Friday, March 26, 2010

book ends book list: The Shame of the Nation

8. The Shame of the Nation, by Jonathan Kozol was another required classroom read for me this semester, and although it was a long, tedious book (over 300 pages), I ended up being heavily influenced by the book. Kozol has spent nearly fifty years working with children, teachers, and parents of our nation's school system, and has written over a dozen books about his experiences. In Shame of the Nation, Kozol speaks eloquently about the voluntary resegregation of our school systems in the years since the Brown v. Board of Education vote in 1954--and I'll admit that I was shocked to read about schools within walking distance of each other, one 95% White and another 95% Black and Hispanic. Not only does Kozol share very convincing numbers that paint a picture of a segregated America, but he also conveys horror stories about the quality of the education at the schools full of minorities. From things like forcing students to choose a career path during their freshman year in high school--and not allowing students to change their minds about that path later in their schooling--to the very conditions that the children were learning under--in rat-infested classrooms, and under instruction by teachers who are more like military drill sergeants than educators--this book was indeed an eye-opener for me.

Not only did I read this book for class, but I also was lucky enough to hear Jonathan Kozol speak at my school for Roosevelt University's 2010 One Book, One University lecture. As he stood before the packed room, seventy-something years old, and in fine-rimmed glasses and a striped purplish shirt, Kozol demanded the attention of the entire audience. He spoke of Pineapple, a girl he befriended and watched grow in the public school system of New York, and time he spent with Mister Rogers, introducing him to educators at these school systems.

When a member of the audience asked Kozol what those who weren't educators could do about the state of education as it stands today, he had one piece of advice: "Don't go easy on Barack Obama." Kozol, a supporter of Obama, said something that I don't think is said enough: to "be tougher on your friends than your enemies."

The end of Kozol's lecture brought many of the listeners to tears, as he said to the room, "My friends, life goes so fast. Use it well." It definitely was an inspiration to hear this from a man who has used his many years well, and will continue to do so, as long as he's here.

L. Stacks

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