Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools
Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools is an intense expose of unjust conditions in educating America’s children. Today’s society of living conditions, poverty, income, desegregation and political issues have forced inadequate education to many children across the country. Kozol discusses major reasons for discrepancies in schools: disparities of property taxes, racism and the conflict between state and local control. Kozol traveled to public schools researching conditions and the level of education in each school. He spoke with teachers, students, principals, superintendents and government officials to portray a clear picture of the inequalities in the American school systems.
In chapter 1, Life On The Mississippi: East St. Louis, Illinois, Kozol stretched his research to the extreme level of humiliation. This chapter produced deep concerns of how Jonathan Kozol described the horrific and unjust conditions in which the children of East St. Louis are forced to endure the conditions that exist before them. Kozol stressed the point the point that the city is so poor and devastated that it had to lay off 84% of its city work force and cannot afford regular garbage pick. It is a city where raw sewage regularly backs up into the homes of its resident and into the yards where the children play; and where nearby chemical plants pollute the air and the soil with lead, arsenic and mercury. It is a city so rundown that burned-out buildings are a common site and that some of its major thoroughfares resemble ghost towns. It is a city that is 98% black and which has been virtually isolated from its neighbors.
Life for the children in East St. Louis is not a positive reality. Some of the sickest children live there. It ranks first in Illinois in fetal death, first in premature birth, and third in infant death. Among the negative factors listed by the city’s health director is the sewage running in the streets, air that has been fouled by the local factories, the high lead levels noted in the soil, poverty, lack of education, crime, dilapidated housing, insufficient health care, hunger and unemployment.
Burdened with this environment, it’s a wonder that any of the children of St. Louis are able to succeed. Kozol finds in every classroom that teachers are not equipped to teach properly because of the lack of proper materials; science labs outdated by at least 30 years, lack of proper textbooks, if there are text books at all, no lab tables, understaffed rooms, etc. Most of the bathrooms do not function and stink. Many of the teachers do not care about teaching anymore and a lot of them are full time substitutes without proper qualifications. This all leads to students not paying attention or not getting any encouragement or the push they need to succeed, or even care about going to school.
All of these problems are disturbing. Although Kozol paints a bleak picture, conditions are horrible and difficult for an education system to work. How can a child receive a good education under these conditions? Kozol may have placed too much emphasis on the conditions of the environment and the physical inhabitance; there are issues that need to be addressed in the education system itself. Most of Kozol’s observations are appalling to say the least. It is a horrible idea that a system would allow children in East St. Louis to attend a school with sewage problems along with other obstacles. The degree of segregation is equally outraged by the growing inequality, in public education, between rich and poor. Poor children, especially poor children of color are being increasingly written off as expendable and any attempts to educate them are being seen as doomed.
Chapter 3, The Savage Inequalities of Public Education in New York gives a vivid look how financial and living status can determine the level of a child’s...