Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools. New York, Harper Collins, 1991. 262 pp. In this detailed and shocking book, Jonathan Kozol describes the horrific and unjust conditions in which many children in today’s society are forced to get their education. Kozol discusses three major reasons for the discrepancies in America’s schools today: disparities of property taxes, racism, and the conflict between state and local control.
The first of these reasons is that of the differences of available property tax revenues. Kozol discusses the inconsistencies in property tax revenues and the problem that the poorer districts aren’t getting the same opportunities for education as the more affluent neighborhoods. He says the reason for this is that the poorer districts don’t receive as much money as the affluent districts because their property isn’t worth as much, therefore they get less money in return. Therefore, if they demand more money for the school systems, they end up taxing themselves more money. Kozol uses shocking statistics to get the reader’s attention. For instance, a classroom in Chicago “received approximately $90,000 less each year than would have been spent on them if they were pupils of a school such as New Trier High” (54).
Kozol also discusses a solution for this problem, the Foundation Program, which is meant to set a standard of basic or minimum education for the less fortunate neighborhoods. Although this program seems to work on the surface, it makes a bigger gap between the rich and poor districts. Using descriptive details and scenarios, he informs the reader of the awful conditions these children attend school in. For example, he tells about a conversation with a little boy whose sister was raped and murdered, but the child cannot recall if this took place last week or last year.
These children suffer many health problems, including Pilcher 2terrible pain in their teeth from bad dental health. They are also subjected to dreadful amounts of sewage in their schools and in their backyards, contaminating the water and the soil. Kozol then describes the more affluent schools and the wonderful opportunities they are given. He contrasts the poor and rich schools to show the reader just how terrible these conditions are.
He attempts to make the reader angry and succeeds many times.One other way by which he attempts to irritate the reader is to bring up another very sensitive issue: racism. Kozol states throughout the book, but specifically in chapter three, that there is this idea that poor children (typically black and Hispanic) are poor investments. The statistics he gives in the book are very startling, stating how in one school the classrooms are racially segregated. In one classroom there are all white students, maybe one or two black or Asian children. In another classroom, the “special” class, all the children are black, with maybe one white child.
Kozol does not understand how one could look at this situation and deny that this is racism. Kozol says that, according to a study done by the State Commissioner of Education, “as many as three out of four blacks … fail to complete high school within the traditional four-year periods” (112). The dropout rates that Kozol presents to the reader are unimaginable and very heartbreaking. Other distressing issues Kozol argues are those of magnet schools and the business approach to education, which he discusses in chapter two. In Kozol’s opinion, magnet schools do nothing but separate the children more. He says that the poorer Pilcher 3children are not really given a chance to apply for these selective schools. Even if the information is given to the parents, many times they are not properly educated to do anything about fulfilling the necessary requirements to get their children into the special schools.
He also disagrees with the business approach to education, stating that one cannot set limits on a child because the child will never strive to go beyond that limit or expectation. He claims that this attitude and way of thinking will just reiterate mediocrity instead of introducing excellency. In chapters four and five, Kozol explains that part of the reason this ongoing cycle has not been broken is the constant battle over state and local control. There are many issues in the public education system that are handled, or perhaps in some cases mishandled (according to Kozol), by the law. One of these issues includes that of state vs.
local control. Kozol discusses, in detail, a class-action lawsuit where the court ruled in favor of the parents, saying that all education matters should be handled by the state. Another issue addressed by Kozol is his concern that after certain court cases and rulings –Plessy vs. Ferguon (1876), Brown vs.
Board of Education (1954), and, most recently, Miliken vs. Bradley (1975) –we’re worse off than over 100 years ago. The Plessy case introduced the notion of “separate but equal”, which segregated black and white children, but gave the impression that the opportunities and education were still “equal” although the children were segregated. The Brown case was a reversal of the Plessy case, stopping segregation in our schools, making it so black and white children went to school together.
Yet, according to Kozol, we are now living in a separate and unequal society, especially Pilcher 4in our school systems. Kozol attempts to anger the reader and get the reader to think about how free and equal America really is. Kozol does an outstanding job in making the reader angry and feeling sympathetic to these children. Although he sometimes gets too repetitive, he is trying to make the reader understand how important equal opportunities in education are.
He also talks too much about less important issues. For example, he focuses too much on the deficiency of football uniforms and locker rooms, and describes the lack of computers and the like. What is important is that these children learn—sports and computers are nice to have, but are not essential in the learning process. Also, Kozol, in his racism argument, forgets that there is a chance the inequalities in education might not be so much racial segregation, but affluence segregation. True, a large percentage of the poor districts are black and Hispanic, but this is due to society itself, not necessarily the school systems.
Kozol sometimes seems to be reaching for an argument just for the sake of having one.On the other hand, a large portion of what Kozol says is well supported and highly effective. He is a very passionate writer and does a wonderful job of stating the facts, not just his side of the story. He uses conversations with the children and teachers to get the reader’s attention and make the reader understand that these are real people these things are happening to, not just numbers.
Kozol is a very persuasive writer, with brilliant ideas and down-to-earth opinions. He doesn’t want his readers to be hateful towards the public school systems; he wants us to know the truth. Lyndsay Pilcher—1, 171Education Essays