December 1992/January 1993 | Volume 50 | Number 4.
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On Savage Inequalities: A Conversation with Jonathan Kozol.
We ought to finance the education of every child in America equitably, with adjustments made only for the greater or lesser needs of certain children.
Have you read Savage Inequalities? It’s a question that comes up at most educational conferences these days. The best-selling book by Jonathan Kozol has touched many of the nation’s educators and riled others, including some notable politicians. In it, he compares rich and poor schools located within a few miles of one another. The stark contrasts of physical surroundings and learning environments?in cities and states from St. Louis to Detroit, New Jersey to Texas?bring home a startling realization of just how different school can be for poor and minority-race children as opposed to middle-class and white children. In this interview with Educational Leadership , Kozol, a public school advocate since his early teaching days, describes the conditions that face our nation’s urban students and suggests what we can do to eradicate the inequities.
In Savage Inequalities , you describe East St. Louis as the saddest place in the world. For the benefit of those who haven’t read your book, would you please describe the conditions that you found there?.
Well, when I visited there a couple of years ago, East St. Louis was the poorest small city in America, virtually 100 percent black, a monument to apartheid in America. The city was so poor, there had been no garbage pickup for four years. There were heaps of garbage in the backyards of children’s homes and thousands of abandoned automobile tires in empty lots.
On the edge of the city is a large chemical plant, Monsanto. There is also a very large toxic waste incinerator, as well as a huge sewage treatment plant. If you go there at night you see this orange-brownish smoke belching out of the smokestacks descending on the city.