Jonathan Kozol | A Leading Voice on Public Education and Childhood Poverty

Jonathan Kozol

A Leading Voice on Public Education and Childhood Poverty

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Jonathan Kozol

In the passion of the civil rights campaigns of 1964 and 1965, Jonathan Kozol gave up the prospect of a promising and secure career within the academic world, moved from Harvard Square into a poor black neighborhood of Boston, and became a fourth grade teacher.

He has since devoted nearly his entire life to the challenge of providing equal opportunity within our public schools to every child, of whatever racial origin or economic level. He is, at the present time, the most widely read and highly honored education writer in America.

Death at an Early Age, a description of his first year as a teacher, received the 1968 National Book Award in Science, Philosophy, and Religion. Now regarded as a classic by educators, it has sold more than two million copies in the United States and Europe.

Among the other major works that he has written since are Rachel and Her Children, a study of homeless mothers and their children, which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for 1989, and Savage Inequalities, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992.

His 1995 best-seller, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, described his visits to the South Bronx of New York, the poorest congressional district of America. Featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and praised by children's advocates and theologians all over the nation, Amazing Grace received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1996, an honor previously granted to the works of Langston Hughes and Dr. Martin Luther King. Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison wrote that Amazing Grace was "good in the old-fashioned sense: beautiful and morally worthy." Elie Wiesel said, "Jonathan's struggle is noble. What he says must be heard. His outcry must shake our nation out of its guilty indifference."

Ten years later, in The Shame of the Nation, Jonathan returned to the battle with a powerful expose of conditions he had found in visiting nearly 60 public schools in 30 different districts in 11 states. Virtually everywhere, he found that inner-city children were more isolated racially than at any time since federal courts began dismantling the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. "They live an apartheid existence and attend apartheid schools. Few of them know white children any longer."

The Shame of the Nation, which appeared on the New York Times best-seller list the week that it was published, has since joined Amazing Grace, Savage Inequalities, and Death at an Early Age as required reading at most universities. In a follow-up work, Letters to a Young Teacher, Jonathan drew upon four decades of experience to guide the newest generation of our nation's teachers into the ethically complicated challenges but, also, "the sheer joy and passionate rewards" of what he calls "a beautiful profession."

"What a wonderful book!" said Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond. "I could not put it down!"

Now, in the major book of his career, to be published in September 2012, Jonathan tells the stories of triumph of inner-city children he has known for a quarter-century in the poorest urban neighborhoods of the United States, as well as the more somber tales of those who have not survived. Hope and glory, sorrow and despair, are intermingled in these pages, but the transcendent victories of many of the children Jonathan's readers have already come to love have left him with a cautious optimism as he looks into the years ahead.

When he is not with teachers in their classrooms, or at universities and colleges speaking to our future teachers, Jonathan is likely to be found in Washington, where he has spent much of the past two years attempting to convince his friends within the Senate leadership to radically revise the punitive aspects of the federal testing law No Child Left Behind.

Jonathan received a summa cum laude degree in English literature from Harvard in 1958, after which he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University. He has been called by The Chicago Sun-Times "today's most eloquent spokesman for America's disenfranchised." But he believes that teachers and their students speak most eloquently for themselves; and in his newest book, so full of the vitality of youth, we hear their testimony.

Jonathan Kozol
Featured Keynote Programs

Joy and Justice
The Hearts of Children and the Dignity of Teachers in an Age of Punitive and Relentless Testing.

The testing mania has introduced anxiety and anguish to far too many of the schools that serve our poorest children and has often forced their teachers to renounce their creativity in order to appease the rigid mandates of standardized instruction. How can enlightened educators restore the sense of joy and spontaneity and critical inquiry that represent the heart of an enlightened education?

“Fire in the Ashes
Awakening the Spark of Motivation among Students in Low-Income Schools”

This keynote addresses the race gap and successful methods for preventing kids from dropping out before graduation.

The Shame of the Nation
Race, Poverty, and the Corporate Invasion of our Public Schools

The sweeping resegregation of black and Latino children in our urban schools betrays the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and Brown v. Board of Education. Intensive poverty compounds the challenges these children face. Courageous teachers struggle to overcome these problems every day. We need to empower them in every way we can and defend them from the pressures introduced by privatizing forces.

The Widening Gulf
Can We Reverse the Savage Inequalities of Our Public Schools?

The inherently unequal way we fund our public schools ought to be a national embarrassment. Mr. Kozol describes the toll this takes on children and asks if civic-minded citizens, and leaders and students in our colleges and universities, can combine their powers to bring about the transformation of the present system.

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