Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools

Jonathan Kozol

Book cover

This is one of the most compelling books I’ve ever read. Written in 1991, it is Kozol’s account of the state of inner-city public schools at the time, and sadly, I believe the analysis to be practically unchanged in the intervening twenty years. It was especially meaningful for me as I try to move to a job in charter school management, both reinforcing the importance of the work and complicating my view of the problem and its solution.

Kozol does not pull any punches, and at times this book was quite difficult to read, outlining in excrutiating detail the awful state of many inner city public schools. He also has a unique style of writing, which seamlessly blends a clear sense of righteous anger and indignation with well-structured logical arguments. His critique of the status quo of public school funding mechanisms is very convincing.

At the same time, as I mentioned, the book complicated my picture of the no-excuses urban charter school movement that I am hoping to join. Kozol is very critical of the de facto racial segregation in the school system, which is a betrayal of Brown v. Board of Education, and as good as many charter schools are, part of their M.O. is intentionally drawing an all-minority (or nearly so) student body. There is no clear right answer to this question. Another major issue is, now that charter schools are clearly established, what is the next move in the game? Through Kozol’s lens I would say the ultimate goal would be to reform the public school system using lessons learned from charter schools. This is an immense undertaking and I think there are still not many people who are really thinking in those terms.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars