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 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.
At this moment when millions of our children remain secluded in their homes and consigned for now to learning by remote, Jonathan believes we ought to seize the opportunity to reimagine education, not as a long unhappy journey through days and years of state-ordained, gratuitous anxiety, but as a gift of tenderness and mercy to every child in this deeply troubled nation. As our schools gradually, and fitfully, reopen, thousands of young and feisty and devoted teachers who write to Jonathan repeatedly are asking how much they can do, and if it’s in their power, to bring about a healing transformation in the tone and moral ethos of their classrooms. His new forthcoming book will be his answer.