Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Review: The Shame of the Nation

The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol

Reviewed by Susie Berry

Jonathon Kozol has been writing about education and schools (particularly schools that support children of poverty) for more than 40 years. The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America provides compelling evidence that the poorest children in this country are being short-changed. For example when this book was written (2005), the amount of spending per pupil in Detroit was $9,576 compared to $12,825 per pupil in nearby, suburban, Bloomfield Hills. Kozol describes the horrible conditions of many schools in New York – mold, bugs, collapsing ceilings, and severe overcrowding. He quoted a letter from a child named Alliyah (an eight-year old from the Bronx) who said, “We do not have the things you have. You have clean things. We do not have. You have a clean bathroom. We do not have that. You have Parks and we do not have Parks. You have all the thing and we do not have all the thing … Can you help us?”

While making observations about the poor physical conditions of so many of these schools – and often comparing these conditions to the much better conditions of the schools in the suburbs, Kozol described teachers who were striving to do their best with kids despite all these obstacles. The descriptions of activities in classrooms and the high expectations of so many principals and teachers were heart warming. Kozol’s theme seemed to be that many principals and teachers are doing their best to be good teachers despite disturbing conditions.

Kozol and others (quoted in the book) are concerned about the discrepancies in money spent and the increase in “prescribed lessons” (He used “Success For All” as an example.) in the schools with underprivileged children. He compared that with more creative and joyful lessons in the schools with higher test scores. He sees a shift; schools are becoming segregated again – almost a case of “haves” and “have nots.” He quoted Congressman John Lewis (who was born to a family of sharecroppers in Pike County, Alabama) who spoke about the dismantling of court-ordered integration and the recent movement toward school vouchers. Lewis says that all these changes are leading us to “turn away from one another” and to “retreat into separate tribes.” This, contends Kozol, is “the shame of the nation.”

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