Jonathan Kozol on America’s Educational Apartheid

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  • Post last modified:August 31, 2020

Still Separate, Still Unequal: America’s Educational Apartheid (Jonathan Kozol)

Jonathan Kozol’s ‘Still Separate Still Unequal: America’s Educational Apartheid’ was published in 2005. Kozol has highlighted that a trend of resegregation has been growing inside the urban public schools in the US.  Kozol’s purpose is bigger than just highlighting the issues at Fremont High school. The high school is just a small representation of the bigger apartheid. Kozol has drawn a picture of the mismanagement giving rise to hopelessness among the students. The school’s poor management and environment are nowhere even close to being called comfortable for the students.

Along with highlighting the mismanagement, Kozol has brought to light the helplessness of the young students who are without an option. Kozol presents facts from several angles including how students see it. He also cites stats highlighting population composition of these public schools. These puzzling stats show how desegregation has remained an unfulfilled promise. Simultaneously, he highlights the deep isolation that the students of these schools face. The results that were expected to be realized after Brown v Board of Education never became a reality. Several urban public schools that were named after those valiant black leaders, stats show are filled with only children of colour and Hispanic students with hardly a small percentage of white students studying there.

Kozol has highlighted several things brilliantly – student’s and staff’s dissatisfaction and the crumbling management system. It is clear from the essay that the school is currently in a very bad state and lacks a clean and hygienic campus and environment. Above all, the writer has portrayed the maturity growing inside the students at a tender age because of facing these difficulties on a daily basis. The young students have grown a mature outlook. It is something beyond their age but it is the grim reality they face everyday. They express their views before the writer clearly. Here, apart from highlighting the weaknesses in the education system, Kozol notes the effect of these things on the future of these young students.

Kozol’s dissatisfaction over the media portrayal of these things is also evident in the essay. He notes, “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 segregated school. Linguistic sweeteners, semantic somersaults, and surrogate vocabularies are repeatedly employed”. These things could be brought to popular attention. It proves that no one is going to be serious about  the issue.  Even the pamphlets distributed by these schools mentioning diversity, are a farce according to Kozol, because there is very little real diversity inside these schools. These schools talk of racial and ethnic diversity but when you cast a glance on the real numbers, the real picture is different.

Kozol has mostly highlighted the physical aspects of the school in his essay. The author expects to illicit sympathy for the poor students from the readers. The picture of the school’s classrooms, kitchen and bathrooms is pathetic. It leaves the reader wondering about the mismanagement of the school’s resources and infrastructure if it will ever improve. Especially the scene of the classrooms without an AC and students trying to concentrate on their studies is quite disturbing. The bathrooms are in a worse state and as the students express in their own words, their condition is not even close to improving. His presentation of the school’s situation serves well to draw attention to the young student’s helplessness and dissatisfaction.

However, these children are still more willing than the elders to confront these issues. A fifteen year old girl Isabel told the author that it was like being concealed in a garage and being kept away where trash was kept. Kozol has changed the names in his article to protect the children’s privacy. He asked the girls if they really believed that  Americans were treating them and other children of their race as trash, then another girl replied with frankness that people would be relieved if they someday came to know that we poor creatures were dead or gone. While the girl’s frankness is appreciable, it is horrible to know that these kids have lost faith in American education system and society to that extent.

How the young students tell the entire story of the school’s condition before the author leaves Kozol surprised. The students express their concerns and difficulties candidly before the author. It is really astonishing to see young children telling the author about the difficulties with the school management. They tell the author about everything from the bathroom to the classes, kitchen and the courses they are forced to take at the school. The children tell their stories to the author with an open heart. The student’s maturity and the level of understanding they demonstrate is really surprising.

The article uncovers the basic weaknesses associated with the American education system. It is really pitiable to see that a girl dreaming of being a doctor has to attend sewing classes. The students are worried if they would ever be able to achieve their dream in such conditions. However, student’s maturity at a young age is not less than a surprise. These kids ask Kozol for help and mention all the things missing from their schools. They do not find any fun or creativity there. All the basic amenities that  are available in other schools where the white kids read are not there in their schools. They do not have clean bathrooms or parks. Can the author help them?

Mireya, in Kozol’s essay appears different from other students. She appears maturer than the others. First of all, her directness and sophistication catch the writer’s attention.   She speaks candidly of the problems that student’s like her face at the school. Kozol himself is surprised at her clarity. Readers too can feel the same sympathy for her. Her mention of the unhygienic toilets at the school highlights the lack of essential dignity at such schools. Kids like her have to be through a humiliating experience everyday. Mireya narrates the entire story with wisdom and insight unexpected of a kid of her age.

Her sophistication and style are unusual. She talks like a leader. The humiliation she has to face everyday when she needs to go to the bathroom between the classes is especially troubling. Mireya’s presence in the essay helps at highlighting these issues in the school management and education system. She represents a class of deprived students who face these issues at the schools. She sees and knows everything. All that the poor students like her can do is to watch helplessly. She speaks of the helplessness girls like her have to feel because of the poor situation of education and management at the school. Kozol leaves the question Mireya asked him open for everyone to answer? Can anyone help her and other kids like her?

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.