At a time when the racial tensions that divide us have become the focus of urgent and renewed political attention and the glaring inequalities in public education continue to betray the spirit of democracy, Jonathan Kozol’s classic works have drawn him back into the public spotlight once again.
A Rhodes Scholar, former fourth grade teacher, and a passionate advocate for child-centered learning, Jonathan remains one of the most widely read and highly honored education writers in the nation. He continues to be an eloquent critic of the national obsession with standardized exams and a fearless critic of the corporate attempt to privatize our public schools.
His first book, Death at an Early Age, a description of his first year as a teacher, received the National Book Award in Science, Philosophy, and Religion. Among his other major works are Rachel and Her Children, a study of homeless mothers and their children, which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, and Savage Inequalities, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. His 1995 best-seller, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1996, an honor previously granted to the works of Langston Hughes and Dr. Martin Luther King.
Ten years later, in The Shame of the Nation, a description of conditions that he found in nearly 60 public schools, Jonathan wrote that inner-city children were more isolated racially than at any time since federal courts began dismantling the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. The Shame of the Nation appeared on The New York Times bestseller list the week that it was published.
In subsequent books, and in his recent lectures, he describes the sensitive and skillful ways that good, enlightened teachers resist the harsh and punitive mentality that stifles curiosity and substitutes the fear of failure the joy that ought to be a healthy part of learning. In his newest book, which is now nearing completion, Jonathan makes a final and compelling argument that children have a right to be protected from the robotic methods of instruction and frequently excessive and destructive forms of discipline that have been accepted, often without question or serious reflection, in all too many schools that serve the poorest children in the nation.
Jonathan believes that all our kids have limitless potential, but he does not believe that any school or district ought to load young children with gratuitous anxiety by telling them their value can be measured by a standardized exam.
To the tens of thousands of teachers and students and advocates for children who write to him when they need encouragement, Jonathan wants to make it clear that he does not intend to give up the struggle for equality and justice. He continues to visit children in their classrooms and to defend the dignity of hard-working and devoted teachers. He’s been doing that for more than 50 years. He isn’t stopping now.