Renowned Educational Reformer Kozol Speaks to Oxy

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Author: Jessica Gelzer

On Saturday, April 4, Jonathan Kozol spoke at Oxy as the 3rd annual speaker for Phi Betta Kappa, an academic honors society. Kozol is an author of several books regarding the public school system in the United States. He is most famous for his book, Savage Inequalities, about the disparities that exist between schools because of racial segregation, the book has become standard reading for education students. His latest book is Letters to a Young Teacher, which Kozol has been told is his most cheerful book to date.

“I am interested in education reform. I started reading his books [during my] sophomore year at Oxy,” Sarah Yadali (junior) said.

Held in Johnson 200, the room was overflowing with Occidental students, Occidental Alumni and community members, some of which were teachers and school administrators. Eager to hear his words, people stood in the back of the room for the hour and a half event.”One of my most favorite places in the United States is Occidental College. I love energetic spirit of Occidental students,” Kozol said.

Kozol went to Harvard as an English literature major studying under renowned authors like Archibald MacLeish. Awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, Kozol went to Europe, sure he would return to the United States to be a professor of English literature. Instead, to the dismay of his parents he became a fourth grade teacher in a poor, black neighborhood of Boston. He was inspired to do so after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King speak.

This mention of Dr. King coincided with the anniversary of his death. “I still remember his voice, the perspiration on his brow and his words. Dr. King did not say I have a dream that one day we will have unequal schools. He did not say, I have a dream that the schools will have regimented lines of children chanting self help slogans. Instead, Dr. King said I have a dream that one day all the little black kids and white kids will sit together.”

The remainder of his talk articulated the unfairness he has witnessed throughout the school system, namely the discrepancy that exists between the quality of white education and that for Black and Hispanics. According to Kozol, the racial discrepancies in education have worsened since the civil rights movement. Kozol said that the dropout rate has tripled, most notably for minority students, in the past 30 years.”We are not even up to the standard of Plessey. He said separate is okay, as long as its equal,” Kozol said.

He spoke of his belief that young children should be allowed some merriment in their education as opposed to rigidity that exists. Children are regarded as “economic assets,” and “products of the school system” instead of little people entitled to happiness. He even hinted at dismay for Charter Schools when talking about, “private entrepreneurs invading the public sector.” These all promote high stakes tests for children.”Why should children be accountable to high stakes tests when they can’t hold the leaders of our country accountable to give them what they gave their children?” Kozol said. The audience erupted in applause.

One of the many anecdotes that Kozol told was about the late, Mr. Fred Rogers, better known as Mr. Rogers from the television show, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Kozol was a friend of his, and one day Mr. Rogers asked to come with him to one of the classrooms he observes in a low-income area. One of the children was very excited to see him. The child said, “Welcome to my neighborhood Mr. Rogers.”

Later, Mr. Rogers told Kozol, “The problem is we don’t welcome him to ours.”

After the talk ended, Jonathon Kozol told the students of Oxy to push Obama to pay attention to the school system, there was a standing ovation.

“He has been inspirational,” Lauren Lee (junior) said.Kozol stayed after to sign books and answer questions.

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