America’s Educational Apartheid
Jonathan Kozol is an awardwinning writer and public lecturer who fo cuses on social injustice in the United States, an interest that began in the 1960s, when he taught in the Boston public school system. This first expe rience of learning about the lives of the country’s poor and undereducated led him to investigate and write extensively about Americans who suffer from what he calls social and educational “apartheid” in the United States, which keeps many people in a cycle of poverty that he believes is nearly impossible to break. An Internet search of Kozol’s name will demonstrate how widely he is quoted and how often he appears in the media as an expert on social inequality.
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This essay, published in Harper’s Magazine in September 2005, was adapted from his book The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apart- heid Schooling in America (2005). While Kozol uses many different sources to support his argument, the essay is written in the style of magazine jour nalism, and so he does not use footnotes. You might keep track of all the different kinds of sources in this piece, though, to see what connections you can make between Kozol’s central argument and the voices he includes here. Kozol makes his case in part by juxtaposing the words of the power less and the powerful and by contextualizing these individual speakers with statistics and facts that demonstrate what he believes is a profoundly un just system of keeping the haves and havenots separated through a variety of policies and belief systems.
Before you read, you might consider what you know about the No Child Left Behind policy, which plays a role in Kozol’s examination of ur ban school systems. You might even do a bit of research about the strong feelings held by supporters and opponents of this policy, so that you have a sense of this highstakes conversation before you read Kozol’s analysis. Also keep your own schooling experience in mind, and think about your child hood sense of what other kids had or didn’t have. Kozol taps into a discus sion about education that is linked to almost every other kind of social division in our country. What does he hope to illuminate, and what solu tions does he propose? Just as important, where do you place yourself in this conversation about what it means to learn and grow as an American?
Many Americans who live far from our major cities and who have 1 no firsthand knowledge of the realities to be found in urban public schools seem to have the rather vague and general impression that the great extremes of racial isolation that were matters of grave national significance some thirtyfive or forty years ago have gradually but steadily diminished in more recent years. The truth, unhappily, is that the trend, for well over a decade now, has been precisely the reverse. Schools that were already deeply segregated twentyfive or thirty years ago are no less segregated now, while thousands of other schools around the country that had been integrated either voluntarily or by the force of law have since been rapidly resegregating.
In Chicago, by the academic year 2002–2003, 87 percent of public 2 school enrollment was black or Hispanic; less than 10 percent of children in the schools were white. In Washington, D.C., 94 percent of children were black or Hispanic; less than 5 percent were white. In St. Louis, 82 per cent of the student population were black or Hispanic; in Philadelphia and Cleveland, 79 percent; in Los Angeles, 84 percent; in Detroit, 96 percent; in Baltimore, 89 percent. In New York City, nearly three quarters of the stu dents were black or Hispanic.
Even these statistics, as stark as they are, cannot begin to convey how 3 deeply isolated children in the poorest and most segregated sections of
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these cities have become. In the typically colossal high schools of the Bronx, for instance, more than 90 percent of students (in most cases, more than 95 percent) are black or Hispanic. At John F. Kennedy High School in 2003, 93 percent of the enrollment of more than 4,000 students were black and Hispanic; only 3.5 percent of students at the school were white. At Harry S. Truman High School, black and Hispanic students represented 96 per cent of the enrollment of 2,700 students; 2 percent were white. At Adlai Stevenson High School, which enrolls 3,400 students, blacks and Hispan ics made up 97 percent of the student population; a mere eighttenths of 1 percent were white.
A teacher at P.S. 65 in the South Bronx once pointed out to me one of 4 the two white children I had ever seen there. His presence in her class was something of a wonderment to the teacher and to the other pupils. I asked how many white kids she had taught in the South Bronx in her career. “I’ve been at this school for eighteen years,” she said. “This is the first white stu dent I have ever taught.”
One of the most disheartening experiences for those who grew up in 5 the years when Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall were alive is to visit public schools today that bear their names, or names of other honored leaders of the integration struggles that produced the temporary progress that took place in the three decades after Brown v. Board of Edu- cation, and to find out how many of these schools are bastions of contem porary segregation. It is even more disheartening when schools like these are not in deeply segregated innercity neighborhoods but in racially mixed areas where the integration of a public school would seem to be most nat ural, and where, indeed, it takes a conscious effort on the part of parents or school officials in these districts to avoid the integration option that is often right at their front door.
In a Seattle neighborhood that I visited in 2002, for instance, where 6 approximately half the families were Caucasian, 95 percent of students at the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School were black, Hispanic, Native American, or of Asian origin. An AfricanAmerican teacher at the school told me—not with bitterness but wistfully—of seeing clusters of white parents and their children each morning on the corner of a street close to the school, waiting for a bus that took the children to a predominantly white school.
“At Thurgood Marshall,” according to a big wall poster in the school’s 7 lobby, “the dream is alive.” But schoolassignment practices and federal court decisions that have countermanded longestablished policies that previously fostered integration in Seattle’s schools make the realization of the dream identified with Justice Marshall all but unattainable today. In San Diego there is a school that bears the name of Rosa Parks in which 86 per cent of students are black and Hispanic and only some 2 percent are white. In Los Angeles there is a school that bears the name of Dr. King that is 99 percent black and Hispanic, and another in Milwaukee in which black and Hispanic children also make up 99 percent of the enrollment. There
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is a high school in Cleveland that is named for Dr. King in which black students make up 97 percent of the student body, and the graduation rate is only 35 percent. In Philadelphia, 98 percent of children at a high school named for Dr. King are black. At a middle school named for Dr. King in Boston, black and Hispanic children make up 98 percent of the enrollment.
In New York City there is a primary school named for Langston Hughes 8 (99 percent black and Hispanic), a middle school named for Jackie Robinson (96 percent black and Hispanic), and a high school named for Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the great heroes of the integration movement in the South, in which 98 percent of students are black or Hispanic. In Harlem there is yet another segregated Thurgood Marshall School (also 98 percent black and Hispanic), and in the South Bronx dozens of children I have known went to a segregated middle school named in honor of Paul Robeson in which less than half of 1 percent of the enrollment was Caucasian.
There is a wellknown high school named for Martin Luther King Jr. 9 in New York City too. This school, which I’ve visited repeatedly in recent years, is located in an uppermiddleclass white neighborhood, where it was built in the belief—or hope—that it would draw large numbers of white students by permitting them to walk to school, while only their black and Hispanic classmates would be asked to ride the bus or come by train. When the school was opened in 1975, less than a block from Lincoln Cen ter in Manhattan, “it was seen,” according to the New York Times, “as a promising effort to integrate white, black and Hispanic students in a thriv ing neighborhood that held one of the city’s cultural gems.” Even from the start, however, parents in the neighborhood showed great reluctance to permit their children to enroll at Martin Luther King, and, despite “its prime location and its name, which itself creates the highest of expecta tions,” notes the Times, the school before long came to be a destination for black and Hispanic students who could not obtain admission into more successful schools. It stands today as one of the nation’s most visible and problematic symbols of an expectation rapidly receding and a legacy sub stantially betrayed.
Perhaps most damaging to any serious effort to address racial segre 10 gation openly is the refusal of most of the major arbiters of culture in our northern cities to confront or even clearly name an obvious reality they would have castigated with a passionate determination in another section
of the nation fifty years before—and which, moreover, they still castigate today in retrospective writings that assign it to a comfortably distant and allegedly concluded era of the past. There is, indeed, a seemingly agreed upon convention in much of the media today not even to use an accurate descriptor like “racial segregation” in a narrative description of a segre gated school. Linguistic sweeteners, semantic somersaults, and surrogate vocabularies are repeatedly employed. Schools in which as few as 3 or 4 percent of students may be white or Southeast Asian or of Middle East ern origin, for instance—and where every other child in the building is black or Hispanic — are referred to as “diverse.” Visitors to schools like these
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discover quickly the eviscerated meaning of the word, which is no longer a proper adjective but a euphemism for a plainer word that has apparently become unspeakable.
School systems themselves repeatedly employ this euphemism in de 11 scribing the composition of their student populations. In a school I vis ited in the fall of 2004 in Kansas City, Missouri, for example, a document distributed to visitors reports that the school’s curriculum “addresses the needs of children from diverse backgrounds.” But as I went from class to class, I did not encounter any children who were white or Asian — or His panic, for that matter—and when I was later provided with precise sta tistics for the demographics of the school, I learned that 99.6 percent of students there were African American. In a similar document, the school board of another district, this one in New York State, referred to “the di versity” of its student population and “the rich variations of ethnic back grounds.” But when I looked at the racial numbers that the district had reported to the state, I learned that there were 2,800 black and Hispanic chil dren in the system, 1 Asian child, and 3 whites. Words, in these cases, cease
to have real meaning; or, rather, they mean the opposite of what they say. High school students whom I talk with in deeply segregated neighbor 12
hoods and public schools seem far less circumspect than their elders and far more open in their willingness to confront these issues. “It’s more like being hidden,” said a fifteenyearold girl named Isabel1 I met some years ago in Harlem, in attempting to explain to me the ways in which she and her classmates understood the racial segregation of their neighborhoods and schools. “It’s as if you have been put in a garage where, if they don’t have room for something but aren’t sure if they should throw it out, they put it there where they don’t need to think of it again.”
I asked her if she thought America truly did not “have room” for her 13 or other children of her race. “Think of it this way,” said a sixteenyearold girl sitting beside her. “If people in New York woke up one day and learned that we were gone, that we had simply died or left for somewhere else, how would they feel?”
“How do you think they’d feel?” I asked. 14 “I think they’d be relieved,” this very solemn girl replied. 15 Many educators make the argument today that given the demograph 16
ics of large cities like New York and their suburban areas, our only realis tic goal should be the nurturing of strong, empowered, and wellfunded schools in segregated neighborhoods. Black school officials in these situ ations have sometimes conveyed to me a bitter and clearsighted recogni tion that they’re being asked, essentially, to mediate and render functional an uncontested separation between children of their race and children of white people living sometimes in a distant section of their town and some
1 The names of children mentioned in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.
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times in almost their own immediate communities. Implicit in this media tion is a willingness to set aside the promises of Brown and — though never stating this or even thinking of it clearly in these terms—to settle for the promise made more than a century ago in Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court ruling in which “separate but equal” was accepted as a tol erable rationale for the perpetuation of a dual system in American society.
Equality itself — equality alone — is now, it seems, the article of faith 17 to which most of the principals of innercity public schools subscribe. And some who are perhaps most realistic do not even dare to ask for, or expect, complete equality, which seems beyond the realm of probability for many years to come, but look instead for only a sufficiency of means — “adequacy” is the legal term most often used today—by which to win those practical and finite victories that appear to be within their reach. Higher standards, higher expectations, are repeatedly demanded of these urban principals, and of the teachers and students in their schools, but far lower standards — certainly in ethical respects — appear to be expected of the dominant soci ety that isolates these children in unequal institutions.
“Dear Mr. Kozol,” wrote the eightyearold, “we do not have the things 18 you have. You have Clean things. We do not have. You have a clean bath room. We do not have that. You have Parks and we do not have Parks. You have all the thing and we do not have all the thing. Can you help us?”
The letter, from a child named Alliyah, came in a fat envelope of twenty 19 seven letters from a class of thirdgrade children in the Bronx. Other let ters that the students in Alliyah’s classroom sent me registered some of the same complaints. “We don’t have no gardens,” “no Music or Art,” and “no fun places to play,” one child said. “Is there a way to fix this Problem?” Another noted a concern one hears from many children in such over crowded schools: “We have a gym but it is for lining up. I think it is not fair.” Yet another of Alliyah’s classmates asked me, with a sweet misspell ing, if I knew the way to make her school into a “good” school—“like the other kings have”—and ended with the hope that I would do my best to make it possible for “all the kings” to have good schools.
The letter that affected me the most, however, had been written by a 20 child named Elizabeth. “It is not fair that other kids have a garden and new things. But we don’t have that,” said Elizabeth. “I wish that this school was the most beautiful school in the whole why world.”
“The whole why world” stayed in my thoughts for days. When I later 21 met Elizabeth, I brought her letter with me, thinking I might see whether, in reading it aloud, she’d change the “why” to “wide” or leave it as it was. My visit to her class, however, proved to be so pleasant, and the children seemed so eager to bombard me with their questions about where I lived, and why I lived there rather than in New York, and who I lived with, and how many dogs I had, and other interesting questions of that sort, that I decided not to interrupt the nice reception they had given me with questions about usages and spelling. I left “the whole why world” to float around unedited
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and unrevised in my mind. The letter itself soon found a resting place on the wall above my desk.
In the years before I met Elizabeth, I had visited many other schools 22 in the South Bronx and in one northern district of the Bronx as well. I had made repeated visits to a high school where a stream of water flowed down one of the main stairwells on a rainy afternoon and where green fungus molds were growing in the office where the students went for counseling. A large blue barrel was positioned to collect rainwater coming through the ceiling. In one makeshift elementary school housed in a former skating rink next to a funeral establishment in yet another nearly allblackand Hispanic section of the Bronx, class size rose to thirtyfour and more; four kindergarten classes and a sixthgrade class were packed into a single room that had no windows. The air was stifling in many rooms, and the children had no place for recess because there was no outdoor playground and no indoor gym.
In another elementary school, which had been built to hold 1,000 chil 23 dren but was packed to bursting with some 1,500, the principal poured out his feelings to me in a room in which a plastic garbage bag had been attached somehow to cover part of the collapsing ceiling. “This,” he told me, pointing to the garbage bag, then gesturing around him at the other indications of decay and disrepair one sees in ghetto schools much like it elsewhere, “would not happen to white children.”
Libraries, once one of the glories of the New York City school system, 24 were either nonexistent or, at best, vestigial in large numbers of the ele mentary schools. Art and music programs had also for the most part dis appeared. “When I began to teach in 1969,” the principal of an elementary school in the South Bronx reported to me, “every school had a fulltime licensed art and music teacher and librarian.” During the subsequent de cades, he recalled, “I saw all of that destroyed.”
School physicians also were removed from elementary schools dur 25 ing these years. In 1970, when substantial numbers of white children still attended New York City’s public schools, 400 doctors had been present to address the health needs of the children. By 1993 the number of doctors had been cut to 23, most of them parttime — a cutback that affected most severely children in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where medical facil ities were most deficient and health problems faced by children most ex treme. Teachers told me of asthmatic children who came into class with chronic wheezing and who at any moment of the day might undergo more serious attacks, but in the schools I visited there were no doctors to attend to them.
In explaining these steep declines in services, political leaders in New 26 York tended to point to shifting economic factors, like a serious budget cri sis in the middle 1970s, rather than to the changing racial demographics of the student population. But the fact of economic ups and downs from year to year, or from one decade to the next, could not convincingly explain the permanent shortchanging of the city’s students, which took place routinely
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in good economic times and bad. The bad times were seized upon politi cally to justify the cuts, and the money was never restored once the crisis years were past.
“If you close your eyes to the changing racial composition of the 27 schools and look only at budget actions and political events,” says Noreen Connell, the director of the nonprofit Educational Priorities Panel in New York, “you’re missing the assumptions that are underlying these deci sions.” When minority parents ask for something better for their kids, she says, “the assumption is that these are parents who can be discounted. These are kids who just don’t count — children we don’t value.”
This, then, is the accusation that Alliyah and her classmates send our 28 way: “You have . . . We do not have.” Are they right or are they wrong? Is this a case of naive and simplistic juvenile exaggeration? What does a thirdgrader know about these bigtime questions of fairness and justice? Physical appearances apart, how in any case do you begin to measure something so diffuse and vast and seemingly abstract as having more, or having less, or not having at all?
Around the time I met Alliyah in the school year 1997–1998, New 29 York’s Board of Education spent about $8,000 yearly on the education of a thirdgrade child in a New York City public school. If you could have scooped Alliyah up out of the neighborhood where she was born and plunked her down in a fairly typical white suburb of New York, she would have received a public education worth about $12,000 a year. If you were to lift her up once more and set her down in one of the wealthiest white suburbs of New York, she would have received as much as $18,000 worth of public education every year and would likely have had a thirdgrade teacher paid approximately $30,000 more than her teacher in the Bronx was paid.
The dollars on both sides of the equation have increased since then, 30 but the discrepancies between them have remained. The present perpupil spending level in the New York City schools is $11,700, which may be com pared with a perpupil spending level in excess of $22,000 in the welltodo suburban district of Manhasset, Long Island. The present New York City level is, indeed, almost exactly what Manhasset spent per pupil eighteen years ago, in 1987, when that sum of money bought a great deal more in services and salaries than it can buy today. In dollars adjusted for inflation, New York City has not yet caught up to where its wealthiest suburbs were a quartercentury ago.
Gross discrepancies in teacher salaries between the city and its afflu 31 ent white suburbs have remained persistent as well. In 1997 the median salary for teachers in Alliyah’s neighborhood was $43,000, as compared with $74,000 in suburban Rye, $77,000 in Manhasset, and $81,000 in the town of Scarsdale, which is only about eleven miles from Alliyah’s school. Five years later, in 2002, salary scales for New York City’s teachers rose to levels that approximated those within the lowerspending districts in the suburbs, but salary scales do not reflect the actual salaries that teachers
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typically receive, which are dependent upon years of service and advanced degrees. Salaries for firstyear teachers in the city were higher than they’d been four years before, but the differences in median pay between the city and its uppermiddleincome suburbs had remained extreme. The overall figure for New York City in 2002–2003 was $53,000, while it had climbed to $87,000 in Manhasset and exceeded $95,000 in Scarsdale.
“There are expensive children and there are cheap children,” writes 32 Marina Warner, an essayist and novelist who has written many books for children, “just as there are expensive women and cheap women.” The gov ernmentally administered diminishment in value of the children of the poor begins even before the age of five or six, when they begin their years
of formal education in the public schools. It starts during their infant and toddler years, when hundreds of thousands of children of the very poor in much of the United States are locked out of the opportunity for preschool education for no reason but the accident of birth and budgetary choices of the government, while children of the privileged are often given veritable feasts of rich developmental early education.
In New York City, for example, affluent parents pay surprisingly large 33 sums of money to enroll their youngsters, beginning at the age of two or three, in extraordinary earlyeducation programs that give them social competence and rudimentary pedagogic skills unknown to children of the same age in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. The most exclusive of the private preschools in New York, which are known to those who can afford them as “Baby Ivies,” cost as much as $24,000 for a fullday program. Com petition for admission to these preK schools is so extreme that private counselors are frequently retained, at fees as high as $300 an hour, to guide the parents through the application process.
At the opposite extreme along the economic spectrum in New York are 34 thousands of children who receive no preschool opportunity at all. Exactly how many thousands are denied this opportunity in New York City and in other major cities is almost impossible to know. Numbers that origi nate in governmental agencies in many states are incomplete and impre cise and do not always differentiate with clarity between authentic preK programs that have educative and developmental substance and those less expensive childcare arrangements that do not. But even where states do compile numbers that refer specifically to educative preschool programs,
it is difficult to know how many of the children who are served are of low income, since admissions to some of the statesupported programs aren’t determined by low income or they are determined by a complicated set of factors of which poverty is only one.
There are remarkable exceptions to this pattern in some sections of 35 the nation. In Milwaukee, for example, virtually every fouryearold is now enrolled in a preliminary kindergarten program, which amounts to a full year of preschool education, prior to a second kindergarten year for fiveyearolds. More commonly in urban neighborhoods, large numbers of lowincome children are denied these opportunities and come into their
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kindergarten year without the minimal social skills that children need in order to participate in class activities and without even such very modest earlylearning skills as knowing how to hold a crayon or a pencil, identify perhaps a couple of shapes and colors, or recognize that printed pages go from left to right.
Three years later, in third grade, these children are introduced to what 36 are known as “highstakes tests,” which in many urban systems now deter mine whether students can or cannot be promoted. Children who have been in programs like those offered by the “Baby Ivies” since the age of two have, by now, received the benefits of six or seven years of education, nearly twice as many as the children who have been denied these opportu nities; yet all are required to take, and will be measured by, the same exam inations. Which of these children will receive the highest scores? The ones who spent the years from two to four in lovely little Montessori programs and in other pastelpainted settings in which tender and attentive and well trained instructors read to them from beautiful storybooks and introduced them very gently for the first time to the world of numbers and the shapes of letters, and the sizes and varieties of solid objects, and perhaps taught them to sort things into groups or to arrange them in a sequence, or to do those many other interesting things that early childhood specialists refer to as prenumeracy skills? Or the ones who spent those years at home in front of a TV or sitting by the window of a slum apartment gazing down into the street? There is something deeply hypocritical about a society that holds an eightyearold innercity child “accountable” for her performance on a highstakes standardized exam but does not hold the high officials of our government accountable for robbing her of what they gave their own kids six or seven years earlier.
Perhaps in order to deflect these recognitions, or to soften them some 37 what, many people, even while they do not doubt the benefit of making very large investments in the education of their own children, somehow — paradoxical as it may seem — appear to be attracted to the argument that money may not really matter that much at all. No matter with what regu larity such doubts about the worth of spending money on a child’s educa tion are advanced, it is obvious that those who have the money, and who spend it lavishly to benefit their own kids, do not do it for no reason. Yet shockingly large numbers of welleducated and sophisticated people whom I talk with nowadays dismiss such challenges with a surprising ease.
“Is the answer really to throw money into these dysfunctional and failing schools?” I’m often asked. “Don’t we have some better ways to make them ‘work’?” The question is posed in a variety of forms. “Yes, of course, it’s not a perfectly fair system as it stands. But money alone is surely not the sole response. The values of the parents and the kids themselves must have a role in this as well — you know, housing, health conditions, social factors.” “Other factors”—a term of overall reprieve one often hears—“have got to be considered, too.” These latter points are obviously true but always seem to have the odd effect of substituting things we know we cannot change in
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the short run for obvious solutions like cutting class size and construct ing new school buildings or providing universal preschool that we actually could put in place right now if we were so inclined.
Frequently these arguments are posed as questions that do not invite 38 an answer because the answer seems to be decided in advance. “Can you really buy your way to better education for these children?” “Do we know enough to be quite sure that we will see an actual return on the investment that we make?” “Is it even clear that this is the right starting point to get to where we’d like to go? It doesn’t always seem to work, as I am sure that you already know,” or similar questions that somehow assume I will agree with those who ask them.
Some people who ask these questions, although they live in wealthy 39 districts where the schools are funded at high levels, don’t even send their children to these public schools but choose instead to send them to expen sive private day schools. At some of the wellknown private prep schools
in the New York City area, tuition and associated costs are typically more than $20,000 a year. During their children’s teenage years, they sometimes send them off to very fine New England schools like Andover or Exeter or Groton, where tuition, boarding, and additional expenses rise to more than $30,000. Often a family has two teenage children in these schools at the same time, so they may be spending more than $60,000 on their children’s education every year. Yet here I am one night, a guest within their home, and dinner has been served and we are having coffee now; and this entirely likable, and generally sensible, and beautifully refined and thoughtful person looks me in the eyes and asks me whether you can really buy your way to better education for the children of the poor.
As racial isolation deepens and the inequalities of education finance re 40 main unabated and take on new and more innovative forms, the principals of many innercity schools are making choices that few principals in pub lic schools that serve white children in the mainstream of the nation ever need to contemplate. Many have been dedicating vast amounts of time and effort to create an architecture of adaptive strategies that promise incre mental gains within the limits inequality allows. . . .
Corporate leaders, when they speak of education, sometimes pay lip 41 service to the notion of “good critical and analytic skills,” but it is reason able to ask whether they have in mind the critical analysis of their priori ties. In principle, perhaps some do; but, if so, this is not a principle that seems to have been honored widely in the schools I have been visiting. In
all the various businessdriven innercity classrooms I have observed in the past five years, plastered as they are with corporation brand names and managerial vocabularies, I have yet to see the two words “labor unions.” Is this an oversight? How is that possible? Teachers and principals them selves, who are almost always members of a union, seem to be so beaten down that they rarely even question this omission.
It is not at all unusual these days to come into an urban school in which 42 the principal prefers to call himself or herself “building CEO” or “building
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manager.” In some of the same schools teachers are described as “class room managers.”2 I have never been in a suburban district in which principals were asked to view themselves or teachers in this way. These terminologies remind us of how wide the distance has become between two very separate worlds of education.
It has been more than a decade now since drillbased literacy meth 43 ods like Success for All began to proliferate in our urban schools. It has been three and a half years since the systems of assessment that determine the effectiveness of these and similar practices were codified in the federal legislation, No Child Left Behind, that President Bush signed into law in 2002. Since the enactment of this bill, the number of standardized exams children must take has more than doubled. It will probably increase again after the year 2006, when standardized tests, which are now required in grades three through eight, may be required in Head Start programs and, as President Bush has now proposed, in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades as well.
The elements of strict accountability, in short, are solidly in place; and 44 in many states where the present federal policies are simply reinforce ments of accountability requirements that were established long before the passage of the federal law, the same regimen has been in place since 1995 or even earlier. The “testsandstandards” partisans have had things very much their way for an extended period of time, and those who were convinced that they had ascertained “what works” in schools that serve minorities and children of the poor have had ample opportunity to prove that they were right.
What, then, it is reasonable to ask, are the results? 45
The achievement gap between black and white children, which nar 46 rowed for three decades up until the late years of the 1980s — the period in
2A school I visited three years ago in Columbus, Ohio, was littered with “Help Wanted” signs. Starting in kindergarten, children in the school were being asked to think about the jobs that they might choose when they grew up. In one classroom there was a poster that displayed the names of several retail stores: J. C. Penney, WalMart, Kmart, Sears, and a few others. “It’s like working in a store,” a classroom aide explained. “The children are learning to pretend they’re cashiers.” At another school in the same district, children were encouraged to apply for jobs in their classrooms. Among the job positions open to the children in this school, there was an “Absence Manager” and a “Behavior Chart Manager,” a “Form Collector Manager,” a “Paper Passer Outer Manager,” a “Paper Collecting Manager,” a “Paper Returning Manager,” an “Exit Ticket Manager,” even a “Learning Manager,” a “Reading Corner Manager,” and a “Score Keeper Manager.” I asked the principal if there was a special reason why those two words “management” and “manager” kept popping up throughout the school. “We want every child to be work ing as a manager while he or she is in this school,” the principal explained. “We want to make them understand that, in this country, companies will give you opportunities to work, to prove yourself, no matter what you’ve done.” I wasn’t sure what she meant by “no matter what you’ve done,” and asked her if she could explain it. “Even if you have a felony arrest,” she said, “we want you to understand that you can be a manager someday.”
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which school segregation steadily decreased — started to widen once more in the early 1990s when the federal courts began the process of resegrega tion by dismantling the mandates of the Brown decision. From that point on, the gap continued to widen or remained essentially unchanged; and while recently there has been a modest narrowing of the gap in reading scores for fourthgrade children, the gap in secondary school remains as wide as ever.
The media inevitably celebrate the periodic upticks that a set of scores 47 may seem to indicate in one year or another in achievement levels of black and Hispanic children in their elementary schools. But if these upticks were not merely temporary “testing gains” achieved by testprep regimens and were instead authentic education gains, they would carry over into middle school and high school. Children who know how to read—and read with comprehension — do not suddenly become nonreaders and hopelessly dis abled writers when they enter secondary school. False gains evaporate; real gains endure. Yet hundreds of thousands of the innercity children who have made what many districts claim to be dramatic gains in elemen tary school, and whose principals and teachers have adjusted almost every aspect of their school days and school calendars, forfeiting recess, cancel ing or cutting back on all the socalled frills (art, music, even social sci ences) in order to comply with state demands—those students, now in secondary school, are sitting in subjectmatter classes where they cannot comprehend the texts and cannot set down their ideas in the kind of sen tences expected of most fourthand fifthgrade students in the suburbs. Students in this painful situation, not surprisingly, tend to be most likely to drop out of school.
In 48 percent of high schools in the nation’s 100 largest districts, which 48 are those in which the highest concentrations of black and Hispanic stu dents tend to be enrolled, less than half the entering ninthgraders grad uate in four years. Nationwide, from 1993 to 2002, the number of high schools graduating less than half their ninthgrade class in four years has increased by 75 percent. In the 94 percent of districts in New York State where white children make up the majority, nearly 80 percent of students graduate from high school in four years. In the 6 percent of districts where black and Hispanic students make up the majority, only 40 percent do so. There are 120 high schools in New York, enrolling nearly 200,000 minority students, where less than 60 percent of entering ninthgraders even make it to twelfth grade.
The promulgation of new and expanded inventories of “what works,” 49 no matter the enthusiasm with which they’re elaborated, is not going to change this. The use of hortatory slogans chanted by the students in our seg regated schools is not going to change this. Desperate historical revision ism that romanticizes the segregation of an older order (this is a common theme of many separatists today) is not going to change this. Skinnerian instructional approaches, which decapitate a child’s capability for critical reflection, are not going to change this. Posters about “global competition”
kozol from STIll SEPARATE, STIll unEquAl 417
will certainly not change this. Turning sixyearolds into examination sol diers and denying eightyearolds their time for play at recess will not change this.
“I went to Washington to challenge the soft bigotry of low expecta 50 tions,” said President Bush in his campaign for reelection in September 2004. “It’s working. It’s making a difference.” Here we have one of those deadly lies that by sheer repetition is at length accepted by surprisingly large numbers of Americans. But it is not the truth; and it is not an inno cent misstatement of the facts. It is a devious appeasement of the heartache
of the parents of the black and brown and poor, and if it is not forcefully resisted it will lead us further in a very dangerous direction.
Whether the issue is inequity alone or deepening resegregation or the 51 labyrinthine intertwining of the two, it is well past the time for us to start the work that it will take to change this. If it takes people marching in the streets and other forms of adamant disruption of the governing civilities, if it takes more than litigation, more than legislation, and much more than resolutions introduced by members of Congress, these are prices we should be prepared to pay. “We do not have the things you have,” Alliyah told me when she wrote to ask if I would come and visit her school in the South Bronx. “Can you help us?” America owes that little girl and millions like her a more honorable answer than they have received.
reading as a Writer: Analyzing rhetorical Choices
1. How would you describe Kozol’s relationship to the people who are the subject of his essay? How does this relationship work to his advantage, or disadvantage, as he builds his argument? Be prepared to point to and ex plain several passages that support your responses to these questions.
2. Who is Kozol’s audience (or audiences), and how can you tell? You might find it helpful to look for the counterarguments Kozol addresses, the kinds of sources he uses to make his argument, and the examples he uses to illustrate his points. Based on your findings, you could also consider who might be shut out of his audience, and why this matters.
Writing as a reader: Entering the Conversation of Ideas
1. Kozol and Beverly Daniel Tatum both focus on conversational exchanges between those in power and those without power within educational set tings. Write an essay in which you analyze the similarities and differences in the points they raise and the conclusions they draw. What are the prob lems and the potential each author sees in education in the United States when it comes to racial equity? Where do you stand on the issues they raise and the conclusions they draw? Feel free to include a few of your own spe cific experiences and insights as you take a stance on this important topic.
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In his essay, Kozol notes that certain school districts claim a diverse popu lation, but he reveals what he calls “the eviscerated meaning of the word” (para. 10). Ann duCille is also interested in the ways that terms related to multiculturalism and diversity are often euphemisms for something else. Drawing on both Kozol’s and duCille’s points about how the language of diversity and multiculturalism is often used and misused, write an essay in which you examine the significance of this dynamic in the contempo rary United States. Include your analysis of Kozol’s and duCille’s examples as well as examples from your own experience that will help you make your point.