Jonathan Kozol and the Pernicious Underfunding of Inner City Schools

Civil rights activist and education reformer Jonathan Kozol has been working with children in inner city schools for more than forty years. His primary focus is the pernicious under funding of schools that primarily serve minority students. In the talk below, he uses New York City as an example. In the year 2000, a child attending a Long Island school received average funding of $18,000 a year, while one attending school in the South Bronx received average funding of $8,000.

In the 1960s, Kozol worked as a primary school teacher in inner city Boston. He left classroom teaching to focus on teacher training, educational research and social justice organizing. His best known books are his 1967 Death at an Early Age: the Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools, his 1988 Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America, his 1991 Savage Inequalities, his 1995 Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation and his 2000 Ordinary Resurrections. The last two refer to his extensive work in South Bronx public schools and the students he came to know there.

In my view, his most powerful presentations are those in which he talks about Pineapple and Anthony and other students he worked with in the South Bronx.

The talk below is divided into six 8 minutes segments.

Part 1 – Kozol talks about getting his start in a Roxbury (Boston) church freedom school following the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi.

Part 2 – Kozol addresses the severe disadvantages inner city school children start out with, including the highest rate of asthma in the country (due to constant exposure to polluting industries sited in their neighborhoods), periodic episodes of homelessness and the fact that more than one-fourth have fathers in prison.

Part 3 – Kozol addresses  discriminatory funding patterns in inner city schools.

Part 4 – Kozol laments the devastating impact of high stakes testing on inner city students, teachers and principals. Introducing Pineapple and other South Bronx students he has worked with, he explains how pressure to train students for high stakes testing destroys genuine motivation for learning.

Part 5 – Kozol talks about his depressing efforts to lobby Congress to improve funding for inner city schools. He also describes the time Mr Rogers came to visit the South Bronx after school program where he volunteered.

Part 6 – Kozol talks about how teaching in the ghetto politicized him, especially after he was fired by the Boston Public Schools for teaching his African American students about the African American poet Langston Hughes.

4 thoughts on “Jonathan Kozol and the Pernicious Underfunding of Inner City Schools

  1. Thank you for highlighting Kozol’s outstanding work, Dr. B. I often used his book, Amazing Grace, as required reading in the social work policy and practice classes I taught. Kozol’s ability to describe people’s lives with such compassion and respect in the context of structural oppression was a powerful way to open the hearts and minds of students to realities they would otherwise not have had an opportunity to consider.

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