Jonathan Kozol Vivian Gornick

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Vivian Gornick

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Kozol's books are, essentially, a radical's indictment of the inequities inherent in American society. Not only are those inequities made manifest in every aspect of public school life, says Kozol, but the public school education is designed to serve the domestic and foreign policies of the profit-making system….

Furthermore, says Kozol, that is all that takes place in the schools. The great realities of life—love, pain, fear, death; poverty, hunger, oppression; the vast miseries of ghetto life, the insatiable greed of capitalist enterprise; the health of outrage; the uncompromising respect for truth; the passionate concern for justice—all these are kept at a distance from the children through the "balanced" language of teachers, parents and administrators who, before all else, serve the system and are themselves afraid to take strong, clear action against the desperate lack of passion with which we live out our morally sluggish American lives.

This blanket accusation is the substance of "The Night Is Dark." The book is neither a description of experience from which such conclusions flow naturally nor an amalgam of experience and argument out of which such conclusions persuade, but rather it is one long piece of enraged opinion about middle-class society as a whole which begins and ends at the same fever pitch, repeats itself mercilessly and is blindly, overwhelmingly denunciatory. The discussion of how middle-class children are educated, the purported subject of the book, is an excuse for the accusation. The true subject of the book is: Middle-class America, you must not be allowed to forget that you live as they live precisely because they in the ghettoes live as they live; therefore it is incumbent on you to live as they live in order to cease contributing to their institutionalized misery. As it happens, this is a piece of politics I share with Kozol. It is a viewpoint I find wholly admirable. What I do not find admirable is the finger-pointing pomposity with which Kozol delivers the message. (p. 8)

[His] language pitches ever higher and higher, swinging wider and wider,...

(The entire section is 522 words.)