Jonathan Kozol is as much an activist as he is a writer. “I certainly write to change things,’' he says by telephone from his home in Byfield, Mass. “I’m not interested in simply adding to the literature. I want to change the schools.’'
Kozol, 55, hopes his new book, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools, will force people to reexamine the tax system by which public schools receive their funding, a method that Kozol believes has created enormous disparities between inner-city and suburban schools. “We now have two completely separate and unequal schooling systems,’' he writes.
Savage Inequalities marks something of a return to the classroom for Kozol, whose first book, Death at an Early Age, published in 1967, was a stirring account of his experience as a 4th grade teacher in inner-city Boston. In recent years, Kozol has written acclaimed books about illiteracy (Illiterate America) and the homeless (Rachel and Her Children). With Savage Inequalities, Kozol comes full circle. “I felt, after 25 years, it was important to go back and see what was happening in the schools.’'
Kozol was shocked by what he found. Visiting schools in New York City, Washington, D.C., Camden, N.J., San Antonio, Chicago, and East St. Louis, Ill., Kozol saw overcrowded classrooms, science labs without equipment, and buildings with faulty heating and ventilation systems. He saw students using outdated textbooks--if they had any at all. Mostly, he saw schools that were as segregated as the ones he remembered from the 1960s. “I knew that segregation was still common in the United States,’' he says, “but I had no idea how much it had intensified.’'
Kozol’s solution to the problem? “We should abolish the property tax as a source of school revenue and replace it with a progressive income tax. If we simply distribute those revenues fairly, we could begin to integrate and save our schools. But to believe it will happen soon, or ever, to believe that this country will recognize and atone for the harm it’s inflicted on its children--that would take a tremendous leap of faith.’'
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 1991 edition of Teacher as Savage Inequalities