I haven’t set a new 30 day challenge but I am at least thinking about what I am going to read for the next month. I have been reveling in fiction lately but feeling like I need to dig into some more serious reading. I looked back at my post about the banned books in Arizona. It’s been a very long time since I read Jonathan Kozol so yesterday I pulled Death At An Early Age off the shelf. (I just bought a digital copy of Savage Inequalities so that will be next.) From there, I will dive into the Latino literature on the list with maybe a side of Howard Zinn. I’m about half way through A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present and this would be an excuse to finish it.
My biggest problem is finding time to read this kind of serious writing. It can’t be at night before I go to sleep because i am simply not attentive enough. Night time is all about easy fiction and falling asleep with a book in your hand. Kozol, Zinn and Latino literature deserve my full attention.
Yesterday, I found that time and dug into Death At An Early Age. His descriptions of the lives of the students and the teachers who expect so little from them is painfully raw in its honesty:
For it is the Boston schoolteachers themselves who for years have been speaking of the Negro children in their charge as animals and the school building that houses them as a zoo. And it is well known by now how commonly the injustices and depredations of the Boston school system have compelled its Negro pupils to regard themselves with something less than the dignity and respect of human beings…the price it exacted was paid ultimately by every child, and in the long run I am convinced that the same price has been paid by every teacher too (1967, p. 7).
We all pay when people are not treated with respect and dignity. And while No Child Left Behind suggested that it was about equality, it did nothing to change the classroom culture but simply said, you need to get everyone to pass a test, a distraction from the real issues that are harder to address. Here’s Kozol on NCLB:
NCLB widens the gap between the races more than any piece of educational legislation I’ve seen in 40 years. It denies inner-city kids the critical-thinking skills to interrogate reality. When they reach secondary school, they can’t participate in class discussions. Only 4 percent of Chicago high school graduates complete four years of college. Ninety-six percent drop out because they’ve never learned to pose discerning questions. NCLB’s fourth-grade gains aren’t learning gains, they’re testing gains. That’s why they don’t last. The law is a distraction from things that really count. There’s nothing in it about class size. Children in the top suburban schools – Brookline, for instance – are in classes of 16 or 18 students. Inner-city schools often have 32 students in elementary school classes and up to 40 in high school classes.
Not surprisingly, Kozol draws attacks. Clearly, Jay Greene is not impressed. And The Weekly Standard makes fun of him, a sure sign he is a danger.
Yet, even as I was writing this entry, Tavis Smiley’s report Too Important to Fail came on. The program focuses on the increased drop out rate amongst teens, especially young Black men and highlights schools that are making a difference in their lives. He is interviewing the principal of a Philadelphia high school who calls these young men victims of Society. They’ve had experiences they shouldn’t have had and they bring those experiences with them to school. Thinking you can ignore that baggage leads to clashes in the classroom. The principal focuses his attention on building relationships with the students to help draw them into the school, baggage and all, and let them see that there is a place for them in school.
We are still fighting the battles for equality of access and opportunity and we’re lucky to have Kozol to continue to lead the way.