Let Us Be Heard

A review of Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities. 
 
Jonathan Kozol attacks the public education system and its effect on American children
in his heart wrenching novel, Savage Inequalities. Traveling the nation, Kozol comes to
find more than just a gap between affluent and indigent schools: he
finds children who desire to learn and
grow but simply cannot. America is
supposed to be a land of freedom and
opportunity, Kozol claims, so why are
these children denied an equal chance
at success? He illustrates his use of
statistics through intimate discussion
with students and the detailed
description of shocking school
conditions that no parent would ever
allow their child to endure. His numbers
and statistical predictions take a toll on
Located in the Bronx, New York, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP Academy) aims to educate poor black and hispanic middle school students. A photo is taken as students are dismissed at the bell.
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LET US BE HEARD 
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the reader's emotions, but the
testimonies from kindergartners and
high schoolers abandoned by the public
school system have a traumatic lasting
impression. Kozol successfully informs
the reader on the problems in public
education but, at the same time he
connects the reader with every child
through their stories of endurance and
hope that touch the heart.

The Circle of Life...

In the animated movie hit of the 90's, The
Lion King, the Circle of Life is used to
represent the natural habitat of the animal
kingdom--Darwin's survival of the fittest.
Composed of two groups, the predators
and the prey, it is easy to see who has the
upper hand. Naturally,
predators are stronger,
more skilled, and are often
vicious fighters. In the end,
predators survive while the
prey are only used as
tools for the betterment of the predator.
Similarly is the disparity between education
of the wealthy and the poor. When students
are denied proper education, they assume
the role of the helpless prey. In a world
where predators dominate society, these
students will never progress to anything
more than minimum wage workers, not
because they do not desire to, but simply
because they are not given equal
resources. Someone has to work the
minimum wage jobs, someone has to flip
burgers at the local restaurant, someone
has to do the dirty work no one else will do,
but why these students? This Circle of Life,
is well, only a Circle of Life to those who
prosper from it. So what about the others?
Those who are being used in this circle of
life as prey are never given the necessary
skills to rise above their current state.
Generations after generations have fallen
victim to the social class in which they were
born, and the education it entitled. Society
must break this recurring cycle to give an
equal chance to those who were not born
with an advantage, an advantage that so
often, even without hard work, follows each
one to their death.
Kozol indirectly references this circle
of life when he claims that the public
education system has failed generations of
students by denying them equal education.
Years before these children were deemed
failures, their parents were also, ultimately
creating a household of uneducated
minimum wage workers. These parents
were not given equal educational
opportunities so they do not expect
anything more or less for their children. In
many cases, some do not even know how
large the gap is between a good education
and what they are receiving
because the public school
system has failed them so
badly, and wants to keep it
that way. What they do not
know cannot hurt them,
right? Public education, in a sense, is
filtering what and who should be taught. In
a nation so prized for its' equality, this
hardly seems fair.
I take a rather interesting perspective on
the issues in public education because I am
blessed to be able to attend a college
preparatory private high school. I have
never personally undergone anything so
traumatic as the childrens' stories I read in
Savage Inequalities, but it has had a
meaningful effect on my life. It is not really a
popular issue you hear on the news or on
the radio so I am sure that just as I was
incredibly uninformed, so are millions of
others. Savage Inequalities opened up a
door for many to understand, investigate,
and even give aid to schools in desperate
need. It is inexplicable how quickly my
attitude towards my education changed--I
began to view my incredibly demanding
“In a nation so prized for
its’ equality, this hardly
seems fair.”
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teachers as talented blessings, and I grew
to sincerely appreciate those who arrived at
school at seven AM for tutorials and were
willing to stay after for extra help. I have
resources that other children only dream of
having, and I complain because it is hard?
Kozol showed me what is right in front of
my eyes, but I refused to acknowledge all
these years. From this I learned that so
many affluent school students like myself
do not know what all they have because it
has not been compared to what others do
not have. When they do realize the
inequality, I believe most will react like I did
and will give aid, and a solution will be
within reach. Schools like mine have the
financial ability to radically change one or
two schools--thousands of lives. Schools
throughout the nation have this ability also.
The result could be mind-boggling. What
the issue comes down to is awareness:
schools need to recognize the urgency of
this problem, and the government cannot
deny or ignore the problem any longer. As
years pass and no action is taken, more
and more students fail to receive a quality
education--or they drop out beforehand.
The numbers of uneducated children and
adults is rising, so public education must be
seen as a prevalent problem that needs an
immediate solution.


Take the average, forget about the
lowest...

iSo often we see the average test scores
of the children in the nation, or the average
ACT and SAT scores, and we think they are
pretty high; we think an American education
is the best there is, even though American
students are ranked twenty fifth of thirty
industrialized countries in math, and twenty
first of thirty in science. But, with an
average comes a high and a low, a high we
most always call attention to and a low we
most always never hear about. We praise
the average and above average students
but, who are the below average students,
and what help are they receiving? New
Jersey's public schools, Kozol reported, had
extremely low test scores in 1990. In
response, the governor of New Jersey
extracted a solution from the back-to-the-
basics pressures of the 1980's to devise a
new test-driven curriculum. iiSimilar actions
were recently taken in the federal program,
Race for the Top Fund. The program
proposed $4.3 billion to aid in the boosting
of test scores across the nation. Examples
of this test-driven curriculum found in the
highlighted schools in Savage Inequalities
prove to be detrimental to students'
education for lack of in depth studies.
Students are encouraged to just learn it and
memorize it, not analyze, experience, or
apply anything to outside knowledge.
Teachers spend the whole year drilling the
students with questions from previous state
exams and giving them information with no
foundation, no explanation or meaning. This
curriculum is lowering the level of
education, but the statistics say otherwise:
the numbers improve as a students' ability
to think and connect weakens. Teachers
are basing a year long class on a single
state exam--of course students are going to
do well on it. However, this kind of
education is flat and often worthless; it is
flat in a sense that no test taking strategies
or formula memorizing will help these
students apply their knowledge to larger
concepts. For example, my English
teachers edit my papers and ask "why?" or
"how?" and force me to elaborate and go
deeper into what I am trying to say. My Pre-
Calculus teacher takes a concept and
builds off of it for weeks, adding in new
concepts and formulas but still including all
previous information. This method
challenges us and makes us think.
Questions and answers are not just spoon
fed to us. We must seek them out and use
our own reasoning and talents. These
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children who are only receiving year-long
test preparation are lacking the ability to
know "how" or "why". They are not taught or
encouraged to question anything or to
research anything they are taught. There is
no depth to their knowledge, it is surface
level and lacks dimension.
The Federal Government and school
boards need to forget about quality of
education "looking good"--statistics,
average test scores--but rather need to
focus on actually providing a quality
education for every single child. The
thought of "every single child" receiving an
education seemed a bit far-fetched before
reading this book. But now I view this as
something that should already be expected
in America, and since it is not, something
must change. The "average" test score no
longer applies and the test-driven
curriculum should be thrown out. Instead of
providing the minimum level education for
students just so the standards appear to be
improving, the government should aim to
enhance each student's school experience.
No longer should educational statistics be
strategically worded so that they appear to
be good, for this is robbing students of their
education and then proceeding to cover it
up. I am positive that enough, if not all,
government officials are aware of the
gravity of today's lack of proper public
education. I am also positive that it would
be of higher priority if their children were
affected. These students are someone's
children and they deserve the same
education and chance at success.


Looking Down on the Slums...

Many affluent white societies are
strategically located higher up than the
poorer districts; they stand at the top of a
hill, looking down at them, but not really
looking. iiiThese societies are predominately
white and separated because, according to
John Hunt Morgan in his article White
Americans Must Build Separate
Communities, whites need to live around
people who think and act the same and will
build a healthy atmosphere. Morgan argues
that the integrating of two different racial
communities would lower the capabilities of
the white community thus implying the
superiority of the white race. The racism
and sense of superiority is prevalent even
in the title—no need to read any further.
Kozol spoke with a young man, Luis,
that once attended a private school before
coming to one of New Jersey's poorest
schools, Woodrow Wilson High School. He
describes his former private school as
something like a nice hotel or a college
campus with a comfortable teachers' lounge
and expensive athletic facilities. Notice he
did not describe how there were enough
desks for each student or the ceiling did not
leak, for that is a given. It is expected there.
But why is it not at schools like Woodrow
Wilson? There is such a gap between the
schools: one drowns in the every day
luxuries of abundance and extra, while the
other struggles to make ends meet and
provide the bare minimum for students.
After reading Savage Inequalities, I see it; I
see the money, time, and effort put into my
school while the public school I am zoned
to that is less than a mile from my home is
dwindling with time and neglect. I am
receiving an education worthy of envy while
my neighbor attends a school that may or
may not prepare her for college or a
successful career.
Many affluent individuals would argue
that the situation these kids are in is either
their or their parents' fault. If you ask
someone why they think poverty and poor
education exist, I am sure they could not
answer you without mentioning drugs,
alcohol, violence, or lack of parental control.
How can they be blamed when they were
deliberately failed by the public education
system? We, as an affluent society, tend to
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come to this very same conclusion because
we look at our culture and see structure and
standards so we conclude that the problem
must be them. We have a mental block on
how we view lower-income societies: all we
see is crime and waste. Did it ever occur to
us that we put them there and made it
almost impossible for them to get out? Yet
we complain about how ignorant people
hurt our society when we are the ones
stealing from them and ultimately forcing
them to live that way.
They only resort to crime
and drugs and alcohol
because they have
nothing left to put their
faith in--not their school
system and not their
government.
Affluent societies are aware of the
inequality and they embrace it, giving
themselves a sense of superiority. Schools
that have all the resources to help do not,
because it is not their problem. Everyone
wants the upper-hand, everyone wants to
be the best, the most successful, and
having someone always below you brings a
sense of satisfaction. Wealthy students and
schools do not want to help because they
do not want to deal with the competition or
the deeply rooted issues that these schools
face. It is better to just stay far away.
Businessmen may argue that this is just the
way life is: someone has to lose or else we
live in a communist society. ivPeter Drucker,
"the man who invented management",
sums this attitude up very clearly: "The
players play on the team; they do not play
as a team." It is every man for himself, even
if this man is an eight year old inner-city
child. No one is defending these children
and demanding a better education because
of the comfortableness of their own lives.
We, as inactive Americans, are watching
these children slip through the cracks of
public education from our comfortable view
up on a hill. Americans must realize that
whether the quality of public education
affects them or not, it is a societal problem
that requires a unified effort by all classes
and communities. Everyone must treat the
issue as if it meant the world to them, and
to some it does. Individuals need to see the
importance of education through the eyes
of those who truly wished they had a
chance at education--a future. We must
become selfless entities, looking to better
the lives of others.
Kozol sheds light on
the devastating
inequality in public
education but also links
the root of the problems
to historical events such
as White Flight in the mid twentieth century,
which ultimately set up a barrier for affluent
societies to easily turn a blind eye to the
brokenness of inner-city education. What
the reader is left wondering is if and when a
solution will appear. vTom Bethell, in his
article The Quality of Public Education Has
Declined, reports that student educational
performance has gradually declined since
1970 and will continue to do so until the
racial and financial inequality in public
education is gone. As time passes and a
solution remains out of sight, millions of
children are entering and leaving the public
education system damaged and hopeless.
They remain in their symbolic valleys to be
overlooked by the people who decided they
were not good enough. Everything bad and
dirty flows downhill, straight into the
communities of the less fortunate, which
are being used as dumping grounds of
literal waste and the lives of those who are
of little value to society. Don't these people
deserve more than to be deemed failures
from the moment they are born? After all,
these kids stand in their classrooms each
morning with their hands over their hearts
pledging to the very same flag, to the very
“it?is?a?societal?problem?
that?requires?a?unified?
effort…”?
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same country that is robbing them of their
potential, telling them they are not worth it. I
cannot imagine what it must feel like to
wake up every morning and realize you are
not good enough, you have no value, and
you will never amount to anything, only
because that is the life you have been
restricted to. Knowledge is power, a power
that the wealthy keep concentrated and out
of the hands of the less fortunate. Kids walk
through the hallways wearing shirts that say
"knowledge is power". But, depending on
their race, where they live, or how wealthy
they are, that power may not be "rightfully"
theirs. Kozol expresses the declining hope
that these children will ever make it out in
time and unharmed. What he hopes to see
through the awareness is action—action not
intended to improve the statistics but rather
to ensure each child an equal chance.





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