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.
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 for 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 robotic methods of instruction and destructive forms of discipline that have been accepted in all too many schools that serve our poorest kids of color.
In America’s apartheid schools, Jonathan writes, Black and Latinx children are not only denied the rich resources that we give in abundance to children of white privilege. They are also robbed of the right to know their racial history and to take courage and pride from the struggles that have led to moral victories throughout the years since slavery. As schools are now reopening in the wake of the pandemic, Jonathan believes that we should seize the opportunity to reimagine the aims of education as something more than “testable proficiencies” but as a cultural awakening that empowers children with critical discernment of an unjust status quo and with the will to batter down the racist walls that make us strangers to each other.