Renowned social justice author Jonathan Kozol warned a packed MU auditorium on Tuesday night that segregation “has returned with a vengeance” to America’s public schools.
Citing his most recent book, “Shame of the Nation,” Kozol said black and Latino children do not receive the same level of education as their white counterparts.
“The number of blacks in integrated schools has reverted back to the numbers pre-Martin Luther King Jr.’s death,” Kozol said.
He said progress made by civil rights leaders such as Rosa Parks is being reversed by federal legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act.
Kozol said requiring teachers to meet national testing requirements stifles their ability to teach children what they really need to know.
As an example of the gap between urban and suburban schools, Kozol cited the funding differences between a South Bronx school district and Long Island’s richest suburb, Manhasset. The South Bronx district received $11,000 a year for each student, whereas the Manhasset school district received $22,000 a year, Kozol said.
“These kids are coming into classrooms with price tags on their foreheads,” Kozol said. “The kids I’m talking about are the cheap babies; they’re the Wal-Mart babies, not the Neiman Marcus babies.”
The school districts were two of the 60 across the country that Kozol visited in five years doing research for his most recent book. Kozol described the conditions of children in poorly funded public schools as being degrading, repellent, decrepit, smelly and overcrowded. One high school classroom in Los Angeles had as many as 40 children per class, he said.
“I think beautiful surroundings refine the souls of children,” Kozol said.
Kozol spoke to an auditorium filled with professors, elementary teachers and students at the request of Elizabeth Morningstar, an MU senior.
“Not only is he a champion for education and equality, but most importantly, he is a champion for our children,” Morningstar said.
Morningstar said she was inspired by his books after reading them as part of a sociology course and participating in a service-learning class. Kozol is a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes scholar. He spent many years teaching fourth grade in his native Boston public school system but was fired after reading a poem by Langston Hughes to his students.