Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jonathan Kozol's Hunger Strike

Jonathan Kozol's Hunger Strike

No one can accuse education journalist Jonathan Kozol of being lukewarm about his causes. He is now 75 days in to a partial hunger strike protesting the impending re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. You can read about his strike here. He claims that NCLB is ruining inner city education with its emphasis on frequent testing.

Kozol is best known for his book Savage Inequalities, which documents the awful school conditions many poor, inncer-city school children endure. Roofs leak. Toilets overflow. Paint peels and heaters break. Kozol is wrong in his frequent assertion that no one would treat white children this way. He's wrong in his assertion that it's all about funding (in New Jersey, for instance, the state guarantees that high-poverty "Abbott" districts be funded at the same level as the best suburban districts, and many of these schools are still rotten). But he's certainly right that such conditions make it very difficult to learn.

The descriptions of awful school buildings hit you in the gut. But that's not the most disturbing part of Savage Inequalities. Kozol goes on about teachers watching soap operas, teachers letting kids entertain themselves while they read magazines, and other evidence of schools where adults simply do not care if the children learn anything at all.

There is much to lament about NCLB, as we often do on this blog. It raises the floor, not the ceiling. It tests schools, not individual kids' progress. But the one thing it has done is lit a fire under these so-called educators who've put no effort into actually teaching. There are consequences when schools fail year after year.

And yet, Kozol complains that NCLB "dumbs down" inner city education. He, of all people, should know that few failing schools were encouraging higher level thinking before the law. I wish all children were challenged by creative teachers who got the wheels in kids' heads turning. But if that's not yet possible, at least we should try to get kids reading and doing math at grade level. NCLB creates incentives to achieve that goal. You'd think Kozol might find something to like about the law.


Anonymous said...

So, NCLB is not good enough for our middle class gifted kids...but those poor kids who attend far worse schools, well they should be happy with it because is more than they got before. Is that really your argument?

Kozol has been in these schools and he's seen first hand what happens. I've found his books thoughtful and moving. Your post just dismisses in simple short sentences an argument that is far more complex than what you find in a USA Today article.

NCLB starts from the premise that the problem is lack of motivation and the answer is to threaten and bribe. Teachers and principals need to be threatened in order to do their jobs. Students to be threatened with retention in order to make them learn. This defines the problem as one of motivation not of immense inequity. That is a wonderfully comfortable way for middle class people to wash their hands of responsibility for this problem.

The reality is that as a nation we've written off a whole class of children and yes the fact that most of them aren't white is a big part of that. It is a crying shame and No Child Left Behind hasn't begun to fix that. What it has done is convince middle and upper middle class Americans that poor kids are getting something. So as a marketing tool for Republicans who want to spend money on the military while keeping a permanent underclass in this country - it has been quite effective.

And, bravo to Kozol!

Anonymous said...

wow, gifted and talented site, huh? i counted 2 missspellings....inncer and lit.....lost credibility with me.
kozol rocks.........

Anonymous said...

Wow... your critic not only can't spell, he/she doesn't know when to use capitalization, either.