Seemingly for decades Jonathan Kozol has been the conscience of public education. For underpaid, frustrated, marginalized teachers Kozol was that voice in the wilderness – his plaints of dilapidated under financed schools resonate with those who ply their trade in the trenches.
His books are standard fare in education courses, teachers flock to his frequent appearances … and …I fear he is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
With the release of his latest book he has suddenly became the center of a maelstrom, many attacking Kozol more than his ideas. Sol Stern in the City Journal and a number of bloggers go after Kozol, and, obliquely, his ideas.
Kozol bemoans the re-segregation of public schools and the NCLB driven reliance on test prep and “dumbed down” education.
Unfortunately he is jousting with windmills …
Yes, we live in a segregated society – black and Hispanic inner cities and well as suburbs: segregation by class and by race and ethnicity. The Civil Rights movement of the fifties and sixties defined many of our lives … the boycotts, the freedom rides, the March on Washington, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Now, a half century later, to some, the victories have been eroded.
NCLB requires testing in grades 3-8, however, in New York this is nothing new. In the pre-NCLB days test scores were published in the NYTimes – low scores had consequences. Test prep was the norm from Christmas until the tests in April.
What is so disturbing is the belief that there is a simple solution. Even the perceptive columnist, Bob Herbert has a “magic wand” solution to educational issues. Wendy Kopp, the CEO and founder of Teach for American has a $120 million budget – to place “the best and brightest” into schools for two years … does her program improve student achievement? Not according to Linda Darling-Hammond … but Wendy is the favorite of corporate America …
If you spend any time in an inner city secondary school you see teachers struggling … and you confront a resistant student body: resistant to authority, resistant to doing homework, angry and rebellious, or, just alienated. Yes, great leaders and great teachers with proper resources and external supports, can, against the odds, succeed. But most of us are ordinary human beings who do the best we can … against seemingly overwhelming circumstances.
Orlando Patterson in a NYTimes article points to a core issue:
The circumstances that far too many African-Americans face — the lack of paternal support and discipline; the requirement that single mothers work regardless of the effect on their children’s care; the hypocritical refusal of conservative politicians to put their money where their mouths are on family values; the recourse by male youths to gangs as parental substitutes; the ghetto-fabulous culture of the streets; the lack of skills among black men for the jobs and pay they want; the hypersegregation of blacks into impoverished inner-city neighborhoods — all interact perversely with the prison system that simply makes hardened criminals of nonviolent drug offenders and spits out angry men who are unemployable, unreformable and unmarriageable, closing the vicious circle.
It is easier to fund Teach for America or attack tenure or support or oppose some reading program … it is harder to confront the inner city culture that Patterson describes and we have created.
Until we confront these issues, our schools, our nation, and our children will flounder.