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Kozol, Jonathan. (2005). The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. New York: Crown Publishers.

416 pp.
$25   ISBN 1400052440

Reviewed by Ramin Farahmandpur
Portland State University

February 15, 2006

For another review of this book, see
the review by Nathalis G. Wamba

For over forty years, Jonathan Kozol has been one of the leading advocates of school desegregation in the United States. He is one of the most widely recognized educators and critics of the disparities in funding of public education. His long list of books including, Savage Inequalities (1991), Amazing Grace (1996) andExtraordinary Resurrections (2001), have depicted the debilitating and inhumane conditions under which children are educated in public schools. Kozol has painstakingly documented these conditions by visiting classrooms in public schools across the United States, and interviewing schoolchildren, teachers, parents, school principals, politicians, and community members. Such extraordinary commitment and unselfish dedication to children—one of the most vulnerable groups of our society—is rare indeed. Faced with the increasing corporate influence in shaping school curriculum, Kozol’s work takes on an even greater importance.

The Civil Rights struggles and the growing anti-war movements on college and university campuses across the nation of the 1960s shaped Kozol’s social and political consciousness. Influenced by these social and political upheavals, Kozol decided to work with schoolchildren in segregated schools. He began his teaching career as a fourth grade teacher in Boston, and taught and worked for ten years in various capacities including as a community activist, working with grassroots movements to improve the conditions under which children of color attended public schools.

Kozol’s latest book, The Shame of the Nation: The restoration of apartheid schooling in America, is a forceful and passionate indictment of the blatant inequities in public schools that continues to plague a nation even today. The questions that Kozol poses in his book highlights the paradoxes and contradictions that persist between public education and democratic values and principles we uphold as a nation. In the documentary Children in America’s Schools (1995), hosted by Bill Moyers, these paradoxes and contradictions unfold. Inspired and based in part on Kozol’s Savage Inequalities (1991), the documentary examines how local property taxes contribute to the unequal funding of public schools in poor and wealthy communities. In the documentary, Kozol points out that more than $100 billion is needed to fix the infrastructure of public schools in America.

But since the publication of Kozol’s classic book Savage Inequalities (1991), which exposed the unequal funding of American public schools, no serious measures has been taken to improve the infrastructure of public schools, in particular those in urban communities. In California, for example, more than 47,000 uncertified teachers are teaching in its public schools, and within the next ten years, there will be a demand for 300,000 new teachers. Maryland is also facing similar challenges. Nearly 6 percent of its teaching force lack full certification. In Baltimore, the problem is even far grimmer: over one-third of the school district’s teachers do not hold full teaching credentials. The probability that students will end up in classes with uncertified teachers is much higher for working-class and minority students. Because of this growing trend, in 1998 a record 47 percent of all entering freshmen to the California State University system were required to take remedial English and 54 percent enrolled in remedial math classes. In Chicago, classrooms with as many as fifty-four students are common. At Winton Place Elementary in Ohio, teachers spend anywhere from $500 to $1,500 of their own money every academic year to purchase classroom supplies and material such as scissors and glue (Fattah 2002).

Today, after decades of persistent struggles waged against school segregation by educators and Civil Rights activists, social and economic policies have contributed to the growing disturbing trend in school segregation. Since the 1960s, with the shifting population of white middle class families moving from urban to suburban communities, which some sociologists have referred to as the “white flight,” the number of white students in urban public schools has dramatically declined. According to Kozol, today the overwhelming majority of schoolchildren in public schools in large metropolitan areas of the United States are students of color. In Chicago, for example, 87 percent of students who attend public schools are either black or Hispanic. In Washington, that figure is 94 percent. It is even higher in Detroit public schools: an astounding 95 percent. In the New York and Los Angeles public schools system, it stands at 75 percent and 84 percent respectively. Kozol draws attention to these figures to argue that, “racial isolation and the concentration of poverty of children in public schools go hand in hand” (p. 20). One of the major consequences of the white flight has been the decline in funding public schools in urban communities through local property taxes.

Kozol writes that in public schools the discourse in educational policy has shifted from “equality” to “adequacy.” The language of ‘higher standards’ and ‘higher expectations’ has replaced ethical and moral standards that were once an important part of the school curriculum. Kozol criticizes the frameworks used to identify the causes of the underachievement of students of color. Most schools now employ what Kozol refers to as “auto-hypnotic slogans” as part of the daily rituals and practices designed to boost student moral. In the so-called under-performing schools, students are encouraged to repeat and memorize phrases like “I can, “ I am smart,” and “I am confident” to raise their level of self-confidence and to improve their academic performance. Kozol believes we need to do more than merely study the ‘psychological effects’ of poverty and oppression on children to find solutions to the social problem they face.

The disparities in funding public education for schoolchildren in wealthy and poor communities are disconcerting. Kozol reports that while some public schools in poor neighborhoods spend $8,000, other public schools in the suburbs and wealthy neighborhoods spend between $12,000 and $18,000. The salaries of teachers in poor and wealthy school districts follow a similar pattern. While the average salary of schoolteachers in poor communities is $43,000, the salary of teachers in suburbs like Rye, Manhurst and Scarsdale in New York can range from $74,000 to $81,000. Another contributing factor to the disparities among public schools in poor and wealthy communities is fund-raising activities schools organize to raise money to purchase school supplies and materials. The differences are quite disheartening. Compared to schools in wealthy neighborhoods that have been able to raise up to $200,000, schools in poor districts have only been able to raise $4,000.

According to Kozol, urban schools increasingly resemble factory production lines. He notes that “raising test scores,” “social promotion,” “outcome-based objectives,” “time management,” “success for all,” “authentic writing,” “accountable talk,” “active listening” and “zero noise,” all constitute part of the current dominant discourse in public schools. Kozol observes that many urban public schools have adopted business and market “work related themes” and managerial concepts that have become part of the vocabulary used in classroom lessons and instruction. In the “market drive classrooms,” students “negotiate,” “sign contracts,” and take “ownership” of their learning. In many classrooms, students can volunteer as the “pencil manager,” “soap manager,” “door manager,” “line manager,” “time managers” and “coat room manager.” In some fourth grade classrooms, teachers record student assignments and homework using “earning charts.” In these schools, teachers are referred to as “classroom managers,” principals are identified as “building managers,” and students are viewed as “learning managers.” It is commonplace to view schoolchildren as “assets,” “investment,” “productive units” or “team players.” Schools identify skills and knowledge students learn and acquire as “commodities” and “products” to be consumed in the ‘educational marketplace.’

Kozol argues that teachers are treated as “efficiency technicians” who are encouraged to use “strict Skinnerian controls” to manage and teach students in their classroom. Kozol’s moral and ethical vision of education goes beyond the market-driven model of education in which teachers are treated as “floor managers” in public schools, “whose job it is to pump some ‘added-value’ into undervalued children”(p. 285). Kozol raises a number of important questions including: why does society place a value on the worth of children depending on whether they are rich or poor?

In some schools, Kozol writes, standardized testing begins in the kindergarten. Many schools have cut back or entirely removed art and music classes from their school curriculum. Other schools have reduced or altogether eliminated recess or naptime. My experience teaching in an urban middle school in Los Angeles confirms many of the observations Kozol documents in his book. Last year, I decided to return to teach sixth grade in a middle school in Los Angeles where I had begun my teaching career back in the early 1990s. I too was surprised to find the removal of many art and music programs from the school curriculum. Some Title I schools even have a testing coordinator. During homeroom, testing coordinators encourage teachers to spend time teaching students test taking skills and strategies.

The ‘test-craze’ is a growing epidemic in many large metropolitan public school districts. The Los Angeles Unified School Districts, for example, has developed its own quarterly assessment tests in Math, Science, Social Studies and English. The district tests students every two months. We are told that the purpose of these district assessment tests is to prepare students for the state standardized tests in late spring. Most of the faculty and department meeting time is devoted to sharing and discussing the use of effective strategies and methods to prepare students for quarterly assessment tests or reviewing state and districts standards. Teachers are also encouraged to attend workshops and conferences to learn more on how to align their teaching practices to the state standards.

One of the obstacles in making schools more democratic and equitable is the academic tracking of students. In many of the urban schools Kozol visited, including Fremont High School in Los Angeles, students were tracked into vocational programs and classes that teach life skills or offer basic training that prepares students for jobs in the retail and service industry. More demoralizing is school counselors who place high school female students in sewing and cosmetology classes. These classes do little for students who must compete with AP and college tracked students. Some schools, including the middle school in which I taught, offered students “service classes” as an elective in which their primary responsibility was to assist teachers in handing out and collecting student papers.

Although studies have shown a disturbing trend toward growing school segregation over the last two decades, some school districts have participated in successful school integration programs. In Milwaukee, for example, twenty-two school districts are part of a student transfer program that promotes school integration. More than 2,400 students who participate in this program attend schools in the suburban areas. In St. Louis, a similar program exists in which 10,000 schoolchildren study in suburban schools while 500 students from the suburbs attend schools in St. Louis. Louisville which involves 9,000 students is yet another example of successful school integration program. Finally, in Boston more than 3,300 students are participating in a school integration program called METCO.

In the climate of standardized testing and accountability, the most pressing question is, what social standards do we use to measure the effects of poverty, hunger and emotional and physical abuse on the academic achievement and performance of children. Kozol’s book is a grim and bitter reminder that the crisis public schools face today is in part a reflection of the growing race and class inequality over the last two decades. Without introducing social and economic reforms that would provide basic social services like housing, employment and health care, the challenges public schools face today will continue to exist in the twenty-first century.

References

Fattah, C. (2002). Unequal education in America: A look at stories from around the country. http://www.house.gov/fattah/education/ed_sbruneq.htm (accessed January 6, 2006).

Kozol, J. (1991). Savage inequalities: Children in America’s schools. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Kozol, J. (1996). Amazing grace: The lives of children and the conscience of a nation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Kozol, J. (2001). Ordinary resurrections: Children in the years of hope. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

About the Reviewer

Ramin Farahmandpur is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Policy, Foundations and Administrative Studies at Portland State University. His interests include critical pedagogy and multicultural education. He is the co-author of Teaching against Global Capitalism and the New Imperialism: A Critical Pedagogy.Boulder, CO: Rowman and Littlefield, (2005).

Copyright is retained by the first or sole author, who grants right of first publication to the Education Review.

Editors: Gene V Glass, Kate Corby, Gustavo Fischman

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