sábado, noviembre 12, 2005


apartheid america

Jonathan Kozol, author of the necessary educational read Savage Inequalities, released a new book this fall called The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. Salon has a great interview by Sarah Karnasiewicz that I just discovered. Here's a taste:

"Segregation is not something that happens by chance, like weather conditions," says Jonathan Kozol. "It is the work of men." So it is not without irony that it has taken a hurricane -- and the excruciating images of stranded black faces, beamed across cable airwaves -- for Americans to confront the reality that vast numbers of their fellow citizens live in segregated ghettos and suffer from abject poverty. But for Kozol, who has built his career on exposing the race- and class-based injustices endemic to the United States' educational system, the knowledge that we live in a deeply divided society has long been a foregone -- if heartbreaking -- conclusion.

For 40 years, in bestselling books such as "Savage Inequalities" and "Amazing Grace," Kozol has reported from urban schools across the nation, befriending teachers and students who, despite the promises of Brown v. Board of Education, still live and learn in crumbling buildings and in overcrowded classrooms with scarce supplies. "I cannot discern even the slightest hint that any vestige of [the Brown decision] has survived within these schools and neighborhoods," he writes in his new book, "The Shame of the Nation." "I simply never see white children."

The America Kozol describes in "Shame" is in essence an apartheid state. White suburban districts receive disproportionate funding and praise, while inner-city schools that serve minorities are denied equitable federal aid, threatened by repressive testing mandates, and drained of creativity and joy. The book is also something of a polemic. Kozol accuses the Bush administration of implementing sinister educational policies in which rote memorization is valued more than imagination and children are treated as capitalist commodities to be molded into an army of obedient entry-level workers. Using the voices of dissatisfied students and teachers as a rallying cry, Kozol calls upon "decent citizens" of all political stripes to rise up against social and educational segregation -- and reclaim the ideals of the civil rights movement.

Kozol, 69, lives outside Boston but was in New York last week on his book tour. I sat down with him and -- in between sips of coffee and puffs on his cigarette -- he explained why he believes that newspapers are partly to blame for America's reluctance to discuss race, "Winnie the Pooh" is more essential than standardized tests, and lazy liberals need to "get off their asses" and fight for educational equity.

In some of your earlier books you raised fears that the aims of Brown v. Board of Education were quietly being undermined. But "Shame of the Nation" goes so far as to call the contemporary American educational system an apartheid regime.

In earlier books, like "Amazing Grace," I certainly made it evident that the schools of the South Bronx were stunningly segregated. But it wasn't until the last five years that I realized how sweeping this change has been throughout the nation, and how reluctant the media is to speak of it. Newspapers in general, including those that are seen as vaguely liberal, by a convenient defect of vision refuse to see what is in their own front yard -- or if they do see it, they refuse to state it. So, in a description of a 98 percent black and Latino school, the newspaper won't say what would seem to be the most obvious starting point: This is a deeply segregated school. They won't use the word "segregated." They do the most amazing semantic somersaults to avoid calling reality by its real name. "Gritty" is the New York Times' euphemism for segregated; "serving a diverse population with many minorities" -- as though they might be Albanians! Then I go to this "diverse" school and there are 1,000 black and Latino kids, 10 whites and 12 Asians. So "diverse" has actually come to be a synonym for "not diverse."

Do you think the media is afraid of race?

Most newspapers, with a few notable exceptions, have a far greater interest in defending civic image and civic stability than in removing the cancer of segregation from the body of American democracy. It would cause them a lot of problems if they attacked school segregation in their own communities head-on, because then they'd also have to attack residential segregation. That would mean shining the spotlight directly at the prime architects of residential apartheid -- major banks, lending institutions and realty firms. A large amount of the advertising revenues for newspapers comes from real estate.

Newspapers tend to boost almost any educational policy that seems to offer redemption, so every few years there's a new one, and basically every expert has a seven-point plan to prove that segregated schools can be successful. I call it the myth of perfectible apartheid. Most of these plans are organized bamboozlements, full of unassailable banalities. For example, No. 1: "Principal should have clear goals," as though most American principals have a secret predilection for obscurity. Or, No. 2: "Teachers should strive for excellence," as though most teachers had a genetic attraction to mediocrity. I've seen dozens of these plans come and go; they're boosted, schools claim immediate success and scores go up 3 percentage points -- and five years later it's declared a failure and abandoned. I refuse to play this game.

Clearly, you're angry.

"Shame of the Nation" is a dead serious book, the angriest book I've written in my life. It is not a recipe book for polishing the apple of apartheid. It's a call for an all-out struggle for decent citizens to wage an onslaught on apartheid schooling itself. The percentage of black children who now go to integrated public schools is at its lowest level since 1968. If you took a photograph of the classes I visit in New York, Chicago or St. Louis, it would look exactly like a class from Alabama in the 1940s.

Your view of the government and prevailing American culture is quite scathing. But do you really think policymakers and suburban families are actively racist? Or is this simply a case of cruel indifference?

Look, whether it's cruel indifference or the natural predilection of a parent to do the best she can for her own child, or originates in some very profound racist suppositions about minority children -- it doesn't make a damn bit of difference to the kids that I write about. There are unquestionably overtly racist white folks in the country, but I don't think that is an accurate portrayal of most white people in America. I think there is something peculiar about the culture wars that thrive in New York City; there's a venomous atmosphere around racial issues here that I don't find in most of the United States. Most white Americans with whom I talk -- and I don't mean people who read the Nation and the New York Times, just regular Americans -- are fair-minded and generous.

For instance, some of the children I write about endear themselves to readers. One little girl in the Bronx named Pineapple, whom I first met in kindergarten, and still remain close friends with, was just an irresistibly charming little kid; she used to boss me around, like a pint-sized Oprah Winfrey. And people read about her in Ohio or wherever, and they fall in love with her. And if they met her, they would do anything they could to give her the same opportunities they gave their own children. The genius of segregation in America is that it never gives most decent white Americans the opportunity to meet a child like Pineapple. And because they don't know these children in their years of innocence, they are protected from their own best instincts. If they knew them, most good people in this country could not tolerate the destruction of these children's destinies. People are more decent than the politicians they elect. At the highest levels of government -- and especially George W. Bush -- our politicians appeal to the worst instincts of Americans rather than their most generous.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Kozol's new book is excellent. The problem is that despite all of his research and the work of others, we are not changing for the better. We should listen to his findings and make a change in education that is good for kids.

I am glad you posted this article!
Excellent article - all his books are, it's a pity that nobody in the current administration will read them. Does your school have any New Orleans students? We have 35 so far, with more coming every day and I don't know what they did in New Orleans schools but they didn't teach or educate.
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