Savage Inequalities Critical Essays

Jonathan Kozol

Savage Inequalities

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1967, in DEATH AT AN EARLY AGE, Kozol accused the Boston public school system of miseducating black schoolchildren. In 1991, in SAVAGE INEQUALITIES, Kozol, having visited inner-city schools in East St. Louis, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey, finds black and Hispanic schoolchildren to be isolated from white schoolchildren and shortchanged educationally. Only by closing the gap between rich and poor school districts in the amount of tax money spent on education, Kozol contends, can we give poor minority children an equal chance. To show just how high are the barriers to learning arising from inadequate school funding, Kozol paints a bleak picture of severe overcrowding; dilapidated school buildings; a shortage of supplies and aids to learning; and teacher salaries too low to let a school either attract good teachers or do without substitute teachers. He repeatedly contrasts inner-city austerity with the bounty of suburban schools.

Kozol blames an unjust and uncaring society for inner-city children’s low levels of academic performance, high rates of dropping out of high school, classroom discipline problems, and low levels of college attendance or completion. Although the emphasis on societal guilt can be overdone, it has value: Learning about overcrowding in ghetto high schools makes the dropout phenomenon easier to understand.

Kozol’s perspective on the woes of inner-city schools is incomplete. Improving student performance requires not merely spending more tax money but also getting parents to take more interest in their children’s educational progress. Kozol, who concedes that equalization might alienate affluent parents, shows that spending more tax money might help poor schoolchildren; he offers no airtight case either for funding equalization as a panacea, or against such remedies as choice plans or magnet schools. Yet by letting readers hear the voices of studious, articulate inner-city teenagers, he combats stereotypes; by challenging comfortable assumptions, he contributes to public debate.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. October 13, 1991, XIV, p. 5.

The Christian Science Monitor. October 21, 1991, p. 13.

Library Journal. CXVI, September 15, 1991, p. 92.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 6, 1991, p. 2.

The Nation. CCLIII, November 18, 1991, p. 620.

National Catholic Reporter. November 22, 1991, p. 38.

The New Republic. CCV, December 16, 1991, p. 18.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, October 6, 1991, p. 7.

The New Yorker. LXVII, October 28, 1991, p. 119.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, August 16, 1991, p. 40.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, October 20, 1991, p. 3.