Savage Inequalities

May 5, 2010
By Hayley Walden BRONZE, Houston, Texas
Hayley Walden BRONZE, Houston, Texas
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Throughout Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools, Kozol inserts shocking stories and statistics. One of the most shocking, a young boy recalling his sister’s rape and murder, only a week prior to the interview. Many children add to the story, they are sad of course, but none are outraged – it seems as though they are accustomed to tragedy. Kozol's passion for children and improving the American public school system becomes clear by reading his novel.
“The narrative begins when, without warning, Smokey says, ‘My sister has got killed.’ (P.14, Savage Inequalities)

Wealthy, middle-class Americans generally view poverty and its hardships as a self-inflicted adversity; many may not offer support or help to impoverished communities because they do not see the desperation and need that overwhelms each citizen living in poverty. Like most, I have been guilty of ignoring the problems of the poor and placing my own selfish needs over their plight. Our ignorance leads us to believe that if poor Americans were simply more motivated and tried harder they could achieve the same opportunities as the wealthy American; wealthier Americans do not take time to talk to poor Americans and therefore are not emotionally impacted by their stories. We barely consider the injustices in impoverished communities and view their members one way – as lifeless statistics. Faces, personal narratives, and accounts of crushed dreams do not accompany the statistics, so those who have not personally experienced poverty easily dismiss the problems. I have also been guilty of ignoring the struggles of the poor because I do not listen to their stories and personally get to know members of impoverished communities. Through his novel, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools, Jonathan Kozol demonstrated to me that I would become a well-informed, caring citizen if I took time to listen to the stories of the poor, and I will be better equipped to help fix their problems. Another shortcoming in the American public school system is the average American’s unwillingness to sacrifice time, money, or resources to help the poor succeed.

I have been told all my life to “reach for the stars” and that I am able to do anything I want (with enough hard work, of course). My school has provided ample opportunities for me to succeed, and my family has supported me with whatever I chose to strive for – whether it was the lead in a play or a rank in the top ten percent.. I have rarely been told I was not capable of something, and I have never been told to wait and try later. The children in Savage Inequalities are told on a daily basis to wait for the necessary textbooks, pens, pencils, novels, or usable building space – ultimately, they are forced to wait until it is too late.

‘She was my best friend.’ Serena says.
(P.14, Savage Inequalities)

Kozol sacrifices a comfortable lifestyle in order to connect with impoverished children by taking time to listen to them and live under the same conditions they are forced to live under daily – he becomes their friend. An author from The Connecticut Forum discusses times Kozol spent in homeless shelters merely for the experience, and the opportunity to relate to the homeless and learn about their lives. He cares for them and listens to their endless stories, which proves that they are willing to work hard to pull themselves out of poverty. Savage Inequalities comments on Kozol’s seemingly favorite topic of discussion – uneven fund distribution which hinders the children’s ability to learn and does not allot each school the correct amount of necessary supplies; the book proves that many of the students have the will to succeed and learn, but they are not able to because they do not have the correct resources. Kozol suggest that if they were given books, materials, and a healthy school environment they would succeed and end their cycle of poverty.

In Savage Inequalities, Kozol utilizes pathos in order to affect his audience and influence their opinions on poverty, predominantly child poverty. He turns the stories and statistics into living, breathing, important children. By placing Kozol uses horrific, detailed accounts of the children’s daily lives – from the lost opportunities to the many murders – to help his audience gain incite into the lives of the children. Kozol connects faces, tragedies, and life stories to the already terrible statistics he quotes in his book. His passion for the children and their lives is recognizable through every interview he uses in the book. Because Kozol uses direct interviews with the poor instead of paraphrasing or summarizing, the audience is able to understand the intensity of the situations. When the audience understands the full situations and their severity, it may lead them to sympathize with the poor and offer help (Kozol’s ultimate purpose). Jeanie Marklin suggests that Kozol effectively presents impoverished American public schools to be “equally as appalling” as those in third world countries. Since American citizens create, and donate to endless charities benefiting education in third world countries, this comparison suggests that Savage Inequalities is just as effective as the campaign for impoverished children in third world countries; her comparison greatly compliments Kozol’s ability to present facts and statistics in a way that changes the hearts of Americans.
‘They had beat her in the head and raped her,’ Smokey says.
(P.14, Savage Inequalities)

Unfortunately people such as Marcus Winters view Jonathan Kozol as a writer who overtime “seems to have less to write about and offer little more than the old. Tired, and failed solutions for the problems of our schools”. Winters claims Kozol continues to write on behalf of impoverished children solely for the reason of acquiring and income. Clearly Winters overlooked the passionate arguments in Savage Inequalities and the blatant attempts to reform the unjust system. In his periodical, Winters continues to suggest that Kozol disregards the increased funding allotted to inner-city public schools over the past thirty years. With the incredible amount of problems that impoverished communities and public schools face it is hard to believe that, even with increased funding, they were able to fix their problems. Kozol proves that because the needs of inner city schools have been neglected for so many years, it will take a long time and a tremendous amount of money to repair the dilapidated buildings, fix the hazardous, toxic neighborhoods, and improve the quality of course material and supplies. Refer to the following picture3 to illustrate the state of many American public school buildings.

In his book, Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol attempts to bring the statistics to life and convey emotion through interviews and personal accounts of the plight of poverty. He eloquently paints pictures of desperation just as Van Gogh fluidly painted his masterpiece, Starry Night. Working in a poor public school in Boston, introduced Kozol to the injustices in the American public school system, but in order to better his awareness and expand his experience he traveled around America attempting to have a personal connection with everyone he met. Interviews recorded in the book, illustrate the willingness to work hard as well as the strong desire to succeed that impoverished children possess. Savage Inequalities proves that poverty is not self-inflicted, but instead a deadly cycle that is nearly impossible to overcome without help. It is displayed in countless interviews with students and educators who desperately want improvement and fair opportunity, but do not receive it; due to their disadvantages (dilapidated buildings, insufficient supplies, disease-infested schools and homes) they are not able to learn as much as they need to in order to reach the same goals as wealthier Americans.

‘She was hollering out loud,’ says Little Sister.
(P.14, Savage Inequalities)

Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools is virtually no different than a talk show, or radio broadcast. Men and women on those broadcasts (or talk shows) endlessly argue their beliefs with strength and integrity; their passion is obvious. Passion is a key element that sets Jonathan Kozol apart from the vast population of authors with a cause. He has unashamed, relentless passion for impoverished children and the betterment of the society they are forced to grow up in. Gene Lyons claims Savage Inequalities is “easily the most passionate, and certain to be the most passionately debated, book about American education in several years”. Kozol uses his book to outline obvious problems in modern American school systems, and ultimately present a solution. Although there have been many other attempts to correct unequal public school funding – none have been so effective as Savage Inequalities. Sure, there have been countless appeals in court and a myriad of personal crusades, but, in general, they have failed to produce noticeable results. Kozol sets apart his research and proposal by obtaining a personal connection with the citizens previously ignored by the government. He gives them a voice. His solutions are relevant, and respected because, by means of his book, it is clear he has preformed the necessary research; the commentary illustrates his passion for his cause and his hopes that children in impoverished American public schools will one day gain equal opportunity. During an interview with Jonathan Kozol, Richard Halicks makes it clear that, even after many years, Kozol still obtains a strong passion for his cause – he still fights for fair treatment whenever his is able.
Serena describes this sequence of events: ‘They told her go behind the school. They’ll give her a quarter if she do. Then they knock her down and told her not to tell what they had did.’” (P.14, Savage Inequalities)

Not only does Kozol vividly illustrate the true attitudes of children living in poverty, but he also presents solutions to help the children achieve opportunity. Jonathan Kozol grew up in a prestigious family and received a good education. He is well educated and truly understands the value of an education, and they success an educated person can achieve. Kozol’s strong ethos even withstands harsh criticisms – Jonathan Leaf attempts to detract form Kozol’s ethos in an article, but instead builds up his ethos by listing his numerous crusades and awards (National Book Award, the National Education Association’s annual Friend of Education Award). After college he worked in a poor Boston public school where he experienced first hand the hardships the children had to deal with. He saw the injustices and attempted to compensate for them by teaching his students to set goals, work hard, and have dreams. He was fired for teaching a poem, “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes, to his fourth grade students; the poem is a perfect commentary on the lives of members of impoverished communities. It comments on the lost opportunities, and in some cases, the lack of a dream to be fulfilled at all.
“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”
- Langston Hughes

Jonathan Kozol’s life, books, and causes combine to reveal his true passion and purpose: the betterment of the lives of the poor in America. He truly believes poverty can be corrected with the help of affluent Americans. He understands that the poor are not lazy people who caused their own suffering, but instead people with their own fears and tragedies, wants and desires, hopes and dreams. He left a cozy, comfortable life to go live with the poor so he could connect with them. He listened to them without bias and treated them as well as he would any wealthy American. He understood their stresses, grievances, and heartaches. He never dismissed or undermined their problems or complaints. He fought for their dreams of success. He never gave up. But most importantly, he wrote a book about it all encouraging other caring Americans, just like him, to reach out and help.

“’When a little child dies, my momma say a star go straight to Heaven,’ says Serena.” (P.15, Savage Inequalities)

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