Charles R. Moyer

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[Death at an Early Age] is an all-out attack on the Boston school system and tends to use the author's classroom experiences only as ammunition for that attack…. [Callous] indifference … is amply documented in his book, and Mr. Kozol certainly emerges from the book as a dedicated teacher. But he is so incensed by the conditions under which he worked that his book tends toward the melodramatic with innocent black children cowering under white racist school officials—plainclothes Cossacks, as it were, sent in to ride herd on the ghetto.

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Perhaps because he taught in the Boston schools when there was a great deal of public clamor about bussing black children into white schools, Mr. Kozol's book is in large part a polemic against segregated schools. If one is not already aware of the horrors that can sometimes or even frequently be found in such schools, Death at an Early Age can be informative. Mr. Kozol uses the words "racist" and "bigot" pretty freely, and in his opinion the self-seeking, racist officials who preside over these segregated schools are the white community's agents whose job it is to see that the black schools remain separate and unequal. (pp. 105-06)

Although he is very severe upon the now-notorious Mrs. [Louise Day] Hicks and the other school officials, perhaps the chief villain of his book is the benevolent Reading Teacher who personifies the smothering, well meaning, half-liberal condescension which can be more deadly than outright enmity. This particular teacher figures so largely in the book and has to endure so much of Mr. Kozol's wonder and scorn that one ends the book feeling a bit sorry for her. But if her hard work and benevolent intentions speak in her favor, Mr. Kozol makes it clear that her semi-colonial paternalism could be quite lethal….

Mr. Kozol can be very contemptuous of such "white school-ladies." It is, he thinks, these teachers rather than the black children who are "culturally disadvantaged," and their teaching is only an attempt to replace the vivid, rich culture of the black children with their own sterile, washed-out style of life. But the truth is that his rather romantic primitivism blinds Mr. Kozol to his own brand of condescension which prevents him from ever seeing the black children in any role other than that of innocent victims. The result is that we see and hear very...

(The entire section contains 610 words.)

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