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Volume III, Number 9, October, 2005

The Shame of the Nation

The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America

by Jonathan Kozol
Publication Date: September 2005
Price: $25.00
ISBN: 1-4000-5244-0

Reviewed by Jamie McKenzie (About Author)

“The nation needs to be confronted with the crime that we’re committing and the promises we are betraying. This is a book about betrayal of the young, who have no power to defend themselves. It is not intended to make readers comfortable.”

Kozol is eloquent as he describes two severely troubling trends that are damaging both the children and the schools of our nation.

1. Schools are becoming more segregated, returning to levels not seen since the 1960s.

2. NCLB is forcing many schools to practice a narrowly-defined, mechanized approach to teaching and learning that is harmful to children.

The Shame of the Nation is passionate, sad and angry. Kozol fills its pages with stories of real children, teachers, principals and schools who are struggling to survive against terrible conditions.

We should send a copy of this book to every member of Congress and ask them to reverse the surrender of American principles, ask them to face the growing injustice sweeping across the nation as poverty and segregation grow in ways that will permanently scar the young.

Kozol cites the research of Gary Orfield of Harvard to document the return to a heavily segregated system.
"At the beginning of the twenty-first century," according to Professor Gary Orfield and his colleagues at the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, " American public schools are now 12 years into the process of continuous resegregation. The desegregation of black students, which increased continuously from the 1950s to the late 1980s, has now receded to levels not seen in three decades." (p 19)

Kozol devotes much of his book to vignettes, portraying the consequences of resegregation for the children condemned to poorly funded, separate schools and classrooms. The stories and images are troubling. Rather than delivering on Dr. Martin Luther King's dream, our nation has turned its back and looked away.

In Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court ruled that separate schools could not be equal. But Kozol examines currently popular strategies to boost the quality of urban schooling that seem designed to argue the contrary. He shows that many of these rely upon approaches to teaching and learning that are harsh and militaristic.

Meanwhile, the architects of this social, economic and educational disaster crow of their values and their religiosity. Even as they engineer a widening of the social divide, they accuse opponents of "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

The facts reported by Kozol are shocking.

The stories are chilling.

Quoting from the book jacket:

First, a state of nearly absolute apartheid now prevails in thousands of our schools. The segregation of black children has reverted to a level that the nation has not seen since 1968. Few of the students in these schools know white children any longer. Second, a proto-military form of discipline has now emerged, modeled on stick-and-carrot methods of behavioral control traditionally used in prisons but targeted exclusively at black and Hispanic children. And third, as high-stakes testing takes on pathological and punitive dimensions, liberal education in our inner-city schools has been increasingly replaced by culturally barren and robotic methods of instruction that would be rejected out of hand by schools that serve the mainstream of society.

It is difficult to read this book without losing faith in the American system. It is a tale of broken promises and neglect. Kozol devotes several chapters to understanding how we might have arrived at this dismal stage of retreat from social and racial justice. He traces the reversal to federal court decisions undermining integration efforts in cities across the land. He shows a city like Seattle has rapidly lost ground in recent years as conservative courts ruled against rules that had led to some degree of integration.

As he seeks solutions and grounds for hope, Kozol is most encouraged and encouraging when he centers on good teachers and good principals who offer models of courage, care and good practice, but a succession of conversations with notable sages like Professor Orfield and Congressman John Lewis suggest that it will take something remarkable to reverse the current trends on a national level.

Ultimately, a return to decency will require countless acts on the local, state and national level by citizens who come to see the segregation as a betrayal of fundamental American values. Fortunately, Kozol reports that opinion polls indicate majority support for the notion of integrated schooling. While this support may be thin and easily discarded when the issue comes close to home, it is something for us all to nurture like the proverbial candle in the wind.

In quoting Congressman Lewis near the close of the book, Kozol makes a plea for abiding faith and commitment to a cause that goes to the heart of our nation's soul.

"You cannot deviate from this. You have to say, 'Some things are good and right unto themselves,' he said again. "No matter what the present mood in Washington is like, no matter what the people who are setting policy today believe, or want us to believe, no matter what the sense of temporary hopelessness that many of us often feel, we cannot give up on the struggle we began and the dream that brought us here."

"You cannot give it up. We cannot give it up. As a nation, as a people, I don't think that we have any choice but to reject this acquiescence, to reject defeat." (pp 316-17)

© 2005, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.