Jeffrey Lant

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[Jonathan Kozol] has not grown more conservative with age. Indeed, he is today far more the enfant terrible than he was in 1967…. Since then, in fact, Kozol has continued to speak out often and forcefully on educational and social matters of immediate and widespread concern. However, though his points are often valid, sometimes shockingly so, he may be losing his ability to persuade people of their validity, because of an unfortunate change in his style and manner of presentation….

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In quietly understated, profoundly moving prose, Kozol was able to show [in Death at an Early Age] how creativity, individuality, and ever dwindling self-esteem were squeezed out of the predominantly black children in the school where he taught…. He portrayed in powerful detail the extent to which an educational process estranged from reality attempted to impose through books and teachers unsympathetic to the students the standards and values of a culture which largely despised and feared most of them….

[At] least part of the significance of his first book lies in its value as a chronicle of how a characteristic product of the American educational system grew out of acceptance of this state of affairs and resignation to it, to a highly uncharacteristic resistance, which finally resulted in his dismissal from the school through proceedings which made a mockery of justice and which rightly exposed the Boston School Committee to ridicule and contempt. (p. 91)

Kozol, once a man considered radical (in large part because of the thoroughness and honesty with which he reported a scandalous situation and the compassion with which he approached it), is now a full-blown social and political revolutionary….

He has thus gone from making trenchant and necessary criticism of a school system whose deterioration has never ceased in recent years, and which is still in business to create "good citizens" by containing the youth in attendance until his ideological and ethical perception has been obliterated and he comes to exist in "tedium and torpor," to delivering himself of bombastic and dogmatic pronouncements not only on the schools but about the state of the nation at large.

Kozol began to move in this direction with his second book, Free Schools, published in 1972. Sandwiched in between some healthy and sane observations about how to organize an independent school (which he himself had come to do, how to raise money, and the need to teach reading and basic skills), he began to lash out vituperatively not only at grasping landlords and corrupt city officials who impeded the progress of his work but at fellow free-school theorists whose views did not agree with his own and at the ineffectual and fainéant liberals who so often manned the free schools.

Free Schools is thus a potpourri of idiosyncratic views, a book in which Kozol unburdened himself of much of the built-up tension and anxiety which had come as a result of the conflicting pressures involved in establishing his school. In its lack of organization and in many of the attacks he made, it is an undisciplined, self-indulgent book, in form and substance the product of his wearying work in Boston's Roxbury district. But he justified the book by writing, "Educational writing is, of course, to some degree, disguised confessional."

In The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home, Kozol carries this interesting observation even farther. Here is a book utterly without order, without shape, its purpose seemingly to provide Kozol with a forum for randomly denouncing, attacking, castigating, and abjuring not only the nation of which he disapproves but in the strongest terms his friends and ne'er-do-well associates who have now dropped out of the radical race.

Plagued and driven by guilt himself, he has written this book to induce guilt and shame in others, to make them uncomfortable, to provoke "pain and anguish" in "undefended...

(The entire section contains 1014 words.)

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