Sunday, February 3, 2008

#9: Shame of the Nation

Book: Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol
Pages: 332
Entertainment Rating: 1/5
Snooty Rating: 3.5/5
Total Rating: 4.5/10
Books Read Total: 9/50
Pages Read Total: 2410/15,000

From Publishers Weekly:
"Public school resegregation is a "national horror hidden in plain view," writes former educator turned public education activist Kozol (Savage Inequalities, Amazing Grace). Kozol visited 60 schools in 11 states over a five-year period and finds, despite the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, many schools serving black and Hispanic children are spiraling backward to the pre-Brown era. These schools lack the basics: clean classrooms, hallways and restrooms; up-to-date books in good condition; and appropriate laboratory supplies. Teachers and administrators eschew creative coursework for rote learning to meet testing and accountability mandates, thereby "embracing a pedagogy of direct command and absolute control" usually found in "penal institutions and drug rehabilitation programs." As always, Kozol presents sharp and poignant portraits of the indignities vulnerable individuals endure. "You have all the things and we do not have all the things," one eight-year-old Bronx boy wrote the author. In another revealing exchange, a cynical high school student tells his classmate, a young woman with college ambitions who was forced into hair braiding and sewing classes, "You're ghetto-so you sew." Kozol discovers widespread acceptance for the notion that "schools in ghettoized communities must settle for a different set of academic and career goals" than schools serving middle-and upper-class children. Kozol tempers this gloom with hopeful interactions between energetic teachers and receptive children in schools where all is not lost. But these "treasured places" don't hide the fact, Kozol argues, that school segregation is still the rule for poor minorities, or that Kozol, and the like-minded politicians, educators and advocates he seeks out, believe a new civil rights movement will be necessary to eradicate it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. "

This is a complicated book. I've been struggling over the past few days to decide what I will write about it (both here and in the paper I'll have to write for class) and I still haven't decided. There is no denying that Kozol has devoted his adult life to fighting for the rights of inner city citizens, however I can't help but feel that his attitude towards the people he is writing about is condescending at best. His writing is completely inaccessible to anyone without some form of higher education, and even then it takes hours to wade through, by which time much of the inspiration and rage has dissipated to frustration. I don't see how this book will do much to help when his final call to action is to the teachers in these schools. They don't have time to read his book, as he's already proven page after page throughout this book. As a reader I was frustrated by the intensity of his use of statistics. There were some wonderful (and heart wrenching) chapters in this book about the schools, the teachers and the students, and those were the most effective chapters. Then there were pages and pages of straight up statistics, during which I had to fight to keep my focus because numbers are really just numbers. They lose their meaning quickly.

The content itself is something I've encountered before, and it never fails to break my heart. With each year that we fail to resolve this issue the problems deepen and become less reversible. There were definitely parts of this book that made me want to drop everything and devote my life to the children in these schools, while other parts brought the realization that Teach for America (a program I've wanted to participate in) may not be all the peace and love it seems to be. So long as we make these schools settle for uncertified youth as teachers we deny them the resources they need in the form of strong, seasoned educators. In the end I'm torn. Can I, from my position, help this cause? How can we activate the teachers? How can we educate the parents on how to demand what is best for their children? How can we show these students that they can have better, of they're willing to fight for it?

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