is incomplete. Improving student performance requires not merely spending more tax money but also getting parents to take more interest in their children’s educational progress. Kozol, who concedes that equalization might alienate affluent parents, shows that spending more tax money might help poor schoolchildren; he offers no airtight case either for funding equalization as a panacea, or against such remedies as choice plans or magnet schools. Yet by letting readers hear the voices of studious, articulate inner-city teenagers, he combats stereotypes; by challenging comfortable assumptions, he contributes to public debate.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. October 13, 1991, XIV, p. 5.

The Christian Science Monitor. October 21, 1991, p. 13.

Library Journal. CXVI, September 15, 1991, p. 92.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 6, 1991, p. 2.

The Nation. CCLIII, November 18, 1991, p. 620.

National Catholic Reporter. November 22, 1991, p. 38.

The New Republic. CCV, December 16, 1991, p. 18.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, October 6, 1991, p. 7.

The New Yorker. LXVII, October 28, 1991, p. 119.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, August 16, 1991, p. 40.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, October 20, 1991, p. 3.

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