Jonathan Kozol John Holt - Essay

John Holt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kozol's book [Death at an Early Age] is an insider's wholly personal cry of outrage and pain at the things he saw done to Negro children in the schools where he taught. He is in no sense objective; though truthful, he is hardly even fair. He is not concerned … to give the devil his due, but only to show what the devils are doing. (p. 5)

It is a tale of unrelieved, and almost unbelievable, callousness and cruelty….

One asks oneself "Are these horrors true? Have indignation and resentment made Kozol exaggerate or distort what really happened? Is he a credible witness?" There is no doubt that he is. The schools call him a troublemaker, but the charge is absurd. It is clear that he leaned over backwards, to what he himself admits was a shameful degree, to stay out of trouble with the authorities and to do what they wanted. Far from looking for an excuse to fight the system, he did all he could (and far more than he should) to avoid a fight…. I have heard enough Negro boys talking … about their own experiences in the Boston schools … to feel sure that what Kozol tells us is the truth—though probably only a small part of it—and that, at least to Negro children, the Boston public schools are every bit as contemptuous, callous, and cruel as he says.

But he tells another kind of story that is in a way even more significant. These are stories about the things he was not allowed to...

(The entire section is 431 words.)