The need for social reform within the education system was the main theme of best-selling author and former educator Jonathan Kozol at his sold-out lecture in Saint Mary’s O’Laughlin Auditorium on Monday night.
The Office for Civil and Social Engagement (OCSE) at Saint Mary’s sponsored the lecture.
Kozol, who has been involved with the education system for more than 40 years, said segregation is back in American schools and he’s witnessed it “from both sides.”
“Inequalities are unmistakable to anyone who walks into our public schools, but even more disheartening, black and Hispanic children — in the present moment, in the present year, 2010 — are more isolated mentally and more segregated physically than in any time since 1968,” Kozol said.
Kozol, who has written several books on segregation in the public school system, discussed the state of education in America using his own experiences. A Harvard graduate and former Rhodes scholar, Kozol started his teaching career in what he said was the poorest area of Boston, teaching fourth grade.
According to Kozol, the conditions of the school were poor, and he taught class in an auditorium he shared with another fourth grade class.
“My students had had a string of 12 different teachers in the previous two years,” Kozol said. “This string of instability of faculty is still the case today in far too many of today’s inner-city schools.”
Kozol also discussed his frustrations with the standardized testing that is the driving force of most public school curriculums.
“All year long, everything is driven by the test. It excludes everything that won’t be tested, robbing urban children of the entire richness of curriculum and capaciousness of culture that won’t be on the test,” Kozol said.
Kozol said the arts, and even recess, have been dialed back or removed from some schools that struggle to maintain student test scores. He said some schools in Atlanta no longer build playgrounds for their elementary schools.
Kozol also said his “rich white friends” and politicians do not want to talk about these issues. He said many people do not like to hear what he has to say, but that isn’t going to stop him.
“I’m too old to bite my tongue, and I don’t really care what happens to me now and no matter what the price I have to pay, I intend to keep on fighting in this struggle to my dying day,” Kozol said.
During the lecture, he discussed his work with one first grade teacher whose class was made up of low-income, minority students. He said she was not going to always center her class on the standards, but rather try to make learning enjoyable.
“It was of consummate importance to give her children opportunities to speak their minds, indulge their curiosities so that they would think of learning as an exciting pilgrimage rather than a forced march to a pre-established destination,” Kozol said.
Schools with students who are what Kozol referred to as privileged youth allow for a much less rigid education, he said.
“If it’s good enough for the son of a president or the daughter of a rich CEO, then it’s good enough for the children of the poorest mother in South Bend,” Kozol said.
Kozol ended his lecture with a lesson he said he’s learned as time goes on.
“Life goes so fast — use it well.”